Time is one of the biggest issues that writers grapple with, especially when we try to squeeze writing into a busy life. And most of us don’t feel like we’re writing “enough.” We compare ourselves to what we hear others – usually full-time writers – say that they do. But what each of us needs to do is figure out the minimum amount of writing we can do to complete a manuscript by the time we want to complete it. It’s time to do some math, my friend!

The inspiration for the title of this post comes from the world of business. As a book coach, I’m also an entrepreneur, so I’ve leaned on the experience of others who know how to explain the ins and outs of running a business in a way that my brain can take it in. I have heard more than one business coach use the term “minimum viable income” to define the smallest amount of money that I, as a business owner, need to bring in monthly or yearly. This is perhaps the amount that’s needed to cover rent, or groceries, or bills, or all of the above.

Of course, there is no standard amount; it all depends on the individual, their circumstances and their lifestyle. We each have to figure it out on our own. And I believe that this same concept can be applied to our writing lives. 

Consistency is Key

If you’ve been with me for a while, you probably know that I am not a fan of the maxim that writers should write every day. If you can, and it works for you, then great, go for it! I’m not saying anyone shouldn’t. But what I know from experience and from talking with hundreds of writers is that it just doesn’t work for everyone. Whether it’s a time limitation, a stamina issue, or something else, expecting everyone to write every day isn’t fair or reasonable. However, I do believe in scheduling your writing sessions in advance and in writing consistently, whatever that means for you.

Today I’d like to add to that the idea of minimum viable writing. At any given point in your writing life or your writing process, there is a minimum amount of writing that is going to get you to your goal.

What are we measuring?

Now, before we dig into the circumstances that will influence what your minimum viable writing is, let’s start by quantifying what we’re actually measuring. Minimum viable writing could be measured in three ways: time, pages, and word count. Word count is the most specific and tangible. If you’ve written 50,000 words, you have something close to the average length of a novel. So if your goal is to write a novel, your minimum viable writing is 50,000 words (give or take thousands). Page count would take another level of math: figure out how many words you put on a page, and you’ll have your minimum viable page count. But time is the one I want to focus on here, because time is really the issue, isn’t it? We have time, or we don’t. We make time, or we don’t. So adding another level of math:  how long does it take you to write one page? Figure that out, and you’ll have your minimum viable hours for completing your novel.

Now, if you are setting out to write a novel, and you know how many hours you need to spend on it to get close to finished, play with how long it would take if you wrote for five hours a week. 10 hours a week. 20 hours a week. Do you have a goal for when you want to get your first draft done? How many hours a week do you need to make that deadline?

I hope you are still with me. I kind of geek out on figuring out this kind of stuff, but you might not and that’s okay. I don’t want to push it on you. It’s just one playful way to figure out how long something might take you. And honestly? Even if you did figure out how many hours of writing it would take you to finish your first draft, who knows what will come up? You might decide to throw out 10 chapters and rewrite from a different character’s point of view. That’s part of the process too, and we can’t predict it in advance.

It’s all about the minimum.

What we can do is figure out the smallest amount of writing in a week to accomplish the goal that we have at hand. If you aren’t working on a specific project right now, if you are just in the brainstorming and idea generating phase, if you are simply exploring your imagination, you might not need that might writing time each week. On the other end of the spectrum, if you are working on a novel and you have deadlines for a critique group or book coach, then you will probably need a little bit more. If you are somewhere in the middle, working on a specific project with no deadlines, then you can consider when you want to be finished with whatever phase you’re in and do the math I shared above.

Remember, this concept of minimum viable writing is about the smallest amount you can do in a week or a day to accomplish your goal. The bare minimum to accomplish what you need to accomplish. And it will change depending on what you are working on and when you want to complete it. What’s great about this strategy is that if you put your minimum viable writing time on your schedule for the week and that’s all you can manage, then you know that you’ve done enough. But if you find yourself with extra time and can put in a little more, then you’ll know you’ve gone above and beyond. And the bonus is that you will never have to doubt whether you are writing enough.

I hope that this week you will set aside a little time to figure out your minimum viable writing.  Figuring out your minimum viable writing will allow you to put it on your schedule and show up for yourself, knowing that you have done enough even if it was just a little. Because every word counts toward the goal. I’ll talk to you next week!

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