The Moment

Don’t just sit down to write any old thing at any old time. Pick a particular moment to do a specific thing. This will not only help you to do it well; it will make you better at it as you do it.

Writing Process Reengineering therefore organizes your writing process into discrete “writing moments”. They normally last twenty-seven minutes and are followed by a three-minute break. Each writing moment produces a single prose paragraph of at least 6 sentences and at most 200 words. A formal writing moment is always planned the day before, specifying when, where and what will be written. Once planned, it should be respected as one would respect a planned meeting or class.

The task can be specified quite precisely. The key sentence tells you what you want to say. You can then decide what difficulty it poses for your reader, i.e., whether you need to support, elaborate or defend it. You should be clear about what part of the paper you are writing on: whether you are writing background, theory, method, analysis or discussion, or whether you are working on the introduction or the conclusion. You might decide, for example, to elaborate on “Sensemaking is generally taken to be a retrospective process” in your theory, or “The internet has changed how businesses communicate with their customers” in your background section, in a single paragraph from 8:00 to 8:27 in your office.

“Suffering is one very long moment,” said Oscar Wilde. But your writing moment doesn’t have to be that way. Let the first two minutes be about your key sentence, think about whether it’s the simplest, sharpest way to say it, and notice that (or whether) it gives you some structure for the paragraph. (Does it identify a number of factors? Does it suggest a narrative arc? Does it propose a causal relationship? Does it characterize a population?) Then spend about ten minutes just writing sentences; then another ten minutes making them clearer. Now read you paragraph out loud and fix whatever you can in the time that remains. Or structure the moment differently if that’s what works for you. There are many things you can do and you want to become better and better at doing them.

This gives writing a “here” and a “now” in which to happen. It should be experienced as a kind of freedom (an opportunity to write) not a constraint (a compulsion to write). You know what you are trying to do now, and you’ve given yourself conditions under which you can do it. Now just do it as best you can.

See also: “Seven Little Disciplines”, “How to Make up Your Mind”, “Deciding What You Want to Say”, and “Deciding How to Say It”.