Most of us have an idea in our minds of a writer as someone who writes effortlessly, regularly, and has access to the Muse on demand.
It can be hard to sit down and put words on a page when writing can feel stilted, clunky and artificial. Many of us secretly feel like frauds when writing, as though there are far more ‘legitimate’ things we could be doing. Even more writers stuggle to find the time to write because we think it needs to be done in huge time blocks, or get discouraged because we’re not writing at our best right from the start.
It doesn’t have to be this way!
There are some basic truths to a writing life that are inescapable: If you don’t do your writing regularly, you won’t write well, or often, or build up your writing muscle – the basic response that gets writing to flow when you sit down to write.
Writing is basically like any other artistic, creative, or business pursuit. Practice, and you will improve. Write often, and your brain will recognise what you’re doing, and feed you inspiration and words when you need them to flow. Slightly mundane perhaps, but true.
So to tackle that book and get some rhythm into your writing practice try these:
1- Get a ritual. I’m not talking small animal sacrifice here. If you write consistently after you do a certain thing, you will train your subconscious that when you begin your ritual, writing time is coming up. You’ll get the rewards of writing, as well as a treat beforehand. Wins all round!
Some examples of before-writing rituals are: making your favourite hot drink, putting on some music and listening for 5-10 minutes before you write, taking a quick walk (or a long ramble), lighting a candle, doing breathing exercises, stretching, rocking out, wild dancing, daydreaming out the window, going to the gym, or just reading the paper.
It does help if the ritual is something you do with an intent to begin writing after you do it.
2- Reward yourself. After you’ve written, make sure you do something to celebrate. After all, you’ve sat down, faced the page, and gotten some wordage down. You deserve something as a treat. This can be anything at all that gives you a good feeling: a nap, another cup of tea/coffee, food treats, music, reading a great book you’re into, chatting to a friend on the phone, anything at all.
3- Don’t make it too hard. If you are trying to set up a writing habit, be easy on yourself. Start small: set a timer for 15 minutes and write for just that long. It’s really hard to write for hours a day when you first start. (And even when you’re experienced, sometimes!) If you do just a small amount a day, soon you’ll miss it when you don’t, and before too long, you’ll be hooked. Or productive. I don’t think it really matters which, does it?
4- Get a goal. If you want to get words on a page, it helps to have a specific, measurable goal you’re working towards. Basically, if you go into your writing time thinking, “I’ll just work on my book,” you’ll have a general aim, but how will you know whether you’ve done enough? I usually recommend setting either a word count goal, or a section-based goal: say you’ll do 500 words on your book, or you’ll finish that chapter that’s been hanging over your head. That way, you’ll know when you’ve reached it, and you’ll have something to celebrate, too!
5- Block out time. Everyone I have ever worked with who has wanted to write a book has eventually come to this one. Surprise: your book won’t write itself! No matter how much you wish, no matter how dearly you want it, your book will stay inside you if you don’t commit to some writing time in your week to get it out. It could be a chunk once a week. Fifteen minutes every day. An hour every second day. Just put some time in the calendar, and keep it sacred. By the end of a week, you’ll be further than if you hadn’t. Imagine how that would feel…amazing, right? Now go and do it.
6- Get accountability. You’ll write regardless of what else is going on if you know someone will be checking that you have. You can arrange to text your partner or a friend, email a writing buddy, take a call with your coach, whatever will get you through. If you’re visual, you can use a sticker on your calendar for each day you write – make it pretty so that you don’t want to miss one. Or give yourself a reward for reaching a certain amount of stickers. I remember hearing in an interview once that Jerry Seinfeld used to draw a chain link across the day on a calendar when he wrote. Eventually he had a chain that he didn’t want to break by missing a day. Try that. If it works, great!
7- Don’t stand you up. Think of your writing as an appointment with your inner writer. Spend a little time imagining what your inner writer looks like, how they dress, speak, and work. When you’ve made time in your schedule for writing, it turns into time spent with your inner writer. You wouldn’t want to stand them up, would you?
8- Forgive your fear. Sometimes you’ll literally forget that you have scheduled writing into your day. Or you’ll miss a writing block of time for some other reason. It’s really easy to get caught up in feeling guilty, or calculating where you now should be in your writing. Don’t. Just check when you’re next scheduled to write, let the guilt go, and get on with it. Getting caught up in guilt about what is in the past is counterproductive to moving forward with your writing. It’s hard at first, but gets easier. Time has passed: move on, and do what you can with next time.
9- Change it. If you’ve tried something to get yourself writing regularly, and you’re feeling a bit odd about it, try changing something. Usually my clients need to play around with a few ideas and times before they hit on something that works for them. Some write at night, when the house is quiet. Others find that the noise and hustle of their local cafe is great: they’re out and about, but focussed. Try new things, new rituals and ways of keeping track, and see what works.
Some of these might be a little simple, but then so is getting writing into your day.
If you’re burning to write a book, you have the time to do it. You may just have to do a little calendar excavation to get there, and a little metaphorical arm twisting to stay committed. Personally, I have a day that I reserve for the writing I need to do. I’ve found that it works best for me that way.
I’d love to hear from you what you do to get into the writing rhythm…