What no one tells you about writing, before you start writing, is that the actual writing part is the easy part.
The sitting down to do the writing part? THAT is the true challenge.
Most people don’t think of writing as something you have to schedule into your life and do consistently the same way you might exercise or learn to play an instrument. But the truth is, you don’t get better at writing by sitting down to do it every once in a while and magically gaining the skill. You improve only by doing it often. And it turns out that while it may not be “hard” in the sense that you don’t know how to do it, it is an extremely time-consuming and physically and mentally draining activity.
The vast majority of aspiring writers are not prepared for this reality.
And that is why so many people who want to write things never do it.
They don’t realize that writing, like jogging or playing the violin, is a habit that requires regular practice, whether you “feel” like doing it or not.
The best way to train yourself to do something consistently is to make it a habit. You know this, if you’re one of the fortunate few who actually flosses every day. At some point you probably decided it needed to be done. You did it one day, then three, then five, until it became part of your daily routine. You barely even think about itnow. You just do it.
Granted, writing every day isn’t as necessary as flossing, and most people probably shouldn’t or don’t need to do it daily. But habits are habits, whether you repeat them day after day or every other day … and so on.
Once you make writing a habit, it becomes a lot easier to sit down and actually start doing it. Does it make the actual act of writing easier? Not really. Does it guarantee success faster — or at all? No. But it DOES make it easier to put in your practice time, help you gain experience and “get your work out there,” and help you learn to derail the excuse train before it even pulls out of the station.
The question most people will probably have at this point is the question all who seek to form a habit have: How the heck do I make a habit happen?
Here’s how it’s worked for me as a writer.
- Pick a day and time to write. Schedule it in your calendar like you would any other appointment. It could be daily, it could be a few times a week, it could be a few times a month. Frequency doesn’t matter. Consistency does.
- Give yourself options. Discovering that “locking” myself into a specific project often wrecked my writing productivity completely changed my life. Now, before I sit down to write, I have two or three possible options I could work on during that time. This gives me the freedom to choose, and I don’t sit there staring at a blank screen trying to write something my brain doesn’t want to focus on right now.
- Eliminate distractions. Anything that draws your attention away from writing is a distraction, even if it doesn’t always seem like one. Noise? Twitter? Netflix? All obvious distractions. But you know what else is distracting? “Doing research” for your book during your active writing time. “Looking” for inspiration. Reading inspirational quotes until you feel AWESOME but, uh, you still haven’t written anything yet.
- Commit. Make it known to yourself, your family, your friends, and your favorite TV shows that the writing “appointments” you have made throughout the week cannot be canceled or rescheduled. (I mean, if you’re dying, someone else is dying, or Life otherwise Happens, exceptions can be made. You get the idea.) Want to take your writing more seriously? Treat it like it’s important to you. Because hopefully it is.
So here’s what happens: You decide that every Friday evening at 5pm (which may or may not be the exact day and time I am writing this) you are going to write 500 words, no matter how long it takes.
On Friday morning, you look at all the things you want to work on and pick 3, also leaving “a random idea I think of at 4:56pm open as a potential fourth option). As your writing time approaches, you grab your headphones, your favorite writing playlist, and retreat to the quietest corner of your home, library, local coffee shop, or wherever you write best without interruption.
And then you do it. Every single time. No buts, no “I really don’t feel like it tonight”s. You allow yourself a skip night once or twice because you’re human and not always in control of the things that happen to you. But for the most part, Friday Night At Five O’Clock becomes your writing time. It becomes habit. You don’t dread it, you don’t try to talk yourself out of it. You just do it.
It’s not nearly as difficult as it seems. Most people just don’t know the steps. So there they are. They’re pretty much the same as every habit when it comes down to it. You have to do more than just say it’s going to happen. You actually have to show up. You have to do the work. Not just once, not just twice, but consistently, every time, even after it becomes a lot less difficult to sit down and do it.
So. Can you do it? Will you?
Is making writing a habit something you’re willing to make happen? Then go ahead. Get started.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.