“How do I get better at writing so I can do [X]?”
This is the fundamental question for both beginners and seasoned writers alike. Every day, we internally strive to perform a little better than we did the day before. We have goals, we can envision exactly the outcome we want — to publish our own books or to speak onstage about our ideas — whatever your greatest ambitions may be — and we don’t want to wait. We want to succeed NOW.
So there is, of course, nothing wrong with asking, “How do I improve?” Just as long as you understand that the answer might be more complicated and unglamorous than you’re hoping for.
Are you using the most valuable tool available — technically for free — at every writer’s fingertips? Chances are you aren’t — at least, not in the way you normally look at it.
There are different kinds of time management — and everyone struggles in their own way. Most of the humans I know are notoriously terrible at managing their time. It has nothing to do with laziness or a lack of interest or anything like that — the problem is that there are so many options to choose from when deciding what we are going to do with the free two hours in the evening that we have that we often don’t always choose the “best” one.
But there is more than one kind of time management, especially when you determine the difference between short-term and long-term time — what am I going to do this week to get all my writing done (short-term) vs. what am I going to do today to make sure I reach my writing goal by the end of the year (long-term).
The kind we don’t talk about enough is the one that focuses heavily on the “bigger picture” — how much time do I need to spend on writing each week if I want to improve my skills to the point where I have a project suitable for the public, or am confident enough to put my work out into the world?
This is why I so heavily emphasize “consistent practice” when suggesting ways for writers to improve their skills and reach their goals. It’s not about writing every day or publishing a blog post on the same day every week — it’s about understanding that improvement is directly correlated with the amount of practice you put into that improvement, measured by time in years — not days, not weeks, not months; years.
Time is often the missing piece in a struggling writer’s puzzle. Time is your most valuable resource. Yes, you have to make room in your day for it. Yes, there is a finite amount of it — and yes, it’s possible to waste it no matter how good your intentions.
The key is to change the way you look at it — not as something to dread or fight against, but instead something to appreciate. Something to use to further your journey.
Time is a tool, not an obstacle. At least, you have to learn to treat it like a tool instead of viewing it as something that needs “overcoming.” And don’t worry — it has taken me years to get to a point where I’m seeing time differently. It’s something I, too, still struggle with — maybe I always will. So you are most certainly not alone if you also wrestle with patience and worrying about achieving your goals “too late.”
We spend way too much of our writing time worrying about whether or not it’s enough, how to magically create more space for it, whether or not we are using it the “right” way to further our skills, goals, and careers. What we should be doing instead is focusing on is how we can use time to our advantage, in everyday practice, to slowly inch closer and closer to our goals.
The more time you spend writing, the better you’ll write. There are people in this world who believe that if you aren’t born with writing “talent,” there is no hope for you as a future creator. I understand the origins of this false belief — for many, it often seems as though those for whom writing comes “easily” are just better off than — and way ahead of — those for whom it does not.
But writing is a skill similar to many others, and anyone can improve that skill as long as they are willing to put in the work. And what’s required in order to put in that work? Time. A lot of time. More time than you’re probably expecting.
I’m a big fan of the 10,000-Hour Rule. Whether you subscribe to this line of thinking or not — whether you trust the research or not — the principles behind it are worth serious consideration. Sure, it may not literally take 10,000 hours to become expertly proficient in a particular skill — perhaps more, perhaps less; it’s beside the point.
The point of this concept is that if you want to get better at doing something, you have to spend many, many hours doing it. There is a reason the average person can’t sit down and write a best-selling book in a month. Writing is a skill that takes years to refine. It’s actually pretty rare that the first book an author publishes is also the first book they ever wrote. You don’t know how many first, second, even third and fourth drafts — many times over — prepared your favorite author for just their debut.
Writers improve with practice. Practice requires writing — and not just on the 30-minute train ride to and from your day job five days a week, though — TO BE CLEAR — something is better than nothing and if you can get into the habit of writing five hours a week, YOU ARE DOING GREAT. Practice requires consistency, and a willingness to commit even on the days you’d rather not. Over time, the more you learn, the more you grow, and the less resistance you will come up against. It just takes time.
Of course, this means you actually have to spend your writing time actually writing in order for it to count. Admit it — sometimes your writing sessions don’t always involve 100% productivity. Sometimes you end up checking your email, or Twitter. Or rereading what you wrote last week. Or … all of the above and more.
Create time to write and use your time wisely. It’s the only way to slowly become the writer you have secretly always wanted to be.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is an editor and writer, and a 12-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food, and Star Wars.