What Happens When You Write 20 Minutes a Day? 22

ON A WHIM, and in a desperate attempt to revive my regular writing practice, I joined a 28-day, 20-minute per day writing challenge starting January 2nd and running through the end of the month. The challenge is sponsored and organized by Story Circle Network, an organization for women writers, which has been a powerful influence in my own writing growth. 

When I signed up, I thought, Maybe I can do this. Sure, I can write 20 minutes a day, six days a week. Then I found out that we would be put into groups and within our groups we would have accountability partners to whom we would send our writing every day. That person would then provide feedback — not critiquing the writing itself, but responding to what was said.

What? I have to send my horrible first draft off-the-cuff writing to some poor soul to read every day? I suddenly felt very vulnerable. How would I handle this? I was planning on using the challenge to re-establish my journaling practice. Would I be able to write honestly in my journal knowing that someone — some stranger — would be reading it?

Ultimately, I decided that I could, and so I dove in.

My group has only three people in it, so we resolved to do a rotating circular share, where writer #1 sends her writing to writer #2, who sends her writing to writer #3, who sends hers to writer #1. And once every 10 days we rotate positions so that we could have the opportunity to read everyone’s work.

As I am writing this, we are now 25 days in, and I have missed only 2 days of writing in that time. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  1. It’s difficult to maintain a daily writing practice if you don’t have a set schedule for writing. I already knew this, but this experience has confirmed for me that establishing a specific time of day or sequence of events (after lunch or before bed, for instance) is crucial to actually doing it. When I don’t specify a time and I have a busy day — and my days are always busy — I often find myself on my way to bed when I suddenly realize I haven’t done my 20 minutes. I must then force myself to sit down at the computer and write. It’s difficult to feel inspired in this situation.

    I used to get up every morning at 5:00 am to write before work. That time is now taken up with my physical training (cycling and weights). Over the past year or so I’ve questioned my priorities in this regard, but I have also learned that I must put my physical and mental health first. So it’s a bit of a conundrum that I haven’t fully solved — yet. 
  2. No matter how convinced I might have been that I could reinstate a daily writing practice on my own, I needed the accountability of sending my writing to someone each day. In my example above, if I didn’t have an accountability partner, it would be so easy to just shrug and say, “Oh well, I’ll write tomorrow,” instead of sticking with my commitment.
  3. Writing brings you closer to others. The three of us started out as strangers, but in the course of the last 25 days, we have shared a great deal of our lives with each other. Sometimes our writing takes the form of letters. In this time of pandemic isolation, I am appreciating the social interaction as well as the opportunity to form new friendships. I have also read two of their published books, a graphic memoir (Catalogue Baby) and a novel (Where the Stork Flies), which has deepened my understanding and appreciation of these women.
  4. Taking on a challenge with others is a good way to start a new habit and gain momentum toward your goals. Sometimes in life, we all need cheerleaders.
  5. Staying committed to a goal in the face of obstacles improves self-confidence, which, in turn, increases the likelihood of success. Even a goal as simple as writing 20 minutes per day for a month can form a foundation to build upon.

What happens next?

I will finish this challenge. Then, I will set myself another simple, achievable writing goal. (I will let you know what it is.) And, I will find an accountability partner to help provide that extra support when my motivation flags. 

I’m curious…

What are your short-term writing goals, if any? How have you structured your writing time? And do you have friendly support or are you attempting to push through on your own? 

And finally, would you be interested in being part of an online writing circle, where you shared your writing with a small number of writers who helped hold you accountable to a writing schedule?

Put your answers in the comments below and let’s start a conversation.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

22 thoughts on “What Happens When You Write 20 Minutes a Day?

  • Len

    Thank you, Amber, for sharing your experience about the 20 Minutes a Day Challenge at Story Circle Network. I would love for SCN members to read your thoughts on this. Please consider sending it to Linda Hoye (linda.hoye@gmail.com) for publication on the One Woman’s Day blog. Thanks, Len

  • Marie E. LaConte

    Yes, I’d be interested in the challenge. My writing goals included proceeding with a half-journal-half-memoir I started in January 2020 and is nearing its organic end, currently around 68,000 words, unedited. It is something I maybe would like to publish. Last couple of months, I’ve been slacking.

    I also have a blog that has been going for some years and should be tightened up for (maybe) publication, for my four grandchildren, if for no one else.

  • Jacqui Dickson

    Yes def interested. I can only keep writing by enrolling on one course after another and that gets expensive although brilliant for learning. But understand that anything (work tv exercise other interests) becomes more important and distracting. I def need accountability. 🤗

  • Maddy S

    I’d love accountability, but I feel weird saying this because I don’t consider myself a writer. I have no desire to publish or write anything for anyone else’s eyes. I just want to journal more consistently because I know it’s good for my mental health (or I at least think it is, I almost never stick with it), but I feel like it would help with mental clarity and decrease my scatter-brainedness.

  • Jeanne Zeeb-Schecter

    Hi Amber,
    I just finished the 28 Day Challenge with Story Circle Network that you wrote about above. You are correct that an accountability partner made a huge difference in my motivation and showing up six days a week. I also had two partners. I felt very vulnerable in the first 3-4 days, but pushed myself to be open and honest. My partners also did the same and the next thing I knew we were becoming friends.
    I would love it if you started something similar on your site. Even just the 20 minutes spurts helped my creativity.

  • Jeannette Kirts

    I am recording family history stories with our pictures for our grandchildren.
    I have not structured my writing time.
    I do have support although I do not share my writing with anyone.
    I am interested in being in a writing circle.
    I have been at this for several years, but have had health issues between husband and myself delay my completing this.

  • Suellen

    Hi Amber! Congratulations on your return to writing and your writing challenge! I have two writing partners and correspond with them separately. With the one I don’t think I have missed a day in years and the other I come quite close to that. One was very ill for many months (she thinks long covid) but I wrote faithfully and it has paid off as she has in turn taken the lead recently. We are writing our way through the book “It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again” by Julia Cameron. We are taking a chapter per month whereas the book calls for doing it in a week. What’s the rush? We have time to do it slowly and savor it.

    We are at the same time working our way through another book called “Peace and Happiness” by Susyn Reeve which which we have turned into a weekly writing challenge. We are taking both books as guides not blueprints so we pick and choose what exercises appeal to us. We also write about day to day stuff and even though we live far from each other and have only met a couple of times when I traveled to her area, we are very close. We started out in the same writing group in a Yahoo group years ago. The other person is a high school friend and we have rekindled our friendship with our daily writing. We support each other in many ways and it has been wonderful. However it does take time and that is what I do in the early mornings.

    I have another plan to write a newspaper column for my tiny local paper. So far I am just writing it in my head although the editor expressed some interest when I called her. I am also working on an essay on my experience with my labyrinth i built last summer. It could also be a chapter in my memoir which is mostly in the fantasy stage. I try to journal for myself in my paper journal and that also may become part of the memoir. I code each journal entry with tiny sketched icons to keep track but everything goes into one big journal book. I did Story Circle years ago and was in a group. Back then it was very hard for me to share with strangers. My hurdle now is to actually write the newspaper column and send it. I live in a small community where many people know me so it is hard to put myself out there. I feel that those who know me will think I am nuts and stranger will recoil in disgust. Maybe a writing circle would help at this point? So, I guess you could say I am somewhat interested in a circle. Thanks!

  • Julie Schmuckie

    Hi. I appreciate your post. I have a table at which I write as thoughts and ideas come. I do not have a structure or an accountability person for writing. I am interested in the 20 minutes for 28 days and started this yesterday on my own. I am interested in the online group.
    Thanks for bringing this together

  • Mike Byrnes

    Thanks to “Week by Week” I’m approaching 20 minutes a day. The W x W prompts make sense and seem to be going somewhere. I’m convinced that I can do this despite my sad history of launching and failing to reach orbit.

    Accountability is already my daily nag partner. I need something more; something beyond scolding or a cheerful ‘you can do this’.

    I hope you’re OK with my 73 year commitment to the male pronoun and you’ll allow my imaginary co-pilot, Watts Nex, to sit in. Watts and I already received approval from my wife to squeeze in one more journey (scribbling a few thoughts on paper) before we run out of gas. She only insists that I come home for lunch and dinner without Watts. (She didn’t mention anyone named Starfire.)

    So what’s next?


    • Amber Lea Starfire Post author

      Mike, great to hear that Week by Week is helping with your journaling/writing goals! I’m with you on the need something more, and a structure as well as some helpful feedback really adds to the experience. What’s next? I’m looking into an online tool to create small writing circles online. I’ll keep you you and the others here posted.

  • Carhy

    Most definitely. I would locwe
    To be part of a small group of other writers would be very rewarding. I would also like the imposes discipline of regular, daily writing.

  • Nancy Dye Leer

    Hello, Amber. Lovely updated photo of you.
    I have followed WTL for many years, and have been working on my memoir since I retired from university teaching (psychology) in 2014. My husband is of the opinion that I don’t WANT to finish it, but that isn’t true. The memoir concerns childhood neglect, its effects and how I’ve healed.
    I generally write in the morning, from about 5:30 to 8:30 with a break for breakfast and then the gym on MWF. During the day I grab whatever moments I can.
    While I have friends who write, we’ve not successfully maintained an accountability mechanism.
    I would appreciate a writing circle, especially for critical feedback about what I’ve written/am writing. Is that appropriate, or is the purpose only accountability?

    • Amber Lea Starfire Post author

      Thank you, Nancy. You have a lovely writing schedule. And don’t despair – I know many authors who have taken more than 10 years to write their memoir. As you know, memoir writing is a messy and difficult process. There is so much to work through. You WILL get there. And yes, it’s very helpful – maybe even essential – to have a critique group. So, really, as you point out, there are 2 types of writing circles: those that simply help us to stay on track and keep writing (accountability), and those that provide constructive criticism and encouragement to help us hone our writing craft. I am interested in facilitating both.