What I learned in 15 minutes a day…

By Judy Clement Wall

On January 31st, I posted my intent to write wild for 15 minutes a day every day in February.

So here’s the good news. I wrote a lot of stuff – a draft of a short story, notes for a personal essay I decided I’m not ready to write, a monologue, a manifesto, a bit of silliness that will probably grow up to be a blog post some day. I wrote a letter I might send, a promise to myself I will definitely keep, and a list that made me laugh on a day I needed to laugh. Not a bad haul.


I missed six days entirely, and stole at least six more to work on existing projects, something I told myself I wouldn’t do. I struggled constantly to make my 15 minutes a priority (and in so doing, took some of the fun – and wild – out of them). I loved them at first, but less at the end, and that’s partly because I found it nearly impossible to hold my inner critic at bay. Even for just 15 minutes a day.

But here’s the cool thing about experiments. Sometimes what you learn is not what you set out to discover. I may not have managed to write wild every day for 28 days (a worthy goal I am not giving up on), but I did think (and write) a lot about time, and creativity, and the permission we do and don’t give ourselves. I found there are times when “wild” comes easy to me – on and off the page – and there are times when it doesn’t, and that’s okay. Sometimes I need to dig deeper; sometimes I need to cut myself some slack. Turns out, self-forgiveness is a powerful thing. Freeing. There are some places you can only get to by letting go.

And there’s this: 15 minutes is longer than you think, especially when you string a bunch of 15 minutes together. I find that reassuring somehow – a sort of organizational safety net for the hopelessly disorganized.


JUDY CLEMENT WALL is a Course Presenter for the Fear of Writing Online Course and co-manages the FoW blog with Milli. You can read more of her work at Zebra Sounds.

32 Responses to What I learned in 15 minutes a day…
  1. Patti Stafford
    Twitter: pattistafford
    March 1, 2011 | 8:11 AM

    This is a great recap j, thanks for sharing.

    It’s reminded me that I need to get my timer back out and start using it again. Fifteen minutes is a long time and it’s amazing what you can accomplish when racing the clock. LOL

    I can so relate to your statement that sometimes “wild” comes easy and other times it doesn’t. I rarely wake up feeling wild and sassy. Most days I have to talk myself in to it, but a fifteen minute daily writing session would be great for that. It’s on my list, but as you also mentioned, it can be a struggle.

    Thanks again for sharing your experience.


    • j
      March 1, 2011 | 11:54 AM

      It’s true. 15 minutes is a sort of sweet spot – you can get stuff done, but it’s not at all scary. Which is why I was a little disappointed that I struggled. I thought it would be easier.

      I haven’t given up, though. Writing wild, for me, will be a practice – like yoga and piano (you know, if I played the piano.) πŸ˜‰

      Hugs back!

      • Patti Stafford
        Twitter: pattistafford
        March 1, 2011 | 12:25 PM

        I’m actually learning piano. I’m on page 21 of my book. Each day I go back to page one and work up to where I left off. After a few days of that I go one page further. Ironically, that fits in with all of this–challenge yourself, explore yourself and attempt to do better each time.

        I should apply the same to my yoga practice now. πŸ™‚

        • Brian Meeks
          March 1, 2011 | 9:34 PM

          I bought a piano when I turned 38, feeling it was time for my midlife crisis, and becasue I couldn’t afford the Corvette or younger woman. I am teaching myself Fur Elise, one note at a time. It is hard, but fun! I do it a little every day. I am 43 now, but didn’t start Fur Elise until late last year.

          Not the subject of the post, but I got excited by the comment. πŸ™‚

          • Patti Stafford
            Twitter: pattistafford
            March 1, 2011 | 9:51 PM

            Brian – that’s Awesome! I’m 43 and we bought a keyboard last year for me to learn on. The song I want to learn is Danny Boy. I can play the very basic notes (with sheet music, of course.)

            I stopped for about six months, but have picked it back up again. My husband, who is an awesome musician and plays a ton of different instruments, thinks that since I can type a gazillion words per minute that I can play piano. LOL. Well, when I’m writing I’m not trying to read sheet music either. LOL

            Keep me up to date on your progress. πŸ™‚


            P.S. Corvettes and younger women are overrated anyway. πŸ˜‰

  2. Lois
    March 1, 2011 | 10:32 AM

    I so failed at the 15 Minutes A Day thing, but I did learn something from my experience: Sometimes I need it, and sometimes I don’t. I still managed to write 22,632 words in February, all of them fiction. I wrote several character journal entries, two short stories, and other things that escape me at the moment.

    The point is that sometimes we need that extra kick in the butt, and other times we don’t. Forcing yourself to freewrite for 15 minutes each day can be very motivating and freeing, but if you’re already writing a lot, and having a fun time doing it, the extra pressure can detract from that. I love the idea, but for me, it’s best when I’m having a hard time coming up with ideas.

    That’s just my two cents’ worth. πŸ™‚

    • j
      March 1, 2011 | 11:58 AM

      That’s more than two cents worth, it’s priceless! I am a strong believer in figuring out what works for you. I’m so put off by writing advice (or any other advice, frankly) that presumes it’s right for everyone. What a silly notion.

      For me it’s the “wild” part I’m uncovering. I believe my best stuff gets written in a zone I find hard to get into. So figuring out how to get into it at will… it’s my quest.

      • Lois
        March 1, 2011 | 8:22 PM

        I agree completely!

        Once I sit down and write, I have no problem getting into the zone as long as it’s something I’m excited about. πŸ™‚

    • Patti Stafford
      Twitter: pattistafford
      March 1, 2011 | 12:28 PM

      Oh Lois, you fail? You write more than anyone I’ve ever met and you are one of my greatest inspirations for getting things done.

      I know a few people who needs that kick in the butt (perhaps I’m one of them?) but you definitely ROCK when it comes to writing!

      You go girl! πŸ™‚

      • Lois
        March 1, 2011 | 8:26 PM

        Thanks, Patti! πŸ˜€

        I was talking about the freewriting, but I know what you mean. πŸ˜‰ I’m glad I can be an inspiration!

  3. @fearofwriting
    Twitter: fearofwriting
    March 1, 2011 | 11:09 AM

    Self-forgiveness. Amazing that we could even need to learn that from a 15-minute a day commitment. But it rings true for me. Without having verbalized it to myself, as I was reading your post I realized that’s one of the things I got from it too.

    Like you, I did my 15 minutes *most* days, but not all. I used it to journal about β€œstuff” so it was relaxing and had no end goal. On the days I was too | whatever | to do it, I actually didn’t even notice my own transgression. (I notice ALL my transgressions, so that must be progress! ;))

    A bonus thing I got from it was to apply the 15 minutes a day to a sizable writing project – at least in my mind. It’s a project I’ve had to put on the back burner in favor of making a living. But when I eventually go back to it, I have this glowy feeling that I can start by doing 15 minutes a day until I have more time to devote to it.

    All up, I’m grateful for what I learned. Thanks, j! Wonderful experiment.

    ~ Milli

    • j
      March 1, 2011 | 12:01 PM

      Exactly. Half the reason I put myself through all the crazy experiments I do – in creativity, love, writing, leaping – is because I’ve learned that what I get out of them is a) frequently not what I expect and b) more valuable than I predicted.

    • Patti Stafford
      Twitter: pattistafford
      March 1, 2011 | 12:32 PM

      Milli “(I notice ALL my transgressions, so that must be progress! )”

      I’ll be glad when I notice less of my transgressions. Like you, I notice ALL of mine. At least I think I do. I have so many I guess I could have missed a few. LOL

  4. Bell
    Twitter: StartYourNovel
    March 1, 2011 | 11:10 AM

    I have trouble setting aside time to write, myself — especially being a translator, a job that makes me type all day long. In purely physical terms, we’re talking about the same thing.

    I found out that writing in 10-minute or 15-minute stretches can be quite good — it gives your mind the satisfaction of reaching a goal. The more goals you reach, the more confident you feel.

    Going through a whole day without at least jotting some notes down now makes me feel terrible. Which is actually great! For me, that terrible feeling is the extra kick in the butt that LOIS mentions.

    • j
      March 1, 2011 | 12:05 PM

      I agree. I write a lot too. Almost everything I do – the stuff that makes money and the stuff that doesn’t – involves writing, but there’s a certain type of writing I don’t do enough of. That “terrible feeling” is what drove me to try the 15 minutes a day, and it’s what driving me to keep at it, even though I wasn’t entirely successful.

  5. catherine
    March 1, 2011 | 12:11 PM

    I think you did an amazing job in persisting through the entire month and only slacked off a little! But freeing yourself with forgiveness really gave me waves of joy when I read it.

    I confess! I already had to forgive myself in advance of trying for 15 minutes a day of wild writing.

    I felt guilty for years because of this, but I’m more of a do all of the 15 minutes in one day type of person. As much as I love to write, some days I need a rest from it to get back my creative flow. And I would have failed miserably and beat myself up if I even attempted 15 minutes every day of the month.

    Thanks for sharing your story.

    • j
      March 1, 2011 | 9:14 PM

      Thank you for the virtual pat on my back.

      I know a lot of writers who don’t write every day. I do think it’s a matter of figuring out who you are and what works for you, and then absolutely NOT feeling bad about it. (Big words that I definitely to embrace more with myself.)

  6. Patrick Ross
    Twitter: patrickrwrites
    March 1, 2011 | 1:57 PM

    Great post. I like Milli’s reference to forgiving yourself and knowing yourself. Fifteen minutes seems double, but life puts demands on all of us. It’s like diet or exercise, allow yourself to miss occasionally but don’t allow the broken streak to stop you from starting a new one.

    • j
      March 1, 2011 | 9:17 PM

      I agree. (Which is why I’m going to restart my streak of not eating potato chips tomorrow.)

  7. Michael Lockhart
    March 1, 2011 | 3:37 PM

    “There are some places you can only get to by letting go.” Amen sister. That’s going up on the wall.

    I failed utterly, managing my 15 minutes three times. It was a weird month though, and every time I did it, the stuff that came out was black as midnight, as infected as the stuff that was coming out of my nose. It was less catharsis and more lancing a boil. Just not the right time or place.

    But what you say about self-forgiveness? If absolutely nothing came out of an experiment but that, it would be a rousing success. And you doing it was inspiration enough for me. I promise to try again when the timing is right.

    • j
      March 1, 2011 | 9:19 PM

      I’ve got nothing to add. Except we simply have to stop talking about what comes out of your nose. I don’t love EVERY part of you. (Just most of them.)

      • Michael Lockhart
        March 1, 2011 | 9:26 PM

        But it’s such a stunning visual, how do I pass that up? πŸ™‚

  8. Estrella Azul
    March 1, 2011 | 4:41 PM

    I’m sure I’ll quote you on this one day in the near future “Sometimes what you learn is not what you set out to discover.” – so true!
    I missed some days of writing freely, mainly because I just couldn’t quiet my mind enough to focus on typing. However I have some great drafts for flashes, a couple of poems, and like you’ve said some thoughts that have the potential to grow up to be nice blog posts πŸ™‚
    Thank you for nudging us to try this with you, it’s been great to discover that I’m better at writing freely than I originally thought I might be πŸ™‚

    • j
      March 1, 2011 | 9:22 PM

      Wanna try something else with me? I’m doing 15 minutes of daily whatever this month. I’m going to pick the whatever every morning. Like this: (picture me, looking thoughtful) What’s the thing I want to make sure I spend at least 15 minutes on today?

      I didn’t announce this one to the world. Just you. We’ll be a team of two. πŸ˜‰

      • Michael Lockhart
        March 1, 2011 | 9:27 PM

        I so heard that…

      • Estrella Azul
        March 2, 2011 | 12:51 PM

        I’m totally in, J! That sounds like a fun way to find time for things we otherwise might push aside in order to do something we ‘must do’ but what isn’t as much fun for us.
        I’ll start off with a few days worth of daily whatever on my trip this weekend πŸ™‚

        • j
          March 2, 2011 | 2:45 PM

          Yay! Me too. (Michael, you can come too.)

  9. Brian Meeks
    March 1, 2011 | 9:36 PM

    I am sorry to hear you didn’t make your goal, but I like your attitude about it. What I didn’t understand though, was the 15 minutes of writing other than regular daily writing?

    • j
      March 2, 2011 | 2:45 PM

      Yes. I was trying to carve out time for a more “wild” sort of writing. The kind John Irving is talking about when he says that, as writers, we feel on the edge of humiliation, almost out of control… when we feel like we’re writing somewhat over our heads. I agree with him that it’s where our most vibrant stuff lies.

  10. Aisha
    March 2, 2011 | 11:20 PM

    LOVE this post. As a new mom- I feel like if I want to get writing done consistently each day, I MUST write wild, with abandon [at least sometimes, refining later when I have more time]- its an important skill to push away the inner critic and a challenge like this I’m sure was quite helpful [though as you pointed out- you can’t always successfully keep the mean inner critic at bay]. Thanks for the food for thought!

    • j
      March 3, 2011 | 1:53 PM

      You’re welcome. I’d have struggled to find even 15 minutes when my boys were babies. You clearly have superpowers. πŸ˜‰

  11. Staci Mclean
    February 19, 2012 | 1:15 PM

    For me it’s the β€œwild” part I’m uncovering. The more goals you reach, the more confident you feel. So figuring out how to get into it at will… it’s my quest.

Leave a Reply

Wanting to leave an <em>phasis on your comment?