Ten minutes.

Start with that.

Last month, at our annual invigorating Wild Writing in the Boreal retreat, I found myself suggesting it often.

One participant said, Yes, because then you’ll keep going. If you do 10, you’ll do 20, even an hour.

Maybe, I replied. But you can also just fill those 10 minutes. It isn’t a trick. It’s a genuine invitation.

And I know from experience how RSVPing a regular YES, and sticking to the time limit, can work wonders.

My deepest learning of this happened in the mid-‘90s.

I felt overwhelmed by life.

My mental health was not good; I was pining after a guy who didn’t deserve me; I didn’t have a job.

On a whim, I signed up for an afternoon writing workshop with Elly Danica. (If you don’t know about her, and her galvanizing power of truth-telling, read her obituary).

The workshop was held at Trent University’s Traill College where I’d been in residence for my first year. It was in Scott House, which housed the dining hall.

We sat on the lumpy couches in the common room where a few years earlier I’d entertained my fellow students with stories about my hometown so much that they started calling me Rose, after Betty White‘s character on The Golden Girls who’s always spinning stories about St. Olaf, Minnesota.

Elly gave us a prompt. We did some writing. I wish I could remember the prompt or what I wrote, or even that I could find it to read it again. But that part doesn’t really matter. I’m sure it was over-written, saturated with drama, yet also honest and vulnerable because that’s where I was those days: deeply questioning my life, my heart so often a lump of soreness in my chest.  

Elly was not afraid of the rawness when I read it out loud. Instead, she respected it. And she encouraged me. You should keep writing, she said. In the face of my resistance, she was gentle.

Just a few minutes a day, she said. Use a timer.

round black analog table alarm clock
Photo by Aphiwat chuangchoem on Pexels.com

I knew about this technique. I’d followed it before, using my battered copy of Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones that I’d bought on a ferry taking me to Salt Spring Island in the summer of 1992.

Deep down, I knew I should be writing… Should be picking up the practice that I’d started while living in BC. If nothing else, it would relieve the guilt…

So, I did.

Up in my attic room in a downtown Peterborough late Victorian row-house, I wrote.

Surrounded by furniture that I’d painted silver (hey, I was 25), I wrote.

Using the timer on the digital watch bought to wake me in hostels and trains in Europe a few years earlier, I wrote.

And as Elly had suggested would happen, I began to spiral around a central idea. Not intentionally. Not as an overseer, an editor, but because…

Your work will be linked, she had said. It’s coming from you. At this point in time. It’ll be whatever you need to write about right now.

She was right. I kept going. And within a few months, I had the first draft of a story about a teenage girl and her sister, living in a difficult family, going through one harrowing week. It was what I’ve come to call the “skeleton draft,” of a novel, and I called it The Second Self.

The weather turned cold. I moved out of the attic, into a bedroom where I painted the floorboards lavender and used a thick black marker to cover them with writing. I started typing up the scrawled pages of my book. I called it a book. My focus extended into longer periods of time. There was revision to do, the puzzling through of what I’d made.

I wouldn’t have gotten to that stage if I hadn’t followed her advice. If I hadn’t taken my shaky nerves and sore heart and let them speak on the page in brief spurts (because it was scary).

I still have that novel. It is in third-draft form. It has never been published. It probably won’t ever be. But it is a novel. And writing it, revising it, bringing it to a third or fourth draft taught me a lot.

Because of this experience, I tell writers all the time how valuable ten minutes can be.

But if you haven’t been there in awhile, haven’t picked up a pen, cracked open your notebook, faced the blank page, it can also be nerve-wracking.

How to start? Where to begin?

I have thoughts on this and, more importantly, some practical suggestions, and I’ve pulled them together into a guide. In it, I offer techniques to try (hint: start by getting calm).

I also provide a sheet that can be used to tick off your progress over 28 days (or sessions) in order to help you consciously build your practice.

And here’s how to get it (it’s free!): go to Wild Ground Writing and subscribe (through the pop-up or the form at the bottom of every page).

You’ll get news twice a month about upcoming retreats, workshops, and other writing events taking place online, at my house, and in unique locations, plus some writerly freebies now and then. And you can unsubscribe whenever you need to!   

I would love to welcome you there, to my new venture! There are exciting plans in the works! All geared towards helping you let go and lean in to your important creative work.

So that you can grow like I did (thank you, Elly) into the writer you probably already know you are.

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