Because Life can only be lived a moment at a time.

Going the Distance, Fifteen Minutes at a Time

 “…We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness…We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; The remembrance of them is grievous unto us; The burden of them is intolerable.”  Book of Common Prayer, 1928 edition

“I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway.”  Romans 7:19 (The Message)

I don’t know what it says about me and my misdoings, but the undone gets to me every time.  Not that the other side of the slate is clean---I might never be an inmate at Shawshank but I’ve still got a rap sheet known by the Almighty---but it’s what I’ve failed to do that’s likely to come to mind when the hour is late and the house is still and I can’t sleep.  The comfort I didn’t offer, the patience I didn’t show, the promise I didn’t keep. 

The stories I didn’t write.

I thought about inviting you, dear reader, to share my sackcloth and ashes.  To ask you if there is something you feel called to do, that you feel you were born to do, that is going undone, day after day.  But I realized I was trying to ease my own guilt by implying yours, so I’ll keep this discussion confined to my shortcomings.

Maybe guilt isn’t the best word to use here.  I resolved to put guilt and regret aside in my first column of 2014, “My Undo List.”  I’ve finally learned that once I’ve acknowledged a mistake, asked for forgiveness and tried to set things right I should let go and move on.  I’m working on that.  But keeping that boogeyman at bay doesn’t let me off the hook.   I still have to face the good I don’t do.

Let’s cut to the chase.  I should write but I don’t.   I’ve justified my inaction by saying I don’t know what to write, but recently I had an epiphany:  Ideas don’t lead to writing.  Writing leads to ideas.

I recalled my writing journey, from the creative writing assignments in college to my first job as a very junior reporter for our local newspaper to the columns and reports written for volunteer groups to letters to the editor to the work you’ve read on this blog.  In most of those cases I sat down and wrote because I had to, whether because of a class requirement, a commitment I had to honor, or an issue about which I felt strongly.  Sentences sidled up to me, slowly and surely, as I pressed one key after another.

This realization was confirmed by no less than the great writer of westerns Louis L’Amour:  “Start writing, no matter what.  The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”  Teacher, children’s book author and blogger Martin Tiller posted that quote on Facebook recently.  I became acquainted with Martin through his parents, friends of mine, and I’ve had the pleasure of proofreading a couple of his books.  (Martin’s stories about Kevin, a boy with a big imagination, can be found on recommend them highly.)

In the December 26, 2013 edition of his blog, “Digital Tiller: The 21st Century Is No Longer the Future,” ( Martin described how he manages to fit writing into his life.   He introduced me to the power of 15 minutes a day:

During a normal day I teach 5th grade.  That alone is enough.  Lesson plans, meetings, parent conferences, grading.  You know, teaching.
Then there is family time.  I have a two year old in the house.  I want to spend as much time as possible with her during this time.  So I do.
But if I set a goal of 15 minutes a day I can get stuff done.  Not blazing fast.  But stuff gets done.  And that’s the goal.  Get stuff done.

Martin went on to say that he can write about 250 words in 15 minutes and he often writes for longer than that.   But 15 minutes is his goal and now I’m claiming it as mine.

I had always believed that being a “real” writer meant getting up at dawn and writing for two hours before work every day.  I figured if I couldn’t rev myself up for that level of commitment I might as well do nothing.  At least that was my excuse, silly as it was.  

But Martin’s essay has given me an attainable goal and I’m reaching it, on most days anyway.  My writing speed is glacial at this point, but I’m writing.

Back in my late teens and early twenties I wasn’t sure if I’d win a Pulitzer Prize for journalism, poetry or fiction, but I was certain I’d do something great.

Now I’m simply trying to do good.  And that’s enough.

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