Perhaps the single most important piece of advice I ever got about writing came to me by accident. It was 10 or 11 years ago, and I was working as the tradebook manager for the Georgia State University Bookstore in downtown Atlanta. The tradebook department in a college bookstore is basically the general book (as opposed to textbook) section. My duties included selling books in the back of the room whenever an author or other dignitary spoke on campus. This particular night, the popular novelist E. Lynn Harris was on campus, and so I sold books for his booksigning. Sitting not ten feet away from him, I heard him give this advice to a woman who came to see him, who mentioned that she was an aspiring author:
"Let me give you the same advice that Alice Walker once gave to me, before I ever got published. Write something every day. Something — even if it’s just a sentence or two!"
Although it wasn’t offered to me, I made a mental note anyway, being just as much an aspiring author as the woman to whom the advice was given. Ten books later, it remains not only the most helpful advice I ever received, but also the advice that I most frequently give out myself.
Write something every day. If you’ve got time to brush your teeth or comb your hair, you’ve got time to put down a sentence or two. Of course, more is better, but it’s the same principle that fuels a successful meditation practice. Five minutes of meditation each day is better than a half hour sitting time once or twice a week. The reasoning behind this is obvious enough: the daily regimen creates a habit. Five minutes of daily meditation, faithfully practiced, eventually will yield a natural desire to sit for longer and longer periods of time. So it is with the writing. Get that daily sentence or two written, and eventually the impulse to write will extend far beyond the daily paragraph.
Hmmm. There are many ways in which a discipline of writing echoes a discipline of meditation. This little secret for how to create such disciplines is merely one such echo.