If You’ve Only Got 15 Minutes, Is It Even Worth Writing?

SHARE THIS POST:

15-minute-writing

Image from Flickr by Ian Barbour.

Sometimes, life is so busy that it’s a real challenge to find any writing time at all.

Right now, my two delightful little ones take up a lot of time and energy. We’re also about to move house and writing time has been hard to come by. [Edit: I spent so long trying and failing to get time to work on this post, we’ve now moved!]

So, instead of trying and failing to find a couple of hour-long sessions every week, I decided to go back to something that was working for me a few months ago, when Nick was a newborn: writing for just 15 minutes at a time.

It’s not ideal. But it’s considerably better than not writing at all. And if your life is manic right now, maybe something similar could work for you.

Why Fifteen Minutes?

Finding a solid half-hour to write can be almost impossible … but fifteen minutes is more realistic. Getting up 15 minutes earlier, or taking 15 minutes of your lunch break, or writing for 15 minutes after dinner, hopefully seems like a realistic commitment … and one that you can easily justify to yourself (and others).

I also found – and you’ll see this later on – that even when I didn’t feel like writing, if I managed to sit down and work for 15 minutes, I often did a little bit extra.

Is it Even Worth Bothering?

Absolutely!

It’s easy to think that 15 minutes won’t make any difference. Maybe you’ll get a paragraph written, or a few pages lightly edited – not much in the context of a full novel or a blog.

But it’s a bit like dieting: each individual effort is small, but quickly adds up.

Here’s my log for two weeks of 15 minute writing sessions:

Week One

Monday 6th

Wrote: 2.03pm – 2.25pm: 371 words (new material). I really did not feel like writing! I set my timer for 15 minutes but didn’t realise the volume was muted, so got an extra few minutes in.

Wrote: 9.29pm – 9.47pm: 78 words (new material); edited a chapter, incorporating suggestions from my editor. Looked back at some previous material to see if a section of the chapter would fit better there (nope: I rewrote it slightly instead).

Daily totals: Wrote for 40 minutes. 449 new words; 1 chapter edited.

Tuesday 7th

Wrote: Lost my note about the first session on Tuesday (whoops). Wrote for around 15 minutes, some new words.

Wrote: 9.32pm – 9.43pm: Didn’t get far and gave up early! I added a few notes, trying to figure out whether or not to add an extra chapter (I think the plot / second half of novel is moving too fast) and if so, what it should include.

Daily totals: Wrote for 25 minutes (or so).

Wednesday 8th

Wrote: 12.40pm – 12.57pm: 325 words (a new section) plus a tiny bit of editing. This was the first time I’d written fiction in McDonald’s with Nick in the pushchair next to me – that’s where we go when Kitty’s in nursery in the afternoon!

Wrote: 21.05 – 21.20: finished editing a chapter (24), incorporating editor’s changes and some location / timescale changes.

Daily totals: Wrote for 32 minutes. 325 new words, 1 chapter edited.

Thursday 9th

Wrote: 14.24pm – 14.40pm: a short section of editing, and 259 new words.

Wrote: 21.15pm – 21.31pm: 238 new words, incorporating editor’s changes. Finished editing the chapter. (25).

Daily totals: Wrote for 32 minutes. 497 new words, 1 chapter edited.

Friday 10th

Wrote: 12.45pm – 12.59pm, then 10 minutes or so from 2.15 – 2.25pm. Edited a short chapter (26), began editing next chapter (27).

Wrote: 21.47pm – 22.07pm: finished editing chapter 27. Wrote 200 new words.

Daily totals: Wrote for 44 minutes. 200 new words, 2 chapters edited.

Saturday 11th

Didn’t do daytime writing session.

Wrote: 21.05pm – 21.23pm: editing chapter 28 (some cuts / additions as well as minor changes).

Daily totals: Wrote for 18 minutes, half a chapter edited.

Sunday 12th

Didn’t do daytime writing session.

Wrote: 21.22pm – 21.42pm: finished editing chapter 28; started editing chapter 29.

Daily totals: Wrote for 20 minutes, 1.5 chapters edited.

 

I won’t say that it was easy to stick to writing this week. I was in part motivated by wanting to share my log here! It often felt like it wasn’t even worth sitting down to edit a little bit or write a few words, but the weekly totals impressed me.

Weekly totals:

Wrote for 211 minutes – 3 hrs 31 minutes.

1,471 new words. (Plus whatever words I forgot to log on Tuesday!)

7 chapters edited.

I’ve often thought it’s inefficient to write for short sessions – that I get more into the flow, and make faster progress, with longer sessions. From the figures, I’m not sure that’s true. If I’d have a single three and a half hour session (and I’ve no idea where I’d have fitted that into my week!), I doubt I’d have written or edited more and might well have done less.

Week Two

Here’s how week two went. Spoiler alert: not very well! House moving action hotted up unexpectedly so some of the time I’d normally have spend working/writing got curtailed.

Monday 13th

I failed to write during the daytime, due to a combination of the children and cleaning the house!

I also failed to write during the evening – I realised my novel file (on Scrivener, in Dropbox) was open on the desktop computer in my study, where Nick was sleeping.

[Edit: Now we’ve moved, Nick has his own room instead of a cot crammed into the corner of my study – a vast improvement!]

Daily totals: None.

Tuesday 14th

It was tempting to give up, but I managed to snatch some time in the evening.

Wrote: 21.22 – 21.45: finished editing Ch29, onto Ch30 – merging in (already written) new material here.

Daily totals: Wrote for 23 minutes; edited 1 chapter.

Wednesday 15th

Wrote: 12.52 – 13.09: finished editing Ch30 and Ch31, though might go back to make more changes.

Daily totals: Wrote for 17 minutes, edited 1.5 chapters.

Thursday 16th

Failed to write anything.

Friday 17th

Wrote: 13.37 – 14.15: making some tweaks to timescheme, editing Ch32.

Wrote: 21.47 – 21.56: editing Ch32, Ch33.

Daily totals: Wrote for 47 minutes, edited 2 chapters.

I don’t think I wrote anything at the weekend (had a partial entry in the log but no idea if I actually wrote or just noted a starting time).

As you can tell from the log, this was a pretty bad week, writing-wise. I’m rather embarrassed about sharing it – but I want you to know that I’m far from perfect, that all writers have weeks like this (and my next two were worse!) and that it’s OK for your great writing intentions to not quite pan out.

Yet even on this bad week, the little bits of writing I managed did add up.

Weekly totals:

Wrote for 87 minutes – 1 hr 27 minutes.

4.5 chapters edited.

 

I don’t think short writing slots are ideal. I enjoy having the freedom to write for hours at a stretch; to really get into what I’m doing; to let the story-world take over my thoughts.

And yet …

It’s easy for me to use that as an excuse. (Perhaps you’ve fallen into the same trap.) It’s easy to think that if I can’t write for an hour, or preferably two or three hours, then it’s not worth writing at all.

I was surprised just how much I achieved in 15 minute sessions. I was surprised to find that with two sessions per day, I did get a sense of momentum building up – despite not writing for long each time.

I also found myself planning what I was going to write, in a way that I’ve always struggled with before: I couldn’t rely on keeping the whole thread of a scene in my mind, so I roughed each new section out with bullet points. This is something I definitely need to keep working on, but it does give me hope that I’ll gradually become better at planning my scenes, not just the broader strokes of my plot.

 

If you’ve experimented with anything similar, I’d love to hear about your experiences – and your tips for making it work! And if this post has encouraged you to try out short writing slots, that would be great to hear too. 🙂 The comments are open below.

Thanks for commenting! I read all comments, and reply to as many as I can. Please keep the discussion constructive and friendly. Thank you!

8 thoughts on “If You’ve Only Got 15 Minutes, Is It Even Worth Writing?

  1. Ali,
    Thank you for this informative post. You won’t believe it, but as I was reading I thought you were talking about me the whole time! Kids, cleaning, working and other things that eventually build up definitely curtail the writing and more importantly: The inspiration
    My kids are 10 yrs. old now. You’d think it’s a break from changing and feeding. But every stage has its responsibilities. However, I’ll assure you positively that you wILL be relieved when you get through that part. So amongst all those anarchic days that I live through, I was surprised to actually find inspiration and new ideas for writing during those tedious tasks. So I’d be cleaning and suddenly I get this idea. It happens and I’vd experienced it a lot. So wherever you be in the house, keep that notebook close by, because you never know when that muse might pop up!

    • I’m sure it’s a situation that resonates with a lot of writer-parents! You’re right about the inspiration — it can be really tough to be in that headspace for writing when there’s so much else to think about.

      Like you, I find that mundane chores can be great for thinking through plot points or mulling over blog posts. I’ve sometimes had flashes of insight when doing the dishes, or picking up the toys, or hoovering. (Though I can’t say I’d be sorry to have more writing time and less housework time!)

  2. Hey Ali, sounds like you’ve got you hands full. Fortunately our kids are grown, but it can still be tough finding time to do the things you’d like to do. I enjoy writing and your article was certainly a breath of fresh air.
    I get up at 3am and am typically not back home until around 2 that afternoon. I drive a big rig in city traffic all day and it can get exhausting. Oftentimes when I finally get to sit down at the computer the only thing touching the keyboard is my forehead. ZZZzzz!
    Since I drive so much I find it extremely helpful to carry a voice recorder with me at all times. This isn’t only for those aha moment ideas, but also a great way to gather up a list of those small nuggets that can be assembled/edited later, as well as, get down all those annoying to-do’s.
    All in all it’s been a real life saver, and a lot better than sticky notes.

    Best Efforts,

    Pat

    • Gosh, Pat, that must be exhausting. My husband used to do a bit of shift work and I know it can really take a toll.

      Great tip on the voice recorder — I’m sure that’d be valuable for anyone else who has a fair amount of driving, even if it’s just their commute to work and back.

  3. I find that inspiration often strikes me in the middle of the night. I frequently go out on my front porch with my laptop and sit and write under the stars. The fresh night air just seems to do something for me. I usually am clad only in my pajamas, but I have dressed in my arctic gear (Thank you US Navy!), and stretched out on my chaise and written in the dead of a northern Nevada winter.

  4. Hey Ali,

    Totally fair! Just trying to fit writing whenever possible is totally fair. With a kid around we won’t be able to get really long writing sessions as we used to get before baby!

    With two kids around, it gets really really challenging lol.

    I am exactly doing “small” sessions everyday – as far as word count I set a goal for the week rather than for a day (that worked before baby). Somedays I will be sane and on other days sanity will be just so far away 🙂

    Sure, 15 minutes might seems like very little but it really does add up. Thanks for the wonderful post.

    Cheers,
    Jane.
    Jane’s last blog post ..How to create an editorial calendar that you would use?

    • A weekly rather than daily goal sounds very sensible … life can be so up and down with small children! Mine have grown a bit since I wrote this post (they’re now 2 & 4) and it’s getting a bit easier to fit in longer writing sessions. But even now, it’s good to know that if I only have a few minutes, it’s still worth writing!

Comments are closed.