Today, I begin my “90 In 90” for myself as a writer.
The rules are simple. Every day — no matter what else happens in that day — I am to write for not less than twenty minutes. No excuses, no exceptions, no expectations. If I write more than twenty minutes, all the better, but I am not allowed to “bank” extra minutes on one day to excuse my writing the next. It’s twenty minutes, every day, no matter what. And, while there are no expectations that I am to spend this time on this or that project, this 20 minutes of writing must be toward my own work (either scholarly, personal or creative). What this means, practically, is that time spent “task” writing — like memos, emails, class prep, or similar — does not count toward my daily 20. And, should I miss or skip a day, I must begin the 90-day countdown again.
Why 90 days? After all, isn’t it axiomatic that you only need to do something for 21 days to start or break a habit? Why not 21 days? Why not some other arbitrary number of days?
Two reasons: One, I’ve seen how “90 in 90” can work. And, two, Suzan-Lori Parks told me to. Read more to see how.
The idea of “90 in 90” is not original to me but one I’ve seen work in remarkable ways. In one spiritual tradition I know, there’s a practice that asks participants to affirm their commitment to the spiritual program by doing “90 Meetings in 90 Days.” Often, when someone’s “new” to this tradition, they are encouraged to do such a “90 in 90.” Almost as often, you’ll hear someone who’s been around for a while announce that they’re doing “90 in 90” — usually as a way to reboot and/or get back to basics in their spiritual program. Whether a newbie or an oldtimer, the reported rewards are usually the same: a reaffirmation that, as hard as it is to do it, the hassle is outweighed the sense of clarity and focus that simple discipline brings. And for both the newbie and the oldtimer, the practice makes it clear, if only for a time, that certain things — like spiritual practice — are not things you do if you have the time but among the clearest, non-negotiable priorities every day. So, I’ve experienced how “90 in 90” works and I trust it as a model for spiritual discipline.
As for the idea for MY variation of the “90 in 90” in service of my writing practice, that idea arrived to me 21 days ago as I sat in the audience listening to Suzan-Lori Parks deliver the keynote address at the annual meeting of the Association for Theatre in Higher Education in Los Angeles. The talk followed the basic “This Is How I Got To Be The Fabulous Creative Spirit You See Before You” model but, rather than doing simple autobiography, Parks adopted a loose, improvisatory structure. On a stool (or a music stand, I forget), Parks had some pages which, it became clear, functioned as props for her spontaneous riffs. The pages seemed to contain a list of maxims, epigrams and admonitions. Parks would read one aloud and then elaborate.
Some that I wrote down?
- “You don’t want to spend a lot of time climbing the ladder of success only to realize you leaned the ladder against the wrong wall” — Suzan-Lori Parks
- “You can begin to do what you want to do at any age” — Suzan-Lori Parks
- “Listen to your breath” — Suzan-Lori Parks
- “When you receive an award, know that it’s your task to increase kindness and compassion in the world. You now have more to share.” — Suzan-Lori Parks
- “Lean into the hill” — Suzan-Lori Parks
But Parks’s one admonition that settled immediately into my creative center?
- “Entertain all your far out ideas” — Suzan-Lori Parks
Parks’s discussion of this one dealt with how the notion and then the reality of her 365 Days/365 Plays project manifested in Parks’s life. But as fascinating as that all was, I found myself ruminating on the way Parks enacted her own far out idea. In a squeaky devilish muppet voice she said (maybe once, maybe more than once): “Knock knock! I’m a far out idea! Entertain me!” The image of a far out idea knocking at my noggin like a character in a DrSeuss book delighted me in a very real way.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, within about ten or fifteen minutes, while Parks was still talking, I felt just such a knock.
“You need to do a 90 in 90 for writing. Like…now.”
And so I wrote in my notebook the following affirmation: “Thanks Suzan-Lori Parks. I’m going to commit to doing a ’90 in 90′ – 20 minutes a day.” As I look at that notebook page now, I see the following aphorisms floating just above or below that declaration: “lean into the hill” and “listen to your breath” and “smile at your fear” and “you make your own luck.”
So that’s what I’ll be doing for this next 90 days: entertaining my far out idea to trust the voices in my head as I write for no less than twenty minutes every day. Some of that writing I will share immediately right here. Most of it, though, I suspect I will do, as Stephen King says, “with the door closed.” I’m not sure how my FarOutIdea will behave…what kind of guest it will be or what kind of host I will be… All I know for sure is that, when I felt the knock of this far out idea, I knew to my core that the right thing to do was say yes.
And so I go.
Thanks for witnessing.