A Few Short Minutes

The following post is from Writer's Relief, Inc. Guest blogger Diane Stark is a former teacher turned freelance writer. Her work has been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Tribute to Moms and MomSense. She is the author of Teacher's Devotions to Go.

My dad loved football.

As a little girl, I would do everything I could to gain his attention while he was watching the game. I’d stand in front of the television, offer to get him a snack, ask him questions about the game, anything to get him to glance my way. My dad would try to ignore me, and then call for my mother to come and get me, and finally, in desperation, he’d promise to take me for an ice-cream cone if I’d just sit still and be quiet for the last six minutes of the game.

“Six minutes? What can happen in six minutes? Can’t we just get the ice cream now?” I’d ask. “The Dolphins are winning by fourteen points. There’s no way the other guys can catch up in just six minutes.”

My dad would just sigh and shake his head. “A few short minutes can change everything” was his answer.

I haven’t watched football with my father in more than a decade, but I’ve never forgotten his words.

A few short minutes can change everything.

Those words are true about more than just football.

A touchdown is nothing more than getting the ball across the field, yard by precious yard. A novel, or an article, or even a poem is nothing more than our thoughts and our research, written down one word at a time. Either can happen in tiny increments or in one long burst of energy.

How it happens isn’t important, but only that it does.

A few short minutes can change everything.

A football game. Or your writing career.

Six minutes is more than enough time to accomplish one small step toward improving your writing career. It’s plenty of time to locate writer’s guidelines on the Internet. It’s enough time to learn something new by reading an article in a writing magazine or on a writing Web site, or to study an article in your target publication. It’s more than enough time to sign up to receive a writing e-zine or to read one that you’re already getting. It’s enough time to write down a great idea or start on a character sketch. You can begin an outline or locate an interview source online. You can even type a paragraph or two. It’s enough time to take a step in the right direction.

Six minutes may not sound like a lot of time, but it’s too much time to waste. Most writers have to scrape for extra time; we grab it whenever and wherever we can. Just a few minutes a couple of times a day can add up to several extra hours of writing time each week.

A few short minutes can change everything.

Think about your daily schedule. How many minutes do you spend waiting for something or someone? We wait at the doctor’s office, we wait to pick up our children from school and sporting events, we wait in traffic, we even wait for water to boil. Don’t waste those short blocks of time. Instead, use waiting time as writing time. Keep a notebook or small tape recorder in your car and use those minutes to get down a few paragraphs. Even if you just spend your wait time thinking about your writing, rather than about how terrible traffic is, you’ll be more prepared to write the next time you have a few minutes. You’ll also feel a lot better.

What about your television watching habits? We all have our favorite shows, ones we’d feel deprived if we missed. But what about the shows before or after your favorite? Do you really need to sit and watch them too? Why not write during that time? See how much you can accomplish during the commercial breaks. You may surprise yourself.

A few short minutes can change everything.

In football, in writing, and in life, every big play starts with a decision. A decision to try. To work hard, no matter what happens. To keep trying, even when a 300-pound defenseman—or a less than tactful editor—tackles us to the ground. We get up and try again on the next play.

As many times as it takes.

We just keep plugging away, minute by minute, yard by yard, knowing that someday soon, we’re going to score. Big time.

So no matter how much time you have to write, use it wisely. Don’t waste those extra minutes. They can make a huge difference in your writing career.

Use those extra minutes in your life. Use them to change your life.

Remember, a few short minutes can change everything.

“Writer’s Relief, Inc. is a highly recommended author’s submission service. Established in 1994, Writer’s Relief will help you target the best markets for your creative writing. Visit their Web site at http://www.WritersRelief.com to receive their FREE Writers’ Newsflash, which contains valuable leads, submission guidelines, and deadlines for writing in all genres.”

Photo: "Six-Minute Eggs", Dave-F

It's in the Details

During my second week in Arizona, we stayed at a resort close to the Camelback Mountains. Unlike hubby, who was stuck in meetings all day, I was lucky enough to sit in a lounge chair by the pool and drink in the beauty of these magnificent hills.

I sat in the same chair every day. Directly in front of me, "attached to the “head” of the camel, was an outcropping of rock called “The Praying Monk”." Now, I have a confession to make. Even though I had been at this resort for close to a week, I didn't see it - the praying monk, that is.

The mountain as a whole had my undivided attention, but I hadn't bothered to take in the details.

For someone who likes to create shapes out of clouds, I was stumped. And then it hit me - the aha moment when all becomes crystal clear - and when I wasn't even looking for it. I glanced up from my book and saw it. It was glaringly obvious. There he was, in all his glory: a monk. Head bowed, kneeling in prayer, a cloak covered his head.

After spending nearly a week here, why hadn't I seen it before? And then it struck me. Just like the Praying Monk, epiphanies hit you with the suddenness of a lightning bolt, when you least expect them. At the moment you stop actively searching for the answers and allow the universe to provide them, crucial insights will surface.

There's a divine order to these things, I think. Time and again, the perfect solution to a gnarly question falls from the sky: a perfect blending of the right place at the right time and our own ability to put the knowledge into action is all that's required.

I still shake my head in wonderment as I look at the photo of what was right in front of me. In much the same way the key to moving forward with my novel sits right in front of me. I had allowed the mountain of paper on my desk to stifle my creative flow. All I could see was a vast expanse of white. Was this a novel? Novella?..or maybe a short story. The questions swirled in my head, but I no longer knew.

I couldn't see what was smack dab in front of me.

Write. And keep writing. The details will emerge when I get out of the way and simply allow my characters to tell their stories. I'm in the right place at the right time, and I'm more than willing to put this knowledge into action.

Writing is a Job

In a recent Washington Post article, Ann Patchett made a New Year’s resolution. She discovered a “radical concept — time spent working equals output of work.” It dawned on her that writing is a job and therefore not to be taken lightly. You mean… it’s not something that I squeeze in between jaunts to the supermarket, dry cleaners, hair salon, and doctor’s appointments? Not to mention laundry, scouring the oven, and cleaning toilets?? All of which I do to avoid sitting down at the computer and facing my Inner Editor, by the way.

It’s not that I’m actually afraid of my Inner Saboteur (who, when my writing instructor asked the class to put a face and name to it, turned out to be an annoying Leprechaun, utterly devoid of the power and magnificence of The Great and Powerful Oz).

The fact is…I buy into pretty much everything he has to say. And it turns out that I’m not the only writer who does.

According to Ann Patchett (who, incidentally, is the author of five novels, including Bel Canto (winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize),

“Writing is an endless confrontation with my own lack of talent and
intelligence, because if I were as smart and talented as I ought to be, I would
have finished this book by now. I would consider avoiding work the better plan
were it not for the fact that to have written a book, to have finished it, is
such a glorious thing that it is worth whatever suffering is meted out in the

The trick, I think, is to see the Inner Editor for who he (or she) truly is: the man behind the curtain, whose sole purpose in life is to keep us safe – protected from even a glancing blow of failure.

Once I managed to see his true colours, I took great delight in throwing back the curtain, and showing him the door. Not that he doesn’t skulk into my office whenever he can get the chance. But, he’s an intruder, and ever since the day I stood up to him and stripped him of his title of General Know-It-All, I was ready to accept a new voice into my creative hub room. A voice that gently guides me through the miasma of creating something even vaguely readable.

So, who knows? Maybe, now that I have a new boss, and I take the time each day to actually work on this novel that’s been taking up every square inch of space in my brain for the past two years – actually see it as a job – the results won’t be half bad. Or, as Ann Patchett said, it “may well be brilliant. Now there’s a beautiful thought.”

Come to the Edge

By Sophfronia Scott

How big do you think? When it comes to thinking about writing a book or planning strategy for a business, it seems we’re constantly being told to “Think Big”. Goals are supposed to be just big enough to make us uncomfortable. I do understand the importance of thinking big: it makes you stretch yourself and test your abilities.

But there’s a downside to thinking big: it can inspire fear. When you think too big or try to do too much, the possibility of failure looms. You fear failing, you fear trying. Next thing you know, you’re frozen with fear. I walk this line constantly. My current writing projects can easily be described as “ambitious” so fear is constantly lurking at the edge of the forest of my mind. Can I really write this? Can I finish it? When the fear rises, I find these two quotes to be helpful:

“‘Come to the edge,’ He said. They said, ‘We are afraid.’ ‘Come to the edge,’ He said. They came. He pushed them… and they flew.” — Guillaume Apollinaire

“You don’t have to save the whole world in a single bound. Small steps, taken again and again, will accomplish far more than any grandiose scheme.” — Ralph Marston

Notice in the first quote that the “they” do not have to start out flying. They are not asked to jump. They only have to “come to the edge”. The rest of what they needed–momentum, circumstance, opportunity (or, in this case, a friendly push)–showed up and took them the rest of the way. In the second quote, again, you see that you don’t have to accomplish the big thing all at once. You start small and you do something small. As you walk you achieve the world along the way.

You don’t have to write a 400-page book or execute a million-dollar business strategy all in one week. But you can write one page. You can send out one email or one letter to promote a product or service. You can then write another page, mail a postcard, or start a newsletter. Before you know it, you’ll be on your way.

And here’s the best part: as you’re moving along and taking your small steps, you won’t have space in your mind for fear. Every small accomplishment will push it further and further away. Then your book will be written, your business will be successful, and you will be flying. Come to the edge.

© 2010 Sophfronia Scott

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR E-ZINE OR WEB SITE? You can, but you must include this complete resource box with it: Sophfronia Scott is Executive Editor of the Done For You Writing & Publishing Company. Learn what a difference being a published author can make for your business. Get your FREE audio CD, “How to Succeed in Business By Becoming a Bestselling Author” and your FREE online writing and book publishing tips at http://www.doneforyouwriting.com/.

Think Different

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes…”

I wrote this post a few days ago, but saved it in my draft folder. Almost as if I hadn’t finished with it, almost as if I needed to read someone else’s perspective. And then I stumbled upon a blog post that so closely mirrored how I was feeling that it took my breath away. The author captured that moment when we are suddenly aware of our surroundings: the mud beneath our feet, the clouds in the sky, and the various sounds the wind makes.

I realized that there was something I had left out in my own post: gratitude. And I am thankful.

I am in Phoenix, Arizona, sighing with pleasure as I bask in the sun and stare at a robin’s egg blue sky. It looks like someone has stretched cotton batting across its surface, so I am playing a game of “What Shape Is It?” I used to play this game when I was little, but I can’t remember the last time I gave myself permission to play it. When my kids were small, maybe?

One of the shapes looks like the Snow Queen from Hans Christian Anderson has spread her arms wide in her quest to reach the heavens.

The sad truth is that I don’t allow myself the luxury of playing creative games like this, now that I’m a grownup. Or, at least, not very often. Why not? The obvious answer is that I consider them to be a waste of time – time that could be better spent cleaning, preparing meals, or writing.

In short, I could be doing something more productive.

So, it’s clearly time to “think different”. In that light, here is today’s intention: I will take at least 5 minutes every day to merely observe. Whether it’s a snow-capped mountain in Phoenix, or a snow-covered hill in my backyard in Toronto, I will rest from the need to do.

Because if something lifts your spirits – like watching a sunset that would take your breath away, or flakes of snow sliding down your kitchen window – then what in the world could be more productive than that?

And let me add another intention: I will practice being grateful. Gratitude will be the first thing I choose to embrace each morning, rather than choosing to focus on my to-do list.

And, lastly, I will count my blessings, rather than keeping a list of grievances.

Because, when all is said and done, I have a pretty good life.

Laugh in the Face of Fear

This video cracks me up. And it gave me an idea. I keep bumping into gratitude, lately. Which is to say that sometimes I feel like I’m stumbling about in the dark when I’m facing a major decision, and then, out of the blue, a feeling of deep gratitude will wash through me. Like today, for instance. Since the New Year, I’ve been working on my novel. Or should I say, working on working on my novel. The story itself has fled for the hills, apparently, leaving me with the daunting task of starting the whole thing over again. Sigh.

Should I keep the main character? Or merely change the circumstances she finds herself in? And now that you mention it, just who is my heroine? These, and many other questions, sneaked up on me during the night, and left me staring at the ceiling. Blindsided by fear. Like a cunning Survivor member – Russell Hantz comes to mind, immediately – Fear knows exactly which buttons to push. And like Russell, fear won’t hesitate to cut you out, and cut you down to size, when it suits its purposes. As business coach, Aprille Janes once said, “Never underestimate the Inner Saboteur. He/she is very smart, AND just when you think you’ve successfully banished him, viola, he has henchmen!”

I read today that

“Fear is a mysterious thing. It’s mostly imagination based, but we live our lives as if it were the most physical thing in our existence. Many times in your life, you have probably discovered that things you were afraid to say, do, or have, were nowhere near as bad on the other side of them. At this time in our cultural history we are facing many real fears, including layoffs and financial losses, and while it’s worrying, and perhaps threatening, it’s not the end of the world.

Making changes in life is hard at the best of time. We like the ‘comfort zone’ of our existence, but many times we are deeply uncomfortable. We have a million reasons why we can’t or won’t do something, even when we know that doing things differently will improve our lives.

We are in transition with no way of knowing what’s next, and that’s when fear likes to show up. It lurks in the GAP between the known and the unknown. It keeps our mind locked on overdrive, worrying if we will survive.”

Fear lurks in the shadows of the night, waiting to pounce. Last night, I took it by the hand and gladly invited it into my bed. Fear became my bedfellow, when really I should have treated it like an intruder.

In the clear light of day, as I stopped what I was doing and literally smelled the flowers, I found that gratitude is one of the most powerful antidotes to the poisonous presence of fear. And did I mention that it doesn’t hurt to laugh in the face of it?

Keep Life Simple and Clean

Keep life simple and clean. That's my mantra for 2010. And so, I've begun de-cluttering my life.
"The secret to decluttering your brain is to figure out what you can and
can’t change. Maybe the only thing you can change about certain situations is
your attitude." (How to Declutter
Your Life.)

This was echoed in What Came Down Today, a wonderful blog written by "a distractable writer and author who is attempting to learn everything (and ends up writing about most of it)".

"Why are we doing things the way we’ve always done it? Why not do something
different? The best innovations and ideas come when we strive to do things
differently than everyone around us."

I find a certain comfort in that statement. It gives me a whole new arena to explore my story. And when you just show up, write your story - one that has only your imprint on it - the possibilities, and choices, are endless.

In creating your vision, you are daring to dream big. And I don't know about you, but I'm sick to death of playing it safe. I stumble now as I follow in the footprints of the guy in front of me. In short, I'm going back to the drawing board so I can begin to create anew. Granted, it's not easy to throw out a lifetime of bad habits, excuses, and negative self-talk in one fell swoop, but I've got to start somewhere.

So I'll start with a vision. My vision. I'll dare to create a different story, and I'll make it big. Because if we're going to do something different, we might as well go all the way. There, that's simple, and that's clean.

What about you?