15 Minutes

Wednesday, February 06, 2008
In fifteen minutes I can vacuum my living room well, using the attachments on my vacuum to get the dust bunnies out of the couches. In fifteen minutes I can clean out my fridge, discarding old food and wiping down some of the surfaces. In fifteen minutes I can do rotations of sit-ups, push-ups, wall-sits, squats, calf-raises and lunges. Well, let’s hope I can last even fifteen minutes doing these things.

So where do these thoughts of fifteen-minute-productivity come from? I’m reading what I think will prove to be a great book, Pen on Fire by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett. In her book, DeMarco-Barrett encourages us to find “stolen moments” in our day. “Somewhere during your day,” she says, “you have at least fifteen minutes you can use to write. Start there. Try the first thing in the morning, the last thing at night. When are you the most lucid? The most creative? See what works.” The author also says that if we can’t find fifteen minute chunks of time to write, maybe we need to re-evaluate whether writing is something that can fit in our lives at this time. Ouch, that’s a reality check.

When it comes to writing, fifteen minutes can be powerful. I’ve bought into the school of thought that I need an hour or two or a weekend away to accomplish anything for my writing. But I have a husband, two small children, friends, volunteer and house work and frankly I need time to shower. If I choose to write only in those times when I have an hour to myself, I will either never sleep or never write, and the need for sleep catches up to you. So it will be writing that goes out the window.

Let’s crunch some numbers. In fifteen minutes I can write about 500 words if I’m typing. If I find fifteen minutes a day, four times a week, over the course of the year that is 104,000 words. That equals a good sized novel or a hundred average length feature articles, hundreds of poems or a basketful of short stories. And all that comes from committing only an hour a week to writing.

I, and I think many people, have an all or nothing mindset that paralyzes us. We feel that if a little of something is good, then a lot of it is better. I say, “If I could get 104,000 words written in a year, doing just 15 minutes, what if I did 30 minutes?” After I raise the bar for myself from a reasonable goal, I inevitably get distracted or behind and then guilt or pressure sets in. What was once a fun thing, my writing, becomes a chore. It joins the ranks of my to-do list along with folding the laundry and going to the dentist. Wow, sounds fun.

by Susan L. Eberling


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