Fifteen thousand, that's how many words I have to write in the next four weeks - by September 15th, to be exact. In theory it's manageable, but, in practice, it's proven to be a bit more difficult than I expected. Because no matter how experienced I might be at this point in my MA, fifteen thousand words is a lot to comprehend; it's a lot to map out, in my head and on paper even. And so, up until last weekend, my pile of notes continued to grow while my word-count remained at zero, the blinking cursor on the blank document taunting me with every flash.
Naturally, Panic and Perfectionism set in. And let me tell you, these are not a friendly pair. While Panic urged me to move forward and just write something, Perfectionism would quietly tap me on the shoulder and whisper: 'yeah but, if it's not right you'll only have to do it again.' I didn't have the mental energy to satisfy either of them; Panic wanted stamina, Perfectionism demanded concentration, and I couldn't face hours spent at my desk. But then I found a solution. In an effort to ensure that my weekend wasn't a total bust, I told myself: 'Work for fifteen minutes, that's all.' So, I did.
With only fifteen minutes on the clock, I was comforted by the knowledge that it would be over pretty fast. What's more, it forced me to focus on the one-inch picture frame; this is a technique I learned from Bird by Bird (a writer's essential, FYI), in which Anne Lamott suggests starting with something small, tiny even, to combat creative paralysis. You can't, after all, write fifteen thousand words in fifteen minutes. And by lowering the stakes, doing little bits in short bursts, I actually managed to draft half my word-count - seven and a half thousand words - in around four days.
So, I thought I'd share this gem of wisdom. I'm sure I'm not the only one who tends to bunker down during big projects and torture myself into working for solid hours/days/weeks. It's easy to believe 'the bigger the project, the bigger the personal sacrifice.' But that's not a great philosophy - it's mine, I should know - mainly because it leads to eternal misery and total burn out. In reality, you don't need to put your life on hold to get stuff done, all you need is fifteen minutes.