Writing for 5 Minutes a Day Equals a Book in a Year

I don’t think it’s said often enough that you CAN write a novel (or a script, or a TV pilot….) in whatever time you have. Even if that’s only five minutes a day. If you have kids, if you have the day job from hell, if you are clinically depressed, if there’s a pandemic, if democracy seems to be crumbling around you— whatever is going on in your life, if you have five minutes a day, as long as you write EVERY DAY, to the best of your ability, you can write a novel that way.

Five minutes a day for a year equals a book.

I’ll say it again.

Five minutes of writing a day for a year equals a book.

I wrote my first novel, The Harrowing, by writing just five minutes per day. My day job was screenwriting, at the time, and yes, it was a writing job, but it had turned into the day job from hell. But fury is a wonderful motivator and at the end of the day, every day, I was so pissed off at the producers I was working for that I would make myself write five minutes a day on the novel EVERY NIGHT, just out of spite.

2020 was the year from hell (with a happy ending, or happy start). But I actually got a lot done last year. I started an online writing class. I had Covid in the spring and recovered, although it took a while. I did everything I could do from a distance to help save democracy. And I wrote a book. Not just a book—the biggest book I’ve ever written. The first of a new series that’s different from anything I’ve ever written before.

How did I do it? I never stopped writing. Even if I only spent five minutes a day on it.

Okay, the trick to this is—if you write five minutes a day, you will write more than five minutes a day, sometimes a whole hell of a lot more than five minutes a day most days. But it’s the first five minutes that are the hardest. And that often ended up happening. Sometimes I was so tired that all I could manage was a sentence, but I would sit down at my desk and write that one sentence. But some days I’d tell myself all I needed to write was a sentence, and I’d end up writing three pages.

It’s just like the first five minutes of exercise, something I learned a long time ago. As long as I can drag myself to class (or right now, to the living room) and endure that first five minutes of the workout, and I give myself permission to leave after five minutes if I want to, I will generally do the whole class, and usually end up loving it. (There are these wonderful things called endorphins, you see, and they kick in after a certain amount of exposure to pain…)

The trick to writing, and exercise, is—it’s STARTING that’s hard. I have been writing professionally for . . . well, never mind how many years. But even after all those many years—every single day, I have to trick myself into writing. I will do anything—scrub toilets, clean the cat box, do my taxes, do my mother’s taxes—rather than sit down to write. It’s absurd. I mean, what’s so hard about writing, besides everything? But I know this just like I know it about exercise. If you can just start, and commit to just that five minutes, those five minutes will turn into ten, and those ten minutes will turn into pages, and one page a day for a year is a book.

Think about it. Or better yet, write for five minutes, right now.

You have a whole half a year left.

Write a book.

—Alex