Those (Five) Sentences by Eden Mabee

I want to talk to the people who can’t find time to write. You know who you are. (The rest of you free to read and comment—we’re all in this together–, and you may have suggestions to add that will help.)
First off, let me apologize. I’m not one of those people who doesn’t have time to write. I have the time to write–rather I make time to write. I do have a luxury that some don’t: I don’t have a job or a boss or deadlines to write around. My work involves volunteering (a lot), and I set my own schedule. I also am blessed with an encouraging husband and a son who thinks it’s cool that Mom writes stories.

The only real deterrents to my whipping out page after page daily are the occasional bouts of Writer’s Block (often in the form of Brain Drain or fear) and me.

It’s the second one that causes me the most grief, and I’m betting it’s the same for you.

You see, I know how much you are writing and posting and tweeting about not being able to write. I wastespend a lot of time on Social Media too.

I has a hard time finding time to write recently too. I mean, where are those hours of time we hear about? When do we set up these precious “office hours” that writers are supposed to have to develop their creativity to its fullest?

Maybe they just aren’t there, or we cannot find them without sacrificing all our sleep and destroying our relationships.
That doesn’t mean you can’t find time to write—you can. Here’s what I did. May it help you too.

First, I gave up the myth of uninterrupted creative time. But even then, I still needed a goal to reach toward; I needed something to reach for and measure. Something concrete and yet easy to achieve.

Now if you’ve been around the ROW80 for a while, you are probably familiar with Kait Nolan’s Test Mile. If you are not, take some time to read up on the concept before I share my personal test mile.

You ready now?

It is to write five sentences (I bet you knew that already, didn’t you).

Yep. That’s it. Write Five Sentences, and they can be as short or as long as I want to make them.

There is one other rule. The sentences have to be creative writing. Tweets or Facebook comments don’t count. A new poem? Cool, but it won’t necessarily count unless I want to write poems or the poem somehow fits into my present Work In Progress. I can still write something along the lines of this:

David ate the squash. A bird had pecked one end. He tossed that in the road. He felt exhausted. Nearby a truck chugged past.

It took me less than a minute to scribble out those sentences. Yes, they need some tweaking, but there is a definite sense of a scene here. I see a vagrant who’d picked up a zucchini from the end of a garden, then finding that it probably had been tossed off because some animal had nibbled at it. He’s hungry and eats the squash anyway, tossing off the bad part. He’s tired of wandering. The truck matters to him…

Why? I haven’t written that yet.

When a scene comes easily like this, I might keep writing if I have time. That is the main point of a test mile—to get you started. But it also serves the second purpose of getting something written no matter how busy we are.

So one minute, maybe two… at most five. Five sentences, five minutes, maybe two less tweets or one last skim of your NewsFeed. We all have time somewhere in our day to use for writing. It may not be five minutes at once, but there is time. A sentence written while standing in line at the bank is still a sentence written. Add the next one, spoken into a phone’s speech-to-text app while driving or doing those thirty minutes on the treadmill (and maybe two or three more!) and you’re almost there. Another line, this time at the grocery store? Another sentence…

See how easy it is? If you promise yourself to write sentence as soon as you wake up and one more before you turn the light off at night, then you will be done, if you want to be.

As for myself, I actually don’t own a smart phone. If I’m not glued to my computer, I write on paper. I make sure I always have some kind of little notepad to scribble in (and often much bigger notebooks too, just in case I discover one of those mythic hours of creative bliss).

And for those who may be wondering,… no, things didn’t start out smoothly . I didn’t get up one morning and suddenly every day I was getting those sentences written. I had a day or two where I fell asleep in the middle of the third sentence; I had a few days I missed completely, and despite the best intentions, I didn’t make those missed sentences up the next day either.

I’ve planned poorly. As reigning Queen of Mislaid Plans and Sub-Empress of Disorder, I have scrambled to get those sentences in before bed. I’ve spent several nights recently writing my five sentences on the bathroom floor where I could make sure the light didn’t wake up my husband or son.

I still wrote them. I wrote a full page the other night. It took me ten minutes after brushing my teeth. I started while I brushed…using my left hand for some mirror writing just to get an idea I kept forgetting all day down before I slept and forgot it permanently.

They say it takes 30 days to build a habit. I’m not so sure of that. I still have to be prompted by seeing my fellow writers posting about their wordcounts or the fact that I can’t walk through my house without seeing an open notebook nearby begging for some word love and pen scritches.

Five sentences… If you can’t do this, then perhaps you might not be as serious about writing as you say (and that really is okay too). However, Writers write as fellow ROWer and sponsor Alberta wrote last round. Being someone who writes part of who and what we are, and we will always find a way to write. There may be ebbs and flows to our productivity; after I’d broken my wrist in December, I didn’t write–I mean, I did write; I wrote notes and blogposts, but nothing I considered creative. But Writers Write, and I made a way.

So start small. You won’t always manage these sentences daily. Try treating your writing like a job in that sense and give yourself a (scheduled) day off here and there. Use a five day work week with your two days off spread out (say Tuesday’s and Friday’s off or something like that). It’s easy to get in the habit of not writing when you’re already fighting yourself for control over your dream. Don’t let yourself down… write at least every other day. And allow yourself to have a few bad days (forgiveness is important, as important as self-discipline).

If you can’t do that; if you can’t find five minutes for something you say you want to do, then you need to find out why. That’ll have to be the topic of another post however. For now, just write those five sentences.

~*~

Eden Mabee

46 comments

  1. Here, Here! Someone give this woman the trophy for great advice. I have NO time to write. Seriously. And I mean it. It takes away from something else every time I sit down to hammer out a few words between work, homeschooling my children, driving my children, making dinner, cleaning house, work, sleep, etc. But Eden is so spot on when she says we have to change our way of thinking about writing time. Find it. Scribble on envelopes in the car, sneak down to write a few words whilst throwing laundry in the dryer, get up early, stay up late.
    You can sleep when you’re dead.
    I wrote a novel that way. Not the way I would’ve chosen to do it, and I also complained about it a lot, but beggars can’t be choosers. It was either that or don’t write at all.
    If I have to read one more post about people who a) either DON’T have anything to write about or B) Can’t find he time to write, I will have to…well, I’ll have to write a blog about it.
    So there.
    (Please excuse my rant. That’s the Gevalia talking.)
    ~Just Jill

    1. Thanks, Jill. I had to smile when I read your comment about complaining a lot about not having time to write. I complain too, but even while I’m complaining… I write. Multi-tasking is a necessity for most people these days. And if I have time to complain about it (especially if I have time to complain about it on a social media platform), then I have time to write something that will make me feel better in the long run. 😀

  2. I was always told when young – no doubt others were also – that if one wants to do something enough, one will find the time to do it – I hated the advice back then – it was easier to say (inserts 6000 excuses:)

    I have no excuse to say I don’t have time yet even the retired find some streches of time seem so cramped with life it’s difficult to see the notebooks:( but still the advice holds good if one wants too one must find a way – hard, hard especially at the beginning of a writing life – medal duely awarded Eden

    Thanks for the mention:)

    1. Alberta — I hated that phrase too and not just as a kid but as an adult for too long as well. I do wonder why the excuses seem so much easier, especially when we tend to be so hard on ourselves for their impact.

      Thanks for the medal, though it’s not as if I did anything special. I just did what I had to do, because… writers Write, (And you’re most welcome for the mention.)

  3. Sys,

    Maybe that writing in class, and trying not to be noticed while we did it, was good practice for the sneaked sentences? =)

    When the children were little, and I went from before 6am to after 1am, all of it with young kids, much of it pregnant or nursing…I kept a notebook and pens in my basket under the coffee table, and I would scrawl a line two – sometimes, it would take two weeks to get those words in. I would scribble more during quiet times and after bedtime, once I stopped working when they were 2 and 5.

    During our lessons-at-the-table days, I would sometimes find writing time when I had Miah on a project….

    Then came unschooling, and far less prediciability in our daytimes. So I stopped writing in the daytime, for too long. I would stay up all night, and be growly in the morning…

    Then Miah showed that he was as nocturnal as me, and I couldn’t count on that time, either…

    And finally I remembered that any writing is better than none, and started to notice how often I said I wanted to write while doing nothing about it. NaNo 2009 was a turning point, when the kids were 8 and 5. I told myself I would go for that 50K, without sacrificing our rhtythms. And I did it, just barely in time. The kids were excited about it.

    Now, I do most of my writing on my bed. I bring out the laptop soon after Jim leads for work, if not before, and I write in bits and pieces throughout the day. I don’t believe in office hours, and they would hamper the spontaneity of our learning lives, anyway – but I do believe in embracing my passion and the moments when I can give myself to it.

    I can’t count on specific writing times, but the kids have become more able to give me the space for concentrated efforts with little interruption, so long as I don’t ask for more than they can bear, and, at other times, I am available. They still come for hugs,and, as both are burgeoning in their own desires to write right now, they often want my help to spell things….

    I think the real trick, for five sentences or five thousand in a day, is that sense of possibility and flexibility, the seeing of the tiny spaces that are too often overlooked – like this one. =)

    No medals from me, but I’ll buy you something yummy to sip at Java’s – after NaNo!! =D
    .

    1. Shan — You gave some great examples of how one can (maybe should?) “write when they can”. It’s not an instant process (and you described that well too). Life happens, but eventually it lets us relax for a moment. We have time to write. We just have to use it for writing. 😀

      And no medals needed. As I said, I’m just doing what I felt I needed too. I mean, why does anyone do anything? Because it’s better than not doing it?

  4. Such a wonderful reminder that it’s usually not Life that gets in my way… it’s me. I allow Life to get me down. Starting small is another wonderful reminder. I’m starting with 5 sentences and seeing where it’ll lead me. No more Scarlet O’Hara… today, not tomorrow.

    Thanks, Eden!

    1. Tia — I think we allow ourselves to be taken down (as you so aptly put it) by our fears and uncertainties. And the fact that writing a book feels big… so we get our head wrapped around the “big” idea and feel we need every step to be as big as the project itself. It doesn’t.

      Or, to put it in sporting terms, it still takes the same number steps to go a mile whether you run it or walk it. You get there faster when you run, but you miss out on the scenery and you might fall and sprain your ankle too.

  5. I have a friend who I need to sent this to. She freely admits that she’s lazy, but then she complains about the fact that she’s never going to get her novel written.

    1. Emily — I think we all complain a little about our lack of time. It’s fruitless, but… Your friend just had to decide what she wants more. We all need to decide that.

      Thanks for the vote of “passing it along” I only wish I’d caught all those little editing errors before I sent this into Kait. Editing… That should be my next post! But I think I’ll send it to someone for proofreading before I do. 😉

  6. I absolutely love this! I have been building a similar habit with my two sentences, but I think I’d like to bump it up to five. That feels just a little more like I’ve actually written something (although honestly I’ve never written only two sentences when I sit down). Doing small amounts every day even when I’m busy and tired makes me feel like I’m still a writer. Thanks for that reminder. This is fantastic.

    1. Five sentences! You can do it. Maybe they’ll be shorter than normal sentences, Kim, but they’ll be written. Fleshing things out is where rewrites and edits come in. Get the bones of the story down first!

  7. Thank you, Eden. I needed to read this especially after today. Hectic and no room for anything — my office once again is a bomb shelter. But I can write 5 sentences. Every day. Nudge, nudge. Thank you. Now off to write! I have a half an hour! Surely I can find 5 sentences . . . somewhere?

    1. Thanks, Beth, for such a great example of both how we often defeat ourselves and how we can use small starts to make big gains.

      Hopefully that half-hour ended up being very productive for you.

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