Writers who tend to join the Called to Write Coaching Circle — and get the most out of it — often have both a deep call to write (whether they’re doing it consistently or not) and a specific project they want to work on, perhaps one half-completed, languishing on a shelf for a couple of years. And when they find out about the Circle, they’re eager to move past the dreaming or stuck stage into action.
This is the story of a man who has done just that.
When he joined the Circle all the way from Sweden, Rikard Bergquist had been working on his novel intermittently, struggling to find enough time to write and to move past the outlining and preparation stage into writing actual New Words. And he had a little two-year-old daughter at the time too! (She’s three now.)
After being in the Circle for a session or two, continuing to write intermittently, and listening to me (
harp on about :) ) advocate for early morning writing and small writing sessions as a powerful way to jump-start a writing habit, one of our other members “threw down the gauntlet” and challenged him to try writing for 5 minutes every day and logging in every day on the site to report about how it went for him. He took her up on the challenge. It changed his life.
In less than four months, after building from 5 minutes a day to a solid writing habit of 60 minutes a day, he knocked out 75,000 words and completed his first draft. He’s still with us in the Circle now, working on revisions. He is one of our most dedicated and consistent members, showing up to write and log in on the site even while traveling — he even met me for coffee in Berkeley here the other day to talk shop while on a trip to the U.S. from Sweden. It was great fun. :)
I asked “Rick” (as we affectionately call him in the Circle) to talk to us today about his experience with finishing his novel, how he got there, and what’s he’s learned about his writing process along the way. You may be surprised to find some ideas and inspiration you can adopt for yourself.
1. Rick, first, welcome and thanks for being here. Let’s start off by having you tell about your recent major milestone — finishing the first draft of your first novel. What was that like for you?
It was one of the most empowering and surprising experiences I’ve had. Empowering because finally this dream of a novel I’ve had for a couple of years was becoming a reality. I escaped the terror of the first draft and actually produced 75,000 words. Instead of laboring and trying to make early parts of the story perfect, writing and rewriting, outlining and rearranging the order of scenes, as well as reading the latest book on craft and thinking I finally got it, I did the work and now have a substantial number of written pages to show for it.
It was surprising because I did it by writing for about an hour every morning during four months — I never thought an hour a day would amount to anything. I surprised myself weekly when I saw what I had accomplished with just an hour every morning. I surrendered to the process, allowing myself to write badly, knowing that it was only the first stage in a big adventure. Overcoming that editor inside of me, who kept telling me it was crap, was a big victory. And my first draft is the result. Now I know that first drafts aren’t supposed to be outstanding perfect novels, they’re just supposed to be written.
2. Can you give us a soundbite about what the story is about and about who you are?
The story is set in the 1570s of Stockholm, Sweden. In a power struggle for the crown our hero supports a new queen for the throne, who turns out to be a murderer, poisoning her competition. When his secret love interest is surprisingly accused and imprisoned for the murder, without any hope of pardon, our hero has to choose between his career or saving her. And what price will he pay for the choice he makes?
I work in the financial industry, for a private equity company, with business development. It’s hands-on management in selected individual companies in a wide range of industries. Writing is for me a creative outlet and a possibility to follow a totally different path.
3. What have you learned about your writing process from participating in the Circle?
Consistent daily work is key to my process. Being consistent means that I stay in touch with my writing, even though I might be working and doing other things during the day. The story evolves and develops in my subconscious, waiting to be served up during the next writing session. Setting goals and being accountable within the Circle, giving and receiving feedback on each others’ processes — in short, knowing that my efforts are noticed by others is a big motivator for me.
Focusing on the process rather than the craft, is a very important difference from other writing groups I’ve participated in. For me, this group is about focusing on getting the writing done, every day. What you write, how you write, and when you write is up to you. But do it every day. The accountability and support of the Circle is key to making that happen.
4. What were the biggest challenges you faced before joining the Circle? Have they changed?
My biggest challenge was finding time to write. I kept telling myself I needed chunks of at least 3-4 hours of undisturbed concentrated time to get anything done. I used to laugh at friends telling me how someone they knew had finished a novel by coming in 15 minutes early to the office and using that time to write. “It just isn’t possible,” I used to say, but now I know better. I kept on trying to find my big chunks of time, getting them here and there. It was a constant struggle. Looking back, I feel like I wasted a lot of time thinking about how to find time to write, but never doing the actual writing, and instead ending up feeling frustrated and lost. I knew I wanted to write, but why didn’t I just do it? I wrestled a lot with that question. With the help of the Circle I established a habit of rising early and writing for an hour every morning. Consistently.
5. When you first joined the Circle in May 2012, what was your writing habit like and how did it evolve? Were there any key moments where you shifted your habit? Was there a particular trigger or did it build over time for you?
At first my writing consisted of sporadic big chunks of time, where I spent the first part of each writing session reconnecting with my story and the latter part coming up with some new tweaks to my outline, synopsis, and characters. I always felt happy and satisfied afterwards, but not continuing to work on it over time always made me question my earlier work when I got back to it. And I was never moving into writing actual words, paragraphs, and chapters of the book, just staying at the outline stage.
There were two key moments for me — One: I followed the advice from you, Jenna, and fellow members of the Circle to adjust my target amount of writing time downward until I found a suitable amount that I could do consistently every day. For me that was five minutes. How amazed and surprised I was of the power of those five minutes. It changed my world — I connected on a deep level with my story and gradually increased the five minutes to sixty minutes per day. At first outlining scenes and then actually writing the first draft.
And this is where my second key moment occurred — Two: I could not get myself writing. I stalled. I reworked. I was stuck. Again following advice from the Circle I gave myself permission to write badly. I told myself “I am writing crap,” and suddenly I was writing about 750 words during that hour every morning. And surprise, it wasn’t all crap.
6. What advice do you have for other writers?
The only way to do it, is to do it. Complete the journey from the first page to the last page. If you can’t do this, it’s game over. Because without the first draft, you have nothing. You need a lot of faith to do it, faith in your unproven ability to write a novel. But give yourself permission to fail, to write crap, to make mistakes, to forget your outline and synopsis and before you know it, you will have your first draft.
7. What’s next for the novel and for your writing?
Right now I am revising the draft. Aiming at having a first rewrite done in a couple of months. There are times when I feel like giving up, but I now know that that’s only part of the writing life. It’s a constant flow of ups and downs, you just have to trust the process and keep putting one foot in front of the other. Finishing this first draft, I will turn it into my second and then my third, or as many as I need to finally hold an amazing novel in my hands.
8. Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?
Have faith, never give up, and know that in the end you’ll succeed. Once you’re in the habit of writing, trust the process to bring you to the finish line. If you feel down and lost during the journey, just tread water and wait for the next creative wave to come. It always does, have faith.
Join me in congratulating Rick on his big accomplishment and help cheer him on for his revisions! Leave a note for him in the comments. Feel free to ask questions too. Tell us what you think about writing for 5 minutes a day.
You may also be interested in:
- The awkwardness of building a new writing habit
- Write first thing in the morning, are you crazy?
- The stages of a writing project