I’ve been running on and off (more on than off) for the past three and a half years; as I say on my About page, I’m a half-marathon wannabe. Yet even though I have managed to complete two 10Ks in a city with one of the most difficult routes in the world, I am still neither totally used to nor comfortable with my chosen form of exercise. But I do it anyway.
About a year or so into my running, I noticed that no matter how I’m feeling, no matter what the weather, and no matter what time it is, the first six minutes of my run are the hardest and when I am most likely to quit. My muscles and lungs are kicking and screaming. I’m bored. I can’t imagine how I’ll survive the next twenty (or sixty or seventy-five) minutes.
And then I’m okay. After those first six minutes I get into zone, and even if it’s hard, I finish the run. Even when my mp3 is broken, I can do it. Even when the six minutes seem like six hours, I can do it.
Eventually I wondered whether the six minute rule applied to other things. It does. Here are a few:
- Lawyers: most bill out in six-minute increments
- Online courses: “6 Minutes to Success,” “6 Minutes to Skinny”
- Programs: the BBC’s “6 Minute English” (learn and practise useful English), “6 Minutes for Safety” (a tool created for and by fire personnel)
- Books: The Six Minute Solution, The First Six Minutes Book
- Medicine: The Six Minute Walk Test (6MWT)
- Website: Six Minutes (a public speaking and presentation skills website)
- Fitness: this New York Times blog, this video, and this workout
- Another six-minute activity… (see The Undomestic Goddess, by Sophie Kinsella)
How does this apply to writing? you ask. Tell me if this sounds familiar to you:
You sit down at the computer and stare at the white Word template on your screen. You are rapidly getting the willies. You’d rather be doing just about anything instead of staring into this grand nothingness. Suddenly there’s the phone call you have to make, the book you must order on Amazon, the dishes begging to be washed this very second.
I experience the very same thing. However, if I go deeper into why I can’t keep my tush glued to the chair and my fingers nimbly typing away at the keyboard, I come face to face with worries. Here are mine:
- Being able to fill up the page(s) without fluff
- Having enough solid material to write about
- Having so much to write that I’ll never finish
- Taking too much time away from other essential tasks
- Writing valueless nonsense
- Having to do research
If I tried really hard, I’m sure I’d be able to come up with more. Heck, I’ll be so busy inventing worries that I won’t have to start writing.
But what is really going on here?
I think it’s fear.
I’ve been doing a lot of contemplating since I started this blog, and if I’m honest with myself, I know that all my discomfort with starting a new venture, learning new technology, and coming up with consistently valuable posts is just plain Fear with a capital F: What if I can’t make this a viable business? What if my goals for this blog aren’t realized? What if it takes too long?
Think about your own writing fears:
- Will I get published?
- Will I make money from my writing?
- Will anyone read my writing?
And the big daddy of writers’ fears:
Am I really good enough?
Okay, Deena, very nice. Now that you’ve gotten me all worked up, can you please tell me what to do?
What if you applied my six minute rule to writing?
I’ve started doing this recently, and the results have been amazing. I sit down knowing full well that the first six minutes are going to be hell. And as painful as they might be, I write through them. I tell myself that I only have six, or four, or three minutes to go, and then I know I’m going to get into zone.
If you want, set a timer for six minutes, and see how well this works. Personally, I feel so much calmer knowing that after the first six minutes I’ll get into the rhythm of the thing and the words will flow. Or not. But I’ll be involved enough that I won’t stop. If there are a lot of bad sentences and mistakes, I can always revise. The important thing is to keep going and get it all down on paper, even if it’s lame and even if there’s a lot of stream-of-consciousness in my first draft.
By the way, this works particularly well for those of us who have schedules, or even semi-schedules. Knowing that you are going to write at, say, 10:00 a.m. will psyche you up and sit you down. And knowing that by 10:06 you’ll be on automatic pilot, as it were, will keep you there.
For those of us who write by the seat of our pants (difficult to glue them to a chair), knowing that all you need are six minutes until you can’t imagine ever getting up from the computer will give you the incentive you need to sit down and start typing in the first place.
So no matter whether you are a Type A personality or a Type B personality — or even a Type Q — there’s really no excuse now.
A promise: Your fear will take care of itself. You will face down your fear by writing. You will disarm it in six minutes flat.
There was a short sentence in an ebook I read recently which had a lot of impact on me. In fact, I actually wrote it down and taped it to the back of my computer desk so I can see it frequently:
Fear is a liar.
Fear, and its offspring anxiety, are a bunch of “what ifs.” But you’ll never know the answer to any of your “what ifs” if you don’t just go for it.
Remember: Even if your worst writing fears are realized, you’re no worse off than you were before you sat down and started to write, because not going for it at all — letting that liar win — will automatically make your doubts and anxieties come true. In other words, you can’t get published, make money from your writing, have anyone read your writing, or be a good enough writer…if you don’t write. You’ll never know the answers to these questions.
Do me, and yourself, a favor: Sit down and write for six minutes. Then examine how you feel. And then keep writing!
And let me know in the comments below how this worked out for you.