So you want to get better at this whole writing thing, do you? Just like training for a sport, writing takes time, and practice, to refine. There are certain things you have to do in order to get to wherever you want to go, writing-wise.
Here’s the second installment to our two-part mini series. Check out the first part if you haven’t already.
5. Get into a routine
When I’m training for something like a half marathon, there’s a schedule. It tells me, in general, how many miles I need to run on which days in order to be fully prepared to do a full 13.1 miles without dying. I will run anywhere from four to six days per week, gradually increasing my distance as the weeks go on. If I miss a day or two, it throws off everything – my body AND my motivation.
Athletes train. They know that if they start slacking off, their performance is going to suffer. While both under-training and over-training in sports can both lead to physical injury, inconsistencies in our writing schedules can damage us psychologically. I tend to fall into one extreme or the other, writing 8,000 words one day, a few hundred another day … schedules. Unfortunately, we’re responsible for creating our own. Many writers struggle with self-accountability, which is why this step is such a difficult one.
Discipline takes time, it takes repetition and it takes effort. I would suggest starting with one day a week – planning, in advance, which day, what time, where and how much you are going to write. The hard part is actually doing it – I can’t really help you with that. This is why it’s called “training.” You won’t get better unless you stop talking about it and actually do it.
6. Keep writing, even when it’s bad
Physical training is a roller coaster. You have amazing days, when you feel invincible and like you could never run out of energy. You also have awful days, when you feel like you could just fall over and die right then and there. You don’t always know how things are going to go before you show up. Doing your best usually works, except when you know you aren’t performing well. Then you just feel miserable.
We all have bad writing days. Bad writing streaks, even. Some weeks I cringe with every single blog post, worried it’s all just fluff and it’s not going to help anyone. I do it anyway. The thing about ‘bad’ writing, for one thing, is that we’re not very good at judging the quality of our own work. Often what we think is our worst piece of writing ever turns out to be, in others’ opinions, one of our best.
For another, with every ‘bad’ thing we write, we learn from it. I can now tell exactly what I’m not doing well as I’m writing something. I might leave and come back to fix it later, or I might just accept defeat and submit or publish it anyway. But you learn. You learn your bad habits and you start catching yourself doing them. The more you write, the more you get used to not falling prey to those bad habits quite as often, or ever again.
7. Seek out constructive feedback
Every professional athlete has … well, probably a few things in common. One of those things is that they have coaches. They spend plenty of time training on their own early on, but eventually, they have someone there to highlight what they are doing right and point out what they are doing wrong. The athlete still does all the work: the coach simply helps guide them in the right direction.
Some writers have mentors, and you could technically consider an editor a mentor (though in many cases, they’re just there to fix your typos). But especially early on, writing is quite solitary. You’re not always going to have a teacher or a friend there to help you do better. Eventually, that will most likely change. No one is going to come to you, though. Nope. You’re going to have to go to them.
How? By submitting to publications. Applying for freelance writing jobs. Writing circles are great, and I have nothing against them, but I do tend to frown upon seeking feedback from peers in most cases only because that takes away from both your writing time and theirs. It’s a start, but professionals are going to much better serve you. You’re going to have to submit your work to publications, or at least try to. Whether you’re confident about it or not. (I still very rarely am – just do it. You have nothing to lose.)
Find constructive feedback on your writing to learn how you can improve your craft.
8. Stay positive, even in the face of rejection
Writing is hard: there isn’t an experienced writer out there who will argue with that. It isn’t just the writing itself that proves difficult, but the way your writing is received by others. People either ignore you or praise you or harshly criticize you … sometimes they’re nice about it, but it’s still technically criticism. Think, “Your resume is impressive, but …” It’s much easier for people to point out things they don’t like than it is to highlight things they do. So rejection, as a writer, hurts. It hurts bad. But so does falling off a balance beam, probably. You have to learn to live with the pain.
My first few times trying to find freelance work, I dealt with a lot of rejection. People don’t like paying experienced writers: inexperienced ones have it even harder. It’s not easy to pursue a goal, only to feel like everyone is out there waiting for you to fail. But if you’re training to perform better in a sport, and you trip and fall, of course you have two options, right? Get up and try again or give up for good.
There are actually two more options here: get up, try again and complain every second of the way, or get up, keep your chin up, make the most of your mistake and press on without a single negative comment. Insert comment about positive affirmations here. The Final Five may not have had it easy getting to where they are now, but they sure didn’t lie down on the floor and quit, now did they? Everyone deals with rough starts, and winding roads, bruises, what have you. Write through it, gosh darn it. Don’t you dare stop.
There’s a reason why you haven’t quit writing yet; remember that.
Taking your writing more seriously, setting goals, coming up with a plan, getting it done, no matter how tough and scary it is … that’s how you’re going to make it. I believe you can. You have to believe you can, too. But you also need to take it a step further, and act on that belief, to make a successful writing life happen for you.
I really hope you enjoyed this mini series! I have so many more tips related to this topic, I just might have to write another ebook … ;)
As always, feel free to leave a comment if you have anything to add, or have any questions about any of the tips I’ve given in today’s post.
Next week’s newsletter will feature a free 30-day writing schedule to help you get your writing routine in shape – make sure you sign up so you don’t miss it! Emails come only once per week – no spam. You’ll also get a link to my podcast archives (bet you didn’t know that was a thing!) and super secret updates about new things coming to Novelty Revisions.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.
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