Last time we talked about how lack of time is a universal frustration for people who want to write. And I offered a solution that could kickstart your writing and prove to yourself it can be done—you can write even when you think you have no time at all.
In this episode, you’re going to see how a simple practice will help you enjoy some quick wins. This, too, will prove to yourself that you can write even when it seems you have no time to spare.
Every day, write a paragraph.
That’s it. Write one paragraph for your work-in-progress every night.
You might argue that word count works better. If it does, great. Write that many words. And make sure they add up to at least one paragraph. If you can’t reach your target word count, won’t it be great if you have one complete paragraph done? You can always write more.
You might argue that you need to sit at your computer for a set amount of time. Great. Sit there. But while you’re sitting there for that set amount of time, write one paragraph. Yes, while you’re sitting there. Because you could also sit there and do nothing or sneak a peek at Instagram.
And I want you to write one paragraph.
Why a paragraph?
Because it is a discrete block of writing. It can stand alone while contributing to the whole. It has its own mini beginning, middle, and end. If you write a full paragraph, you’re going to feel like you completed an idea—a subtopic of the larger piece or a scene of the larger story—because that’s exactly what a paragraph is: one fully developed idea.
You don’t get a pass if you write blog posts and the paragraphs are one sentence long or if you write fiction and you write one line of dialogue that has to stand on its own. If that’s what your work-in-progress needs next, write a scene. This technically may take several “paragraphs” before you’re done, but it will satisfy that need to arrive at completion so your brain realizes you’re making progress.
How to Do It
Open a Word document, Google doc, Evernote note, spiral notebook. It doesn’t matter what you use—just open something you can write in.
If you didn’t get a block of time yet to kickstart the project, on the first night, map out an article or story. Mind map or outline or make a little list of what your ideas are and what you might like to say. That’s the only night you won’t write an official paragraph, but you’re thinking about all the paragraphs you’re going to write, so that’s legit.
Next night, write one paragraph. It doesn’t necessarily have to be sequential. If you’re struggling to figure out an introduction, write any paragraph, address any point, dive into any scene.
Next night, look at the plan, read the paragraph from the night before, add anything you think of to that paragraph and write another. This might be another point or some other part of the article. On this night, you may have to start putting these paragraphs more or less in the right location on the page if you’re writing out of sequence.
But you’re writing. You didn’t think you had the time, but look how one paragraph after another grows into something substantial.
Of course I’ve been talking about writing these paragraphs in the evening, but if you’re a morning person of course, write then. Or you could write during a lunch break. In other words, just swap out evening for the time of day that works best for you.
Don’t Overthink the Paragraph
A paragraph may seem like a lot if you haven’t written much for a while, but just write any old thought. Don’t get all worked up about its artistic merit.
Do this enough nights in a row, and before you know it, you’ll have most of a poem, article, essay, or book chapter done.
You can save the introduction and conclusion for last, after you’ve fully developed your piece, paragraph by paragraph, idea by idea. You might need to move things around. But you’ve got words to work with. Finally. After all this time.
Every Draft Is a Success
This is a draft, and as we all know, drafts can be messy, crummy, imperfect word blobs, and they deserve to be called a success. As Jane Smiley is attributed as saying:
Every first draft is perfect because all the first draft has to do is exist. It’s perfect in its existence. The only way it could be imperfect would be to NOT exist.
Write paragraphs. Write your piece into existence. You’re going to finish that piece.
You could have been watching Netflix. You could have been folding laundry. But you sat down each night and for a few minutes, you wrote that paragraph instead.
This is how it can be done.
Pulitzer prize-winner Richard Rhodes once said:
If writing a book is impossible, write a chapter. If writing a chapter is impossible, write a page. If writing a page is impossible, write a paragraph. If writing a paragraph is impossible, write a sentence. If writing a sentence is impossible, write a word and teach yourself everything there is to know about that word and then write another, connected word and see where the connection leads.
This is how it’s done: word by word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph.
Tap out your thoughts, stories, dreams, one word after another, at 9:30 p.m. for two weeks, and you might the makings of an essay or short story or chapter.
This is how it’s done, even when you think you have no time at all.
- Ep 124: No Time to Write? A Simple Solution to Kickstart Your Work
- Ep 114: Make the Most of Your Time with a Writing Pipeline
- Ep 115: You’ll Write More When You Use an Editorial Calendar
- Ep 43: How to Avoid Distraction and Manage Attention to Write
- Ep 40: Take Charge of Your Writing Space, Tasks, and Projects
- Ep 38: Manage Your Writing Space, Time, Energy, and Attention
- Ep 41: 5 Steps to Find Time for Writing
- All podcast episodes
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