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Guest Post: Perseverance: The 5-Minute Rule – Bill Blais

Posted on the 10 May 2012 by Donnambr @_mrs_b

I’m delighted to welcome Bill Blais to the blog today. Bill is the author of Witness and the urban fantasy series Kelly & Umber.

Guest post: Perseverance: The 5-Minute Rule

My thanks to Donna for the chance to share a few lines with you all, specifically regarding perseverance in writing on a day to day basis. As the brand new father of a little girl, I’ve been reviewing my own process and thought it might be of interest.

First, let me make the same point that many smarter, wiser folks than I have made: There is no secret. If you want to be a writer, you must write. Period. There’s nothing else. In my view, no amount of writing workshops or instructional/inspirational books or other such aids will make a difference if you’re not going to make the physical act of writing part of your life. These other things can help, but you’ve got to be doing the work already.

Recently, I re-discovered a blog post of mine from when I was writing my urban fantasy novel, No Good Deed, which turns out to be an excellent example of how I’ve come to approach my writing, and particularly how I keep writing.

Basically, that post described how I had been a very good boy and taken care of all the grown-up things the day had set before me, but that I hadn’t done any writing. By the time I realized this, though, it was way past my bedtime* and I was pretty well spent from the day. All I really wanted to do was drag my tired bones upstairs and go to sleep.

But several years ago I instituted a 5-minute rule: I need to write** for at least 5 minutes every day. This came from something I recalled reading about the Roman philosopher Cicero in my 7th grade Intro to Latin text, to the effect of “Write something new every day; read something new every day.”

Simple, right? We’re not talking epics here, or continuous productions of Great Insight or Awe-Inspiring Wonder, but simply something new***. Now, things like writing for work, correcting homework and, perhaps most insidiously, blog posts, specifically DO NOT count here. It has to be something creative, whether for a current story I’m working on or a silly poem about the dog rolling around on the grass or some unexpected observation or insight from the day that might influence some future character development or potential story idea.

Beyond this, I need spend only 5 minutes at the task to be accomplished, and how hard could that be? I mean, really, can any day be so busy that I can’t spare 300 seconds to write something?

Well, yes, actually. Or at least it often seems that way.

Life is full of challenges to writing: The Internet; TV; The Internet; Work; The Internet; Family; The Internet; Sleep; The Internet . . . well, you get the point.

Some of these are admittedly less valid (I’m talking to you, Internet!) than others (Family), but valid or not, they all take up time in the day, time during which I’m not writing. Similarly, some are easier to put aside (Sleep) than others (Curse you, Internet!), but I’m a fallible creature and after the initial excitement of this new self-mandate had worn off, it often seemed easier to say that I hadn’t written because I was waiting for the Muse: When I got inspired it would be easy to put these other things aside; then I’d write like the wind!

Unfortunately (or, as it happens, fortunately), I’m not a Muse-driven writer***. This wasn’t an easy recognition to accept, but it was a fact. For me, writing is work. Not work in the sense of burden, obligation or drudgery, but in the sense of occupation, activity and productivity.

To be happy and feel satisfied, I must write (though not ‘to get the poison out’, as one woman I once knew felt), whether or not what I write stands the test of time. I may write ten pages, only to scrap all but a handful of words****, but the frustration of that so-called ‘wasted’ effort is nothing to the deep and glowering funk I sink into if I do not at least write something I may later throw away.

Also, as the other side of Sir Isaac Newton’s First Law of Motion points out, objects at rest tend to stay at rest, or: Getting out of a funk is way harder than staying out of it to begin with.

To this end, I use a few ‘tricks’.


 First, I’m an outliner from way back. I sometimes run the risk of over-outlining, but generally speaking I believe in outlines as ordered chaos. I try to identify the major events and scenes before I begin the first full draft, but getting from point to point is usually best left to the discovery of actual writing. So, when I’m in the process of a book or short story, I have tangible goals that I can use to spur my 5-minutes onward.

Reading something new

 I subscribe to Popular Science and Mental Floss to keep myself peppered with interesting tidbits of information, but I also keep a book on the bedside table, preferably of a genre outside what I might be writing at the time. This is not only to avoid cross-contamination of a similar style, but specifically to enable cross-pollination of supposedly disparate ones.


 I take my writing seriously, but I make a point of never taking myself too seriously. There is plenty of dark in the world, and while I often write about dark things, I love pushing myself to write something completely ridiculous or nonsensical. I’m not confident with writing comedy and these attempts rarely result in anything that might see the light of day, but sometimes it’s fun to try to put on a bit of Dr. Seuss.


I have the unfathomable good fortune of being madly in love with an amazing woman, my very best friend, and it is a madness that happily grows with each day. If I am ever at a loss with my writing, I am never at a loss for penning a sonnet or other bit of poetry on her behalf*****.

You will certainly find your own spurs to drive you forward, but what I will say about this 5-minute rule: I’ve been doing this for many years, and maybe 1 time out of 10 will I write for only 5 minutes. Far more often will I strike upon a kernel of interest that was entirely hidden from my view before I put pencil to paper and before I know it 10, 15, or 45 minutes have passed by without my noticing.

What’s more, and this seems like exaggeration but it isn’t, I have never written at least something in those 5 minutes that was a waste. Very often, this forced writing unblocks some clogged perception of a story or opens some previously unseen door or, perhaps most fun of all, reveals an entirely unknown character who walks out onto the page before me and demands a place to perform.

In sum, I suppose what perseverance is to me is the ability to work steadily through adversity, even if it seems like I’m using a breakfast spoon to dig the Grand Canyon. I know that if I keep at it, I will.

One final note: The 5-Minute Rule is a good rule, but it promptly went out the window on the arrival of our child. For three weeks I wrote nothing new at all, though I have been slowly returning to the rule as sleep patterns allow. Remember, all rules are made to be broken.

Thanks again to Donna for letting me share, and I’d be interested to hear what ‘tricks’ you might have. How do you persevere in your writing?


* Okay, it was only 11pm, but those who know me know my ability to function as a coherent being suffers a rapid downward spiral after 9:30 or so. I really tried to be a night owl in college — bad idea. In my defense, I generally wake up at 5 or 5:30 in the morning. And yes, I prefer it that way.

** Revision comes under this heading, too, or I’d never get anything finished.

*** With the singular and unparalleled exception of my wife!

**** Seriously, just ask my wife.

***** It’s worth noting that this ‘trick’ often slips into the ‘Silliness’ realm, but she enjoys them and that’s really all that matters, there.

Guest post: Perseverance: The 5-Minute Rule – Bill Blais
Rick, a phone rep for a credit card company, and Stephen, an ex-college sports star turned successful sales manager, have nothing in common except Sarah, but when Stephen tries to scare Rick away from her, he accidentally kills the prophesied hero of another world, and both men are thrown headlong into a land of magic and treachery.


Without explanation or preparation, the two unlikely companions are hunted by all sides of a growing conflict, the only constant of which is conspiracy. Chased by warring factions, deceived and distrusted by nearly all they meet, and dragged from one terror to another, Rick and Stephen soon learn that the age-old rules of the story books don’t seem to apply here.

Bound by little more than mutual confusion, the two men are soon at odds as they struggle to survive their inexplicable situation. In the face of the deceit and brutality surrounding them, their own natures threaten to split them apart and ruin any chance they might have to return home.

Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon ES

Bill Blais is a writer, web developer and perennial part-time college instructor. His novels include Witness (winner of the Next Generation Indie Book Award for Fantasy) and the Kelly & Umber urban fantasy series. Bill graduated from Skidmore College before earning an MA in Medieval Studies from University College London. He lives in Maine with his wife and daughter.



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