Monday, March 1, 2021

February Writing Report

Here it is the first of March, 2021. February is in the books, so I thought I'd post a quick update as to what I was up to last month, with regard to writing.

As I posted here earlier in the year, one of my goals or resolutions was to write more in 2021. I had a slow, sputtering start in January, but decided to jump in and do the work, beginning on February 1st. I thought about "hitching the brain to the writing arm," Dorthea Brande's advice to writers. And I also thought about a book that I read on Lawrence Block's recommendation called Break Writer's Block Now by Jerrold Mundis. Block mentioned it in one of his essays or books on writing. To be honest, I can't remember where.

Break Writer's Block Now is meant to be read in a single sitting. It is short on philosophy. It is meant to get you writing . . . now! In one of the first exercises, Mundis gives you a sentence and you are to write it at the top of the page. Then you are to keep writing, without pausing, for five minutes--anything that comes to your mind, without judgment. After you are done, you turn the page in Break Writer's Block Now. "See," Mundis says, "you can write. You aren't blocked."

I hope my revealing that exercise here won't spoil the effect for anyone who is working through the book. It sounds a little silly, but the effect is really profound.

There are many causes for writer's block, but only one solution: to write. I don't know where I read this phrase (or indeed, I may have made it up myself, though many a writer has said something similar), but one thing I always try to remind myself is: Writing begets writing. The more you write, the easier it is to write, the more you want to write, the more ideas for writing flow. To that end, Mundis has a system to help writers build their writing muscles. In brief, start small and then, week by week, build up until you are writing the maximum amount per day that your schedule allows. There's more to it than that, but you'll have to read the book for the details.

I've talked about this system with other writers many times, and have managed to convert a few of them to the Church of Break Writer's Block Now. And I've used the system myself when trying to break through writer's block or -- more often -- when I'm trying to get back into a writing routine after a long hiatus.

But confession time: I've never really followed the system as Mundis sets out, not all the way from start to finish, anyway. You see, Mundis recommends that you start with a small chunk of time, then, in increments, work your way up to your desired writing-time goal. I always start strong, but then think, "Hey, I've got this. I'm just gonna skip ahead and do 45 minutes today instead of the 15 I was supposed to." And then I think, "Well, I did 45 minutes yesterday, so I can just do 5 today and I'll still be ahead." And so on. And then the system falls apart and soon I'm not writing any more.

So I vowed this time would be different. On February 1st, I sat down, set a timer for 5 minutes, and when the timer went off, I walked away from the page (screen I guess). I did that for the first week of February. Starting on week 2, I did 10 minutes. Week 3, 15 minutes. By the last week of February, I was writing 20 minutes a day, effortlessly. It was easier to sit down and write for 20 minutes on February 28th than it was to sit down and write for 5 minutes on the first. 

I decided that I wasn't going to worry about what I wrote. I'd write whatever came to mind. But freewriting didn't count. I still did some freewriting most days, but that was outside my x-number of minutes. During my Jerrold Mundis prescribed minutes, I would write "with an eye toward publication," that is to say, I would write something with the hope of someone some day reading what I'd written. I wrote one complete short story, several thousand words on what I think will turn out to be either a novel or novella, and several blog posts (as you, Dear Reader, may have guessed). I even wrote a couple of poems. (Shhhh! Don't tell anyone. I don't want to ruin my street cred. Or does writing poetry improve your street cred? Do people still say "street cred?")

So I'm pleased to report that the system Mr. Mundis outlined is working. I wrote every day of February, and while I've had stretches in which I've written that many days in a row before (though not many), I've also never been as consistent. Because it worked so well, and because 20 minutes per day is not my ultimate writing goal, I'm going to continue through March. By the end of this month, I should be up to 45 minutes of writing, daily. Ultimately, I'd like to work up to an hour a day. And who knows, maybe more. We'll see. 

Well, that's my 25 minutes for today. Adios.