Vague Outlines & The Power of Twenty Minutes


I started writing a new book back in January and have been typing away at it every since. Now, I’m just about ¾ of the way done with it and let me tell you, this first draft is being finished up in record time. There are two reasons for this: an outline and the power of twenty minutes.

In the past, I would get a great book idea and start writing. For the first quarter of the book, it would feel like the story was writing itself . The words came out onto the screen while I was in a daze. I didn’t really think about it. They just appeared. And this is awesome. Super awesome. One of the greatest feelings. And then I would drive all those happy-writing times right into a wall. Because when you have an initial idea and you don’t think about how that initial idea is going to develop and/or end, you’re going to run into a wall. Then, just as quickly as I began, I’d stop. I’d spend a week moping around, a week doubting, and then eventually, take some time to outline. The outline would inevitably change some crucial part of the beginning, so I’d have to go back before I could move forward. You don’t need me to tell you that this eats up a lot of time. For this idea, I outlined the book ahead of time. In the past, I’ve been resistant to outlining because one of the things I love about writing is surprising myself with where the story goes. This time, I made a vague outline. Now, I am still surprised by plot turns, but I know where I’m going in the story over-all.

The other bit that has helped me is writing for twenty minutes at a time. I do a lot of writing during my lunch break and after eating and reading, I have about twenty minutes left. This is perfect amount of time for me. It’s gotten me through The Doubting Stage of this book. Knowing I’m only going to be writing for twenty minutes pretty much kills any excuse I can think of.

“But it’s stupid,” I would think, “It’s a terrible idea.”

“That’s ok,” the nicer more reasonable side of my brain would say, “just do it for twenty minutes.”

Then the next day.

“But I don’t know what’s going to happen yet. I have no ideas. I should think about it first.”

“That’s ok,” I would say, “you can just sit there for twenty minutes.”

And the next day.

“But I don’t wanna!”

“That’s ok. You don’t have to after you just do it for twenty minutes.”

This is good because I haven’t gotten stuck like I have in the past. Sometimes any one of those excuses could keep me away from writing for days, or weeks. When I feel stuck in the book, the only way to fix it is to keep going. I know this, yet it’s so hard to remember. Then when I do remember, I think I’m going to have to spend four hours at least working on my problem. I don’t want to do this, so I procrastinate. Knowing I’m just going to write (or sit there) for twenty minutes makes the writing feel less daunting. It’s not a long period of time, but if you keep it up and know where you’re going, you can write a whole book that way.




Picture by Daniel Sargent