The Five-Minute Writing Pep Talk


This is my pep talk. This is my half-time speech. I know the truth of this deep in my bones and so do you.

Everything happens 5 minutes at a time.

In fact, most important things happen in even smaller intervals. Disagree? Go out and time a few marriage proposals, car accidents or heart attacks.

Big change is a myth.

The idea that you have to devote your whole life to do something great (or 10,000 hours) is a lie. If you look closely at big changes you can see that they are good PR (or whopping lies) constructed around a collection of very small changes. You know what a mountain is? It’s a bunch of spoonfuls of dirt.

We focus on the mountains because they are big and sexy. But we don’t think much about the spoonfuls: those little packages of time in which the real work gets done.

Like training for a marathon. You know what the hardest part is? The marathon? Hell no. That’s easy. You’re amped up. People are cheering you on. And, if you’re not a complete idiot, you’re well-prepared. But the preparation? You know what’s hard? Early morning training runs. Especially when you’re cold and lonely and you just want to stay in bed.

In fact, it’s the five minutes it takes you get out of bed and pull your shoes on. That’s the five minutes that count. That’s the five minutes in which heroes are made.

### For writing, the first five minutes when you sit down to write is what counts.

Those minutes when you clear everything else out of your head and soak in the suck. These are the five minutes of the blank page, the blinking cursor, of feeling hopelessly inadequate to the task at hand. It’s the five, focused, uninterrupted minutes it takes for your brain to catch up with your intention. What separates the writers who finish from the writers who don’t? You got it. Five uncomfortable minutes.

If you can take feeling like a hack for five minutes, then the words and the ideas will come. Sure, the next time you sit down to write you might think they suck. And they may suck. But the only way to get to the words that don’t suck is by going through the first five minutes again and again.

That feeling like there’s no hope? That’s there’s nothing you can do to make your pile of words better? Everybody has that feeling. And it’s only strong for five minutes.

The first five minutes always suck.

Tolstoy wrote War and Peace five minutes at a time. J.K. Rowling wrote all those gigantic Harry Potter books five minutes at a time. And the first five minutes always suck. As the man said, “Writing isn’t hard, it’s the sitting down to write that kills ya.”

Normal people, civilians, the kind of people who stay in bed and away from keyboards, they cheer for the end, the last five minutes, the victory. Sure, victory is nice. But me? I cheer for the first five minutes. Because those are the minutes that count. The five minutes in which the game of writing is won and lost. The five minutes that always suck.

Sure, writing is a complicated skill. But all of the choices you can make and the skills you can employ bottleneck at the first five minutes. It’s just this simple: if you make it through the first five minutes you’re a writer. If you don’t, try again.