Friday, February 27, 2015

How to Take a Moment

A good writing process is just a dependable series of writing moments. If you know how to give yourself the time and the space to write a paragraph about something you know then you've obviously got a valuable skill. The aim is to have at least forty, and up to 240, such moments during four eight-week periods every year. This morning, I want to share my approach to any one of them. The ability to take a moment to write at will is the basic skill that I coach people in.

It always begins the day before. At the end of the day, either as the last thing you do at work, or the last thing you do before going to bed, take a few minutes to decide what and when you are going to write tomorrow. It's a good idea to have this planned out in advance, i.e., to have a regular routine of starting at 9:00 AM for example, and to be working on a text that gives you an outline to fill out over a few days and weeks. But the essential thing is that at the end of each day you make a conscious decision about which paragraphs you will write tomorrow and when you will write them. Assign each of them a particular 27-minute* time slot and a central claim. Book the time in your calendar and write the central claim down as a simple, declarative sentence you know to be true. Then try not to think about it until the appointed time. Not thinking about it will itself take a bit of practice. It's part of the discipline.

When the moment arrives the next day, start exactly on time and resolve to stop exactly 27 minutes later, no matter how it goes. (That's what time is for: to be arbitrary.) Begin by typing your key sentence. Then just, as it were, know what you're talking about until the time runs out. Take a three minute break and go on with your day. This could be either another paragraph (that you decided on the day before) or whatever else is in store for you.

*This number is of course a bit arbitrary. For some people, in some situations, I also recommend trying 13- and 18-minute moments.

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