For me, it was a long, hard road learning to be self-disciplined about doing writing regularly. I’m at the point, now, where I write or revise almost every day – and the days I don’t, I’m usually doing some kind of exercise or think-through for my current writing project. I do give myself breaks on days when it just isn’t gonna happen because of the day job, chores, social occasions, and, you know, all that real life stuff.
Some of the stuff I’ve learned helps keep me focused may seem obvious, but I’ll tell it to you anyway, just in case it’s as useful to someone else as it has been for me.
One of the biggest steps toward daily writing, for me, was having a separate space JUST for writing. I was lucky enough to get a laptop for my birthday (thanks, fam!), which meant I could get away from my distracting desktop with its high-speed internet connection and loads of computer games (yes, I’m a nerd, I know). My laptop has no internet connection and absolutely no games. It has Word, Notepad, and WinAmp. That’s pretty much it. All I ever do at the laptop is write and make notes for my current project. It’s like a little psych test I’ve done on myself – I automatically click into writing mode when I sit down with the laptop.
Now, if you can’t get a laptop or don’t want one, the same idea can be applied using either a notebook (like, the kind you actually write on, not that itty bitty new kind of laptop), or just having something different about your workspace when you’re working on your writing. Light a candle, sit in a different chair, have a writing jacket, listen to different music. Something that separates your time and space as a writer from the rest of your daily tasks or entertainments in your computer area.
Another thing I’ve learned to do is to have a word count goal every day while I’m writing, which I’ve mentioned on this blog before – I have a low word count so that, even on days when real life looms large, I can still make my goal and feel good about my progress. 250 words per day was my self-imposed guideline for my current novel. The thing is, a lot of the time, by the time I’ve written 250 words, I’m in the groove and I can write way over that goal.
Having a time of day when you routinely work can be great, although hard to do unless you have a set schedule or can set your own hours. Having a fellow writer you’re close enough to to brainstorm with when you’re stuck is fantastic. Having a critique group that meets regularly can help keep you on task, especially if it’s a small enough group that everybody knows what everyone else is working on.
I do think it’s important to take a day off now and then, or give yourself weekends off from writing (or a Wednesday and Thursday, if your weekends are your best shot at writing time). It takes a lot of energy and thought to write a story! Sometimes your brain needs some recuperation time – and some time for your subconscious to cleverly link things together for you. If you write habitually, then a day or two off once a week is more likely to spark your brain than make you lose your thread, especially if you keep good notes.
I’m lucky enough to have a husband who understands that my writing is important, and that the time I spend on it is time well-spent. He’s a writer, himself, so he understands when I say, “Not now! Writing!” and he lets me get on with it. If your family doesn’t understand that writing time is work time, explain it. And believe it – when you’re writing, you are doing something important. Don’t let anyone make you feel otherwise.
The most important part of forming the habit of writing is don’t make excuses not to write. Yes, coddle yourself a little. Reward yourself when you’re good and do your word count. It’s fine to say, “I want hot chocolate before I sit down to work…and a special pen…and a cookie,” but if you get your chocolate, pen, and cookie, and then think of more and more things you “need” before you can settle into work, you’re just being naughty. Do your word count! Then you can have another cookie! Not inspired? Too bad – do your word count. If you write crap, it’s only 250 words’ worth of crap, and easy enough to delete tomorrow. Not sure where to take the story? Well, write 250 words in one direction and see if that’s where you want to go. If it isn’t, you’ve only lost 250 words’ worth of time, and you can write the story in a different direction tomorrow.
Like most habits, it gets easier the more used to it you get. If you write every day, it’ll become instinctive. You won’t feel right if you miss a day. Maybe that’s a little maladjusted, but…
Too bad! Do your word count!
P.S. I’ve started a Resources page, although I’m not far along with it yet. So far it’s got some good books about writing that I’ve discovered in the last few years, but I’ll be adding more, as well as websites and books that I’ve found helpful for researching for stories, websites with good writing exercises, and good places to find publishers.
Later this week, hopefully, I’ll also be getting the start of a page up of reading recommendations – books and authors I love, and why.