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Barbara Abercrombie : Just Do It

Just Do It

Open a new Word file, or pick up a pen right now

By Barbara Abercrombie

So you're sitting there reading this, your screen aglow, computer humming, and maybe you're thinking someday I'll start writing. Or: someday I'll go back to writing or: someday I'll dig out that story I started and finish it.

Like that Nike ad said: Just do it. Open a new Word file, or pick up a pen right now. You're fooling around here, just picking up a pen or doodling on the keyboard. (Nothing serious, a coffee date — not an affair or engagement.) Write down your fantasy of writing — what stories you'll tell, what books you'll write. Write what you'd write if you were to write. You may notice (if you're doing this) that you're writing.

Have fun with the list, yet take it seriously, and remember, no one will see it so you can be as grandiose in your plans as you please. In fact, I encourage you to put on this list all the very best fantasies you can come up with — short stories and poems in the New Yorker, novels that the reviewers will call deep hymns to the resilience of the human spirit, and a memoir that Oprah will love because not only does it resonate emotionally but every word is true.

Of course all this will take time to write and how do you find time to add writing to your busy schedule? Just about everybody I know runs around clutching their hair and moaning, "Life is too busy, there's no time!"

So this is what you do:

  • Turn off your tv set. You don't need to watch sit-coms, sports, reality shows, or local news (As Anne Lamott says, nothing ever happens on local news except reports of fires in places you never visit.) This ought to free up a chunk of time.

  • Be disciplined. You spend time online (enough so that you've found this site) — so when you're doing your e-mail send yourself an email every day about an idea to write about. Everyday. After awhile start writing a few opening lines of your story or essay into this email.

  • Sleep less. I'm not talking about sleep deprivation, but maybe fifteen minutes at the beginning of the day or at the end. In fact, it's good to try writing the moment you wake up. In Becoming a Writer, Dorothea Brande recommends waking up at least half an hour earlier than usual and beginning to write instantly, before you're fully awake. "What you are actually doing," she writes, "is training yourself, in the twilight zone between sleep and the full waking state, simply to write."

When my kids were toddlers I'd set the kitchen timer for one hour during their nap time, and the house rule was that unless they were bleeding they could not enter the kitchen and disturb Their Mother Who Was Writing until they heard the timer go off. I made the sanctity of my writing time sound like such a big deal that not only did I convince them to take it seriously, I convinced myself as well.

"One thing about writing is that it takes time." — M.F.K. Fisher

© 2007 Barbara Abercrombie. All rights reserved.

Barbara AbercrombieBarbara Abercrombie teaches in the writing program at UCLA Extension. The author of novels, children's books, and many essays and articles in national publications, her fourteenth book is "A Year of Writing Dangerously." More »

4/19/07