Posted by: Kathy Temean | July 15, 2015

The 15-Minute 100-Word Challenge

erikaphoto-45Erika Wassall, the Jersey Farm Scribe here with

The 15-Minute 100-Word Challenge

As writers, most of us are bombarded with information on how to write, better, faster, more, More, MORE!

And don’t get me wrong, 10,000 words a day is great.  Writing is a muscle, use or lose it.  No question.  But reality is that sometimes we have things going on in our lives that simply make this impossible.

Schedule, mental block, fear… whatever the reason it’s real de-motivator and a slippery slope.  Excuses I once flinched at become normal and accepted, and soon, I barely even shrug.  Dangerous things happen here, because nothing makes me feel less like a writer than… well, not writing.

Okay, okay, I get it!!!  But what now?

Try something new.

First of all: 15 minutes

Yeah.  Okay.  There’s really no excuse that can get me out of this one.  I mean, this is nothing more than a coffee break or a few stolen moments.  And really,  you can even break this into three 5-minute sessions throughout the day.  In fact, sometimes my work comes out even better that way.

Writing goes well with a good marinade.

Goal:  100 words

WHAT???  Seriously?  A hundred!!  Um.  First of all, it doesn’t take a whole 15 minutes to write 100 words.  Ah, but that is the challenge!

No matter what you’re writing, cutting words is a skill.  Low word counts aren’t just for picture book writers.

Keeping only what really matters.   

Showing instead of telling. 

Using powerful verbs to my advantage.

So break up the time however you’d like, whatever feels more comfortable to you.  But here is my own suggestion of how I usually break it down:

First Five Minutes:  WRITE!!

For this exercise, it’s important to have an idea in your head when you start.  These first five minutes go fast.  So be ready to write.  Have a moment in mind.

Tris is telling Aunt Sherry that the insomnia has been getting worse.

I spend the first five minutes just writing.  I don’t really worry about rambling on, or about how many words I’m wasting.  BUT, since I know what the challenge is, I stay more focused.  Not much room here, I have to get from point A to point B.

Tris opens the conversation, makes her point, maybe two quick supporting examples to show just how bad it is.  To keep things interesting, Aunt Sherry’s reaction is interwoven in there a little bit too, probably just in facial expressions or body language.

That’s my goal.  Anything that strays outside of that, I rein it in, get back on track.

 Next Five Minutes:  CUT!!

Generally speaking, I end up with closer to 200 words or so.  It varies of course.  Next five minutes I go over every single word.

Is this word necessary?  In fact, is this whole sentence necessary?  Is this word powerful enough?  Does it deserve that precious space it’s taking up?

I combine sentences to make them more concrete.  This is high dollar real estate.  If it’s not an important part of the point, it simply has to go.  I scratch things out.  I highlight or circle pieces that I think are weak or don’t really fit.

Last Five Minutes:  REWRITE!!

I look everything over and put together a coherent, fluid piece that meets my original goal.  The final piece must be 100 words or less.

This exercise is great for me.  It reminds me of the power that each individual word holds and helps to flex my editorial muscles.

Plus, while the final piece may not be exactly what ends up going in a YA or MG manuscript (although it just might!!), it undoubtedly solidifies what shape I want the overall feel or action to be in that particular scene.

Don’t hesitate to change the word count if you need to.  Editing is a big part of this exercise.  If in your five minutes you write 100 words, make yourself cut it down to 65.  The main idea is just to cut at LEAST a third (preferably closer to half) of what you’ve written.  Focus in, and change up the pace.

Because your manuscripts are worth it.


Erika Wassall is a writer, a farmer and a liver of life. She is a member of SCBWI and a proud Mad Scientist, bringing science experiments right into children’s classrooms, and hearts. She has a small farm in New Jersey with sheep, chickens, pigs and vegetables. Check out her new website at where as a first generation farmer, she often takes the long way, learning the tricks of the trade on The Farm. On her website is also The Shop page with tips and a free Q/A from her husband’s mechanic shop, and The Writer page where she shares stories, experiences and characters from the heart. Follow her on Twitter at @NJFarmScribe. She’d love to hear from you!

Thank you Erika for another great post. We all enjoy your posts.

Talk tomorrow,




  1. What a great exercise get words on paper/screen! I am going to give this a try. Tks for sharing.


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