Mandatory Minimums

I recently finished Piper Kermin’s memoir Orange is the New Black. It is a very honest book about the year Kermin spent in a women’s prison for a ten year old drug offense- one which she had long since buried in her past. The memoir is a journey of personal responsibility and redemption which highlights the deep importance of relationships and compassion in our lives. I recommend it.  However, coming from a fairly privileged background what struck me the most while reading the book is the disparity in sentencing in our courts- determined by whether or not you can afford a fancy attorney; and also, the overly punitive and harsh lengths of sentences for nonviolent offenses.  Frequently, these are doled out in accordance with mandatory minimum sentencing laws.  Often the only thing these harsh punishments do is cripple individuals and tear apart families. It is so f*cking wrong.

So, to be clear- when it comes to prison sentencing I am 100% against mandatory minimums.

However, when it comes to creating a new habit, especially a writing habit, imposing a no excuses minimum time commitment definitely seems worth a try.  I had just started to impose a daily mandatory minimum of 10 minutes a day when a new assignment for my Daily Post Writing 101 class came out and challenged us to:

commit to a writing practice. The frequency and the amount of time you choose to spend today — and moving forward — are up to you, but we recommend a minimum of fifteen uninterrupted minutes per day.

In deference to the wise people at The Daily Post, I decided to up my minimum to 15 minutes. My ideal is that I wake up before my family every day and write for an hour.  That can’t always happen and so I have my mandatory minimum.  I absolutely must find a way to get in my 15 minutes.  It doesn’t matter how I feel or what else I have to do. I must write for 15 minutes a day- every single day. If I don’t already have a topic then I use a prompt.  If it is 11 pm and I am exhausted and incoherent- so be it.  If I have to plop my daughter in front of a Daniel Tiger episode- so be it.

It has been a week since I have imposed my mandatory minimum and it has been a little humbling. The truth is that I have been lying to myself- I have no excuse.  I really can write every day. I now know that the concept of inspiration is kind of bullshit. I will think I have nothing to write about and then when my fifteen minutes is up- I’ll just keep going. I won’t want to stop and go do anything else. I haven’t produced a lot of polished pieces yet- but so much is percolating, so many ideas have bubbled up. I wasn’t conscious of them but they were probably getting really pretty bored down there, beneath the surface, just waiting for me to show up.

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.

-from “anthem” by Leonard Cohen

 

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5 Comments

  1. Posted April 9, 2015 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

    Nothing wrong with Daniel Tiger! Using prompts can really get you going in the right places. Excellent post. lily

    • Banana
      Posted April 10, 2015 at 12:32 am | Permalink

      Hi Lily, Thanks! I agree free-writing to prompts can really take you to surprising and interesting places. I also agree with you about Daniel tiger.

  2. Posted April 9, 2015 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    I recently took a writing class where the teacher told us that it was important to set writing goals every day but not to be too hard on yourself if you can’t. Personally, I almost always have time to write because I work in an office all alone and find spare time almost every day but a lot of the time I can feel whether or not I’m inspired.

    • Banana
      Posted April 10, 2015 at 12:29 am | Permalink

      Hey Marissa, I think your teacher’s advice makes sense. And it is part of the reason I have made my minimum writing requirement low. I REALLY want to develop a habit of writing almost daily. I want to make it hard to blow off. But if I happen to miss a day I won’t be too hard on myself. As far as inspiration goes- I do have times when I feel particularly inspired and that is what gets me started; but, for me, I’ve found it can’t rely on it. However, several days I have started out feeling neutral or even uninspired but by forcing myself through it I have hit upon some interesting things. If not, 15 minutes in and then I am out.

      • Posted April 10, 2015 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

        Yes, it’s a good idea to set time limits so you don’t get frustrated. For me, it kind of depends on how slow it is at work. If it’s a really slow day, I can just look at the computer for hours and if I don’t get a good idea, I just get depressed. The computer has a lot of prompts but sometimes not the right one, or sometimes so many I get overwhelmed!!

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