The more you write — and the more often you write — the better you get. Not just at writing itself, but the act of sitting down to write despite the many distractions that often prevent us from doing so.
Why does writing consistently matter? There are many reasons — and there’s actually a post going up tomorrow that goes through them all, which this post was supposed to be a part of, but I got too excited and the original post got too big. Welcome to my brain.
But basically, consistency in writing is like endurance training for marathon runners. You don’t get good at running if you don’t run at least a few times a week, and you don’t get better at physically getting out there and doing it if you aren’t used to practicing or pushing yourself to do it.
So here’s my dose of not so quick advice for how to write when you say you’re going to without hating or giving up on what you’re doing. As always, if you’re struggling with any of these points in particular, let me know how I can help.
First and foremost, consistent writing requires some kind of plan. Even if you don’t consider yourself a planner or don’t want to lock your creativity into too much structure, creating a basic plan of action will almost always increase your chances of actually sitting down to write when you say you’re going to.
It doesn’t have to be complicated or even all that detailed. It can be as simple as “I will write for an hour every Saturday morning before breakfast.” You can make it as specific as it needs to be and you can determine how much flexibility you give it. But something has to be in place, at least in your mind.
Creating a writing “action plan” means you might have to change some things in your life, or at the very least be very honest with yourself about what you want, what you need, and what you can and cannot handle. Here are some things to keep in mind.
Make a plan that makes sense for you. One of many reasons I don’t recommend daily writing is that it just doesn’t work for most people. It’s too overwhelming. When they miss one day, their motivation plummets, they completely fall apart, and it takes way too long to get them back on track.
People’s schedules are already packed full of daily tasks. Sometimes you can only make time for writing on the weekends, or on certain nights of the week, or in the middle of the night. Just because one expert says you have to write every single day at 7 PM on the dot doesn’t mean you have to listen to them.
You have to figure out when, where, and how often writing can fit into your schedule. Are you a morning writer? A night composer? Do you work best at the beginning of the week or at the end? Can you write with other people around or do you need complete silence? Creating a writing schedule means deciding what you need and how you can fulfill as many of those needs as possible.
Schedule breaks and restructures. Having some kind of game plan in place is important. But what most people tend to forget is that as much as we would love to Groundhog Day our professional lives, that’s just not how the world works. Sometimes the unexpected happens. Or we wake up one morning to write, as we have been doing for the past three weeks straight without issues, and suddenly realize we just don’t want to write first thing in the morning anymore.
As much as we often complain about changes in routines, our productivity might actually depend on them for survival. It’s 2019. We get bored. We assume doing the same thing every day works, and it’s comfortable and easy, so we don’t sprinkle in the variety necessary to keep our writing routines interesting.
It’s not that writing itself is boring. It’s that we’re looking for sparks of excitement in our work that aren’t always going to be there. And sometimes that means we have to create them AROUND our work, not necessarily IN it.
What does this mean? Schedule your breaks. If you’ve been writing consistently for the past four Saturdays in a row and you’re starting to dread your Saturday morning writing session (just a little bit), plan on skipping it this weekend. Or, switch things up and write on Sunday instead of Saturday.
You can go back “to normal” next week, or keep up this new routine for a little while. The point is, sometimes we have to stimulate our brains in unexpected ways. If it keeps you writing, it’s worth a try.
Be aware of your go-to excuses and how to shut them up. Most of the time when people struggle to write when they say they’re going to write, it’s because they give in to their excuses too easily.
There is a difference between a reason and an excuse. If I did not write yesterday even though it was on my schedule because my friend was going through something and I needed to be there to help her, then I had a good reason for not writing. I had to put it aside to deal with something unplanned that was more important. However, if I didn’t write yesterday because I was feeling tired and wanted to watch Netflix instead, I used that as an excuse to not write. And I could have ignored it and gotten my work done anyway.
We are creatures of habit, and it’s likely that if you catch yourself making an excuse once, you will try to make that same excuse again. I’m tired. I’m stressed. I don’t want to think. Learn to recognize these excuses and try to figure out how you can work around them. Maybe when you’re tired you can convince yourself to try writing 250 words, and then 250 more. Maybe when you’re stressed you can focus on writing something that’s your literary comfort food — that way you get your practice time in and feel less like you’re torturing yourself with every letter you type.
Writing is meant to be enjoyed. Even though for many of us it’s considered work, it doesn’t have to be miserable, and you don’t have to mope around feeling guilty every time you think about writing but don’t actually do it.
Sticking with habits is hard. Relying on yourself to get things done when you say you’re going to do them is hard. The only way to get better at it is to practice, practice, practice. And even that isn’t easy, I know. But at the start, all you can do — all you have to do — is try.
You don’t have to be perfect, and chances are you aren’t going to be. You’re going to sit down to write and give up after five minutes. You’re going to forget. You’re going to say “I’ll do it tomorrow instead” and you won’t.
But in all this you will discover what you need to work on and what you can do better. Then you can begin to develop strategies to learn to write even when it’s the last thing you want to do.
Consistency is where it all begins. It all gets better from here.
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.