Cultivating the Writing Habit

In writing, there are rainy seasons and dry seasons, at least for me. The dry seasons seem to come when I forget something important about what makes a daily writing possible for me. In short, a lot of stars need to be aligned for me to consistently put words on the page every single day.

I say the “stars need to be aligned” rather than “the stars must align,” because I’ve discovered that there are daily habits I can do to control and cultivate a steady word count, so that writing becomes more enjoyable. Hemingway is famous for saying that writing is easy, just sit at the typewriter and bleed, but it doesn’t always have to be that way (though days like that are inevitable).

So, what exactly are some of the daily habits and attitudes I practice to cultivate daily writing? It’s an important question, because words on the page is really the only thing that matters when it comes to being a professional author. You can market, tweet, blog, and promote all you want, but if you’re not putting words on the page, odds are, your career as a writer will be short-lived, or never make it off the ground to begin with.

There are things I’ve found to encourage a daily writing mindset, and taken together, these things make it easier for me to put words on the page every day.

Have a word count goal. It can’t be a number that’s big or intimidating. For me, my minimum is 1,000 words per day, but I don’t stop myself if I’m willing to go beyond it. The point is to do it daily. I’m a big believer that 1,000 a day is more powerful than 5,000 “whenever I feel like it.”

Know where you’re going for the day. What I like to do is write a few sentences outlining each scene I’m going work on that day. This is usually about 2-3 scenes, although sometimes a long scene will run more than 1,000 words. Even if you end up doing away with the outline or diverting from it, you can still rearrange it to something that works better. The point is to give you an idea of where to go. It gives control and certainty while leaving room for the characters to explore and make the story for themselves.

Minimize time in front of the TV and pick up a book instead. Cutting out TV (or my main vice, video games) is one of the single greatest things that makes writing easier. When I’m reading an hour or two every day, I notice my thoughts are clearer, my prose smoother, and I’m better at knowing what’s going to happen next in my own story. And books are rich with ideas which can inspire, and connections are inevitably made in the subconscious. The more I read, the more my fingers fly across the keyboard. I still watch TV and play video games, of course, but if I let myself do either one of those things too much, it becomes harder to get myself to write.

Schedule social media rather than mindlessly browsing. This is probably the single greatest time sink, and it’s something I’m working on improving. Social media is the ultimate procrastination tool for the majority of people, and it has become the default thing to do when you really, really don’t want to be working on a dreaded or difficult task. Social media is hard to avoid since we carry our phones with us everywhere, and its reach is insidious and fully integrated into our lives. The best way I’ve found to resist social media is to let myself browse guilt free once my work is done. I’ve also recently taken up daily meditation, a practice I highly encourage because it unplugs you and teaches you it’s okay to be not have to stimulate our brains every second of the day. As a society, we’ve generally forgotten how to be bored. Which leads into my final point.

Embrace Boredom. Boredom can actually be a good thing. Getting bored and frustrated with a creative task, like writing, should be embraced. There’s no way to stop it, because writing is hard. When I hit a block, that’s when I feel the temptation to distract myself the most. But this is the most important time to continue sitting there, embracing the boredom and the frustration. I’ll usually let my mind wander a bit, thinking about things, before bringing my attention back to the blinking cursor.

When we allow ourselves to become distracted, we’re inadvertently teaching our brains that it’s okay to give up when the process of creation gets hard. We’re also not giving our subconscious time to percolate and process the block. For example, before before starting this blog post I was probably staring off into space for a good fifteen minutes, not sure of what I was going to write about. This shouldn’t be confused with writing fatigue, which is inevitable after you’ve already written your daily allotment. This is when you’ve barely gotten started and are tempted to give up before you’ve really gotten going.

It also helps to be in a lively environment, with plenty of sounds, smells, music, and things going on (a coffee shop is perfect for this, or an outside cafe). It’s a lot easier to get distracted if you’re working from home, where bad habits are more ingrained.

How I can make writing easily easier for myself has been something I’ve been chewing over a lot lately. Writing is draining by nature. Because of this, it’s important for every writer (or whatever your craft happens to be) to find the things that fill that emptiness. That could be coffee, music, books, art, working out, or having a good conversation with friends. And yes, within reason, TV and video games. And going off my last point about embracing boredom, it’s important to let your mind wander and daydream, and to limit activities that reinforce addiction and instant reward, like video games and social media. I’m not a complete Luddite, but I’m a strong believer that it’s important to consciously think about how I control my time, otherwise time be the one controlling me. Writing is anything but instantly rewarding. Many writers like to say they like having written, describing their need to write as more of an impulse and need than a pleasure.

And a lot of times, it certainly feels that way, and if we train our brains to seek distraction the moment we’re bored or frustrated, then we lose our reason and purpose for why we write in the first place.

Of course, is also important to treat oneself with grace and forgiveness. Writing is hard, and no one is perfect. It’s a process and a journey, and as long we’re making steps in the right direction, that’s what truly matters.

2 thoughts on “Cultivating the Writing Habit

  1. Love that you are sticking to this; and with such good information.

    I’m on social media a lot, but as I’m PA for couple of authors and involved with several more through Beta and ARC reading, it’s hard not to be. I’m currently unsubscribing to several newsletters and unfriending those authors, not because they’re not good but their genres are not what I prefer. Ahhhh some good news, I’m now officially being paid to help edit. It’s not the first time I’ve been paid, but it’s the first time on a long term basis and seeing my name in the acknowledgements is always a great and awesome feeling.

    I do like to promote my favorite authors. Speaking of that, I do wish you’d do some teasers and blurbs so I’m able to “show you off” more, prior and during your book releases.

    Keep on doing what your doing; it sounds like your making it happen and enjoying it as well. I’d love to see if this in any way changes the feel of your books.

    1. Who knows? Currently don’t have a blurb for the one I’m working on. Generally promo has been an area I’ve struggled with but that just means there’s room for improvement. Congrats on the editing gig!

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