In honor of Jo Ann Beard, I set my kitchen timer for thirty minutes before I sat down to write this—thirty minutes to mirror the thirty-minute writing exercises she gave us in each workshop.
I went into the workshop thinking this will probably be stressful but hopefully rewarding. I went in wondering how I was going to fit the work of an extra class every day into my already full grad school schedule. And I went in grateful that it was scheduled for the second week of the semester, before writing and grading papers kicked in, grateful that it wasn’t scheduled mid-semester.
But here I am, mid-semester, and I would be really grateful if someone would bring Jo Ann back. Contrary to being stressful but rewarding, her workshop was stress free and rewarding. Her class became the most stress-free part of my day; it was like stepping into a writing spa. Her yoga-teacher voice only added to the effect.
It was a no-pressure environment. All writing was done in the last thirty minutes of class. We could then take what we’d written home and clean it up, or not. In the next day’s workshop, we could share what we had written, or not. And when we did share, we received only positive feedback. The readings she gave us each day were only a few pages long and could be easily squeezed between brushing my teeth and going to bed. Each was one to five pages and each was brilliant, written by such authors as E.B. White, Annie Dillard, and Amy Hempel. We would spend an hour discussing them. And there was more than enough in those short pieces to fill an hour, a reminder that some writers can do more with three pages than others can with twenty-three.
Then, with the words of those writers still swimming around our brains, we would write for thirty minutes. And I was amazed with how much I could write in thirty minutes. Each day, I produced about two pages double-spaced. The quality varied. Some felt like fully-formed finished pieces, others felt like the start of some longer piece, and others felt like maybe I should start over, like that was just a pre-write. Still, everyone produced at least one brilliant piece. But perhaps the most important thing out of those thirty-minute writing sessions was the knowledge that all I needed was thirty minutes. I didn’t need to block off a four hour stretch of time to write. I only needed to find thirty minutes a day. And thirty minutes a day has lead to more writing than any four-hour block.
Shari Lefler is an MFA student and recipient of the President’s Award at Florida Atlantic University. Her focus is on non-fiction, especially travel and family memoir. Since entering the program, she has served as a non-fiction editor for Coastlines Literary Magazine, and Vice President of Graduate Teaching Assistants for the English Graduate Student Society. She has also worked as an editorial intern for digital content at New Beauty Magazine. She is currently organizing an underground group of rebel grammarians to join her fight against overuse of the exclamation point. To become a soldier for the cause, draw a semi-colon on a piece of masking tape and leave it outside your nearest Barnes and Noble. She will find you.