The Blank Page is a new weekly series on Novelty Revisions dedicated to any writer who is just beginning their journey or starting again after a long pause. Check back every Monday for more tips and inspiration.
For my first few months as a beginner violinist, I kept trying to set what I thought was a reasonable monthly goal: Learn to play a song. A whole song. Just one. That’s not so hard, right?
Except it was. Because focusing on learning 1 song turned out to be the wrong kind of goal for someone who was still learning the basic notes and hand positions.
Everything changed when, as I got busier, I switched to setting a goal to practice for 10 minutes five days a week. It wasn’t a lot. But I stopped procrastinating. I stopped getting frustrated when it took more time than expected just to learn a few measures of a new piece.
All I had to do was set a time, set a timer, and focus on improving little by little every day.
It took a lot of the stress away from my days. I no longer needed to decide when I was going to practice or for how long. It became part of my routine, and I actually started enjoying the experience more.
The same strategy can be applied to writing. Instead of focusing on a certain number of words or chapters or pages, setting a timer might change your whole experience. Here’s why.
You’re less likely to waste time focusing on word or page count. I’m sure I’m not the only one who — on days when focusing is EXTREMELY challenging, more so than usual — looks at a word or page count goal and thinks, “Oh, that’s not so bad. I’ll get there. But first let me spend 20 minutes scrolling through Instagram photos I’ve already seen today.”
Production goals are extremely important — and if going by a certain number of words or pages in a day works for you, then by all means, keep doing that. But if you want to try something different, or need a new method to keep you on track to reach your goals, arranging your writing sessions by blocks of time might make a huge difference.
I, personally, tend to be much more productive in a shorter amount of time when I know my only goal is to write for one hour in the evening. I’m much less likely to procrastinate because it’s just one hour. And once my timer starts, I’m much less likely to allow distractions to slow me down or derail me.
You can, of course, split your writing time into multiple sessions throughout the day to fit with your schedule — it doesn’t have to be all at once. But it does have the potential to prevent writing time spent, well … not writing.
Timed writing sessions make writing feel more like an appointment. And that’s not a bad thing. I know it seems like treating your writing like a work obligation will take the fun out of it, but that’s really only the case if you choose to approach it with that perspective.
Writing can be fun and fulfilling. But it just isn’t always going to feel that way. Sometimes you’re just going to have to force yourself to turn off Netflix, open your latest work in progress, and get to work. Having a set time and place for doing this — a start time AND a desired end time — might help make this a little easier.
There’s a big difference between forcing yourself to avoid procrastinating and forcing yourself to write when you’re not in the right headspace. You should not force writing when nothing good is going to come of trying. But you should force yourself to clear your immediate physical and mental space of the things preventing you from writing — because nine times out of ten, distractions are the problem, and writing will happen when they temporarily disappear.
Following through on your own schedule takes a lot of discipline — and it’s OK if you haven’t built up enough resistance to writing distractions and the like to be able to stick to a consistent plan. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure or that you aren’t trying hard enough. This kind of discipline can take years to develop. Be patient with yourself, and each time you say you’re going to write and don’t, be honest with yourself about why you didn’t follow through.
It’s less intimidating — especially if you create your own personal routine. I’ve been setting “big” writing goals for a long time. But even I still sometimes look at a goal of a thousand words on a Tuesday and feel that all-too-familiar stress starting to collect in my chest.
But just one hour of writing? For some reason, that doesn’t seem quite as scary.
A lot of aspiring writers deal with feelings of intimidation when they try to work toward certain kinds of writing goals. They just don’t always realize that’s what they’re feeling. They assume it’s that they’re lazy or can’t focus or they’re not good enough at writing — but it’s completely normal to feel anxious when you’re working toward a milestone that could one day change your life for the better.
Make it a little easier on yourself. It’s OK. If writing for 10 minutes every day is all you can handle at the moment, then do that! It’s better than sitting on your work in progress feeling guilty for not doing anything. A little bit of time put toward a goal does add up. You’re in no rush. Take the time to make that time worth it.
Just starting out as a writer or returning from an extended hiatus? Let me know how I can help. Just drop a comment below with your questions/concerns — I am here to serve.
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.