So you want to be a writer but you can’t even sit still for 10 minutes to write anything, even a heaping, steaming pile of absolute dog crap. Try this trick.

Is writing easy? It’s all relative, like everything in life.

Person 1 says yes. We’re all writers. Even people that don’t consider themselves writers do the following on the daily:

  • write text messages,
  • send/reply to emails.

If you’re active on social media, you likely:

  • caption photos,
  • compose status updates, or
  • leave comments.

Person 1 says things like, “I love writing. Writing is my therapy.” They may even have a coffee mug that displays famous authors around its circumference (guilty as charged), a copy of Syd Field’s Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting (whistles while looking away) or Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (I plead the fifth).

ENTER Person 2. Person 2 thinks writing is hard and says things like, “I hate writing. I avoid it at all costs. I’d rather do algebraic equations or pick up dog crap in my backyard.”

Person 2 would benefit from the writing exercise in this post as much as Person 1.

But did you know there’s a Person 3? Person 3 has considered writing but doesn’t think writing is easy. They struggle with writer’s block and the blank page. They write occasionally but not consistently. They think their writing is terrible or at least not worth sharing with anyone outside their cat or dog.

I’d like to be Person 1 all the time but I feel like Person 3 more. If that’s you, you’re not alone:

  • Maya Angelou
  • Cheryl Strayed
  • Neil Gaiman
  • Brené Brown

These are all famous writers who suffer from what’s called Imposter Syndrome. I’m not sure if you can overcome Imposter Syndrome, other than to say, “Oh, well,” but you can overcome resistance to writing. Here’s how. But first a disclosure:

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How to get started writing

Set a timer for 10 minutes and see how much you can write. You can do this one of three ways in:

  • a laptop
  • your phone, or
  • a notebook.

For the purposes of this post, I rolled with the two options most reading this would have at the ready. I wrote on my laptop in the morning and then again on my phone at night. I’m a fan of writing by hand (read: Writing by hand is an act of creative rebellion). So, if that’s your jam, go for it.

As for the timer, use:

  • the built-in timer on your phone,
  • the timer on your microwave,
  • an egg timer if you have one, or
  • my personal favorite: the Time Timer.

My guess is 0% of people reading this have a Time Timer. If you or your child struggle with time management or dilly dallying with any task that’s thrown before you (cleaning your room, studying, homework, reading, getting ready, etc.), you’d be amazed how this simple invention by a mom named Jan Rogers can help.

You’ll notice there’s one on my desk in the cover image of this blog post. For good reason: I struggle with attention deficit and executive management. Unless I set a timer and have a checklist in front of my face, whatever needs to be done probably won’t get done. In comes the Time Timer to save the day.

If writing is new for you, keep it general, meaning: don’t have a topic in mind. Just start vomiting out the first words that come to mind. Eventually the fog will lift and you’ll uncover a sliver of something you weren’t expecting. Sitting down to write is the hardest part, to quote Steven Pressfield.

There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: it’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.

Once you build a habit, you can move from general (word vomit and random thoughts) to honing in on a specific topic. A few examples:

And so on.

This is what 10 minutes of writing looks like on my laptop at 6 AM

When you sit down to write, there’s nothing there. It’s up to you to make the blank screen fill with characters. Writing is like any activity with a starting point.

If I put on my running shoes and walk out the front door, the first 10 minutes are the toughest. It takes time to get in the swing of things. My breathing rate and pace aren’t established yet. To make matters worse, I literally (to use that word correctly) start uphill when I leave home. Uphill as in an incline, an elevation gain — albeit not super steep but enough to get my heart pounding in my ears before I transition to flat ground. That always puts a monkey wrench in the origin of my run.

But if I push through the uphill starting point and the first 10 minutes that follow, my breathing and pace will steady. My run will become smooth. It doesn’t mean the effort decreases. It means I have a rhythm now and that rhythm will push me through to the end, whether that’s a 30 minute run or an hour plus run.

The point is the first 10 minutes are the toughest but that’s no reason to say, “I can’t do this.”

Writing is no different. We all have 10 minutes in our day. No matter how busy we are, there’s always 10 minutes to spare somewhere. We can waste it on a distraction or idleness, and there’s nothing wrong with that from time to time, or we can put those 10 minutes to work learning something new about ourselves. We may even rediscover something old about ourselves long thought lost.

Writing has a way of forcing us to look in the mirror, in a good way. Keeping our thoughts and emotions bottled up inside wears us down over time. Those very thoughts, left unexplored, may lead us down a darker path we don’t even realize we are walking — toward unmanageable stress, anxiety, or even depression.

There’s one minute left on my timer. It’ll ding soon. Ten minutes ago, I thought 10 minutes of writing this early in the morning would be hard.

There’s no gold here.

No Shakespeare.

No Hemingway.

But it did allow me to step into a part of my brain that felt tired and dormant, considering the time of day I write this (early morning). My mind now feels more alive, clearer.

What can you write if you set a timer for 10 minutes? What will you uncover? Let the words come to you.

There’s the timer. Stop.

And this is what 10 minutes of writing looks like on my phone if I set a new timer. This was written at 8 PM

I know a writer who wrote an entire novel on his phone. This was ten years ago when smartphones were still in their infancy in terms of features. He used the Notes app on his iPhone like I am doing now.

His thought process was simple: I have this phone. It’s a miniature computer on steroids. Unlike my laptop or notebook, it’s always with me. Whenever I get an idea, I can pop it out of my pocket and capture it before the idea is lost in the ether.

In my experience, though I’ve only done this on a limited basis, writing poetry on a phone is rendered more poetic than when composed on a laptop.

Each word feels more intentional written this way. I find this ironic. Because when I think of my phone, being intentional isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. The opposite, actually: my thumbs and body feel guided along on autopilot, commanded not against my will, per se, but unaware of my will.

The writing is slower on a phone but this flow feels more natural. Hmm. Is this a route worth committing to more than I realized?

Time is up.

How did you do after setting a timer for 10 minutes? Is the screen still blank? Did you write a couple of sentences or paragraphs? Maybe you only wrote one sentence. If so, there’s power in that alone.

My Papa Hamlett kept a notebook when he was sick and dying of cancer. In it, he wrote who came to visit. His writing was shaky as could be expected due to his illness. One entry, which has always stuck with me over the years, was the name of one of his good friends who died unexpectedly not long after visiting. The entry said something along the lines of “Such and such died. One less person who will be visiting.”

There were three handwritten lines on that page of his little Mead pocket notebook: the date, his good friend’s name and that he died, and an observation that Death had swooped in and guided his friend out of this world.

His shaky handwriting was a reminder he wasn’t far behind his friend. And on the day he died, I couldn’t help but think of how he’d meet his friend again in the other dimension. Maybe they were kids again and had already shot off into the woods to chase rabbits. Maybe they were in an open field playing baseball.

No matter the circumstances of their reintroduction, they were together again. No cancer rifled through their bones or organs. No shooting pains stabbed into their hearts or lungs. Perhaps his good friend’s entry in his notebook said, “One more friend came to visit. Looks like he’s going to stay a while.”

This post was inspired by the nonfiction book The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield. It’s ranked #5 in the Creativity Self-Help section of Amazon. It should be #1.

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By Jeffrey Pillow

Jeffrey Pillow is an American short story writer, memoirist, and poet. He is the author of The Lady Next Door. His writing has been published in Urge Magazine, The Nervous Breakdown, 16 Blocks, USA Today, Sports Illustrated, TheBody.com, New York Times, Washington Post, and Richmond Times-Dispatch.

He grew up in the small town of Phenix, Virginia, population: 200, and now lives in Charlottesville with his wife, two kids, and a dog named Mozzarella Cheese. He is a graduate of the University of Virginia where he was a Rainey Scholar. This is his blog.