Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Terri Main: Showing Up

There is a statement that has been attributed to a number of people that goes, “Ninety percent of success is just showing up.” This is no less true of the writer than it is anyone else. For the writer, “showing up” means applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair in front of the keyboard writing.

Yet, how many of us say we don’t have time to write. There are many reasons for this. I discuss several of them in my new book The No-Excuse Zone: A Writer’s Guide to Productivity in the Real World. One of the most common though is the misconception that one has to spend hours at the computer at one time in order to get any work done. This is just not true. Writing in short, but consistent, sessions will be more productive than writing in long, but infrequent ones.

I discovered this a few years ago during a Nanowrimo event. In case you don’t know Nanowrimo, it’s a month of craziness during which people from around the world attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in just one month. I had “won” (meaning completed the 50K words) several years in a row and was trying to do the same again. However, I got sick half way through the month. I could only work in 15 minute sessions before I had to lay down and rest.

I did this off and on throughout the day. To my surprise, I was not only keeping up with my normal word count, I was actually exceeding it. That was an eye opener for me. When I thought about it, it did make sense. The longer you write at any one setting, the more tired you get. The more tired you get, the slower you write. Writing in shorter sessions, I was always writing at my peak.

You might not have an hour or two hours a day to write. Few of us do, but do you have four 15 minute sessions? Or even one or two? You might be saying “What can be done in just 15 minutes a day?”

Okay, let’s say you write at about 15 words a minute. That’s pretty slow actually. If you sit down and just write with no soda, no adjusting the computer, no stacking papers. Sit down and start writing and not stopping until the timer rings, you will have written 225 words. Let’s call it 200 for easy figuring. Doing that every week day for a year is 50,000 words. That’s a short novel. And it’s 50,000 words more than you would write waiting for two hour sessions that you never have.

Also, you would be surprised how much time you find you have when you actually start writing. In one group we began a 10-minute a day club. Write for just 10 minutes a day. It was just writing. Not good writing. Just putting words on paper. Many people reported that even though they intended to just write 10 minutes, they ended up writing longer. “It’s like potato chips,” one person said. “Once you start you can’t stop.”

Yes, ninety percent of success is just showing up. Have you showed up to work today?

Terri Main is a retired college professor who has spent more than 40 years in publishing at one level or another. She has written everything from newspaper and magazine articles to video scripts to books and even one radio drama. She lives in Reedley, California with her five cats. When she isn't writing, she is teaching online writing classes through her Wordmaster Academy.


Have you shown up to work today? @TerriMain @DeliaLatham

Try timed writing. You'll be amazed. @TerriMain @DeliaLatham 


  1. Interesting conception, Terri. It is amazing that we can write 50,000 words in a year in two 15-minute sessions 5 days per week. My problem is zoning in and focusing on my story. I really shouldn't set the timer until I've cleared my mind of everything else. Otherwise, the laundry and dirty dishes will yell louder than my muse.

    1. I agree, Laurean. I LOVE timed writing, and usually get amazing results when I do it...but not if my mins is on something I've left undone in the house. It definitely works best when I take care in the important things at home first, then I can write by the timer to my heart's content. :)

  2. Welcome, Terri! I enjoyed your post.

  3. Thank you Delia for bringing us all these authors and their great tips on writing. I am gaining so much good info. Now to just put it all to good use ;~}

    1. My pleasure, Renette! I'm thrilled to know they're reaching someone and really helping. :)

  4. A timely and very helpful post for me, Terri. This is insightful advice I'll commit to putting into practice starting tomorrow. It's late, so I must start tomorrow. Thank you for sharing your experience. And thank you Delia for providing this platform for authors to share.

  5. You'll have fun! Glad it was helpful. :)