This post is part of the Write With Me series. For more like this, check out the writing your novel page.
There are only so many hours in a day. Between getting the kids off to school, commuting to and from work, foraging at our local supermarkets, and calling the hair salon for the fifteenth time to really make sure they have you scheduled so there’s no repeat of last time when you showed up and they were like “I don’t know I guess we goofed on our schedule and you’ll be stuck with that terrible haircut for your engagement photos,” there’s really a lot to take care of on the day to day—even if some of those events are once-in-a-lifetime occurrences (or so say the folks at the salon).
Given this, how do we make time to write?
For some writers, it’s a matter of squeezing it in whenever they can—typing away on their phones while on the subway or scribbling on tiny notepads kept in their back pockets. These can be effective strategies for many, and I don’t begrudge anyone his or her preference. If something works, it works.
In my case, though, developing a consistent writing routine proved most effective in ensuring I write as often as possible for as long as possible, and at a time I know will be specifically designated for writing each day.
So how did I get here? And how can you do the same?
It Starts with a Decision
Some writers will say writing is like breathing—that without it, they’d die. This makes for great hyperbole, but, technically speaking, no one is going to actually die as a direct result of not writing. No matter who you are, writing is ultimately a choice.
We have to decide—every day, week, or however often works for us—that we are going to write at a particular time. Not only that, we then have to commit to that time; it won’t commit itself to us.
But what about—?
These are the thoughts that get in the way of us following through on our commitment to write. Sometimes these what-abouts are unavoidable, but other times it’s that we’re simply choosing to embrace the what-abouts in lieu of following through on our decision to write. It happens.
The important thing is to not let a single victory in the what-about column leave us feeling defeated. A loss is a loss, but it doesn’t mean all is lost. There’s a way forward still, if only we just had some sort of:
This is what helped me get into the write-every-day rhythm. I’d been telling myself forever that I needed to do this, and for as much as I wanted to embrace the habit, what-abouts were stealing away victories all the time.
I thought to myself, then, “When will I have time to myself, for myself, consistently and with little interruption?” The answer to that—originally, anyway—was during my lunch breaks at work.
These were originally half-hour stints that grew to a full hour as I changed jobs. As I established this rhythm, it grew stronger, resulting in first-thing-in-the-morning daily sessions as well.
With two sessions at the keys per day, it became that much easier to see my progress and forgive myself when the what-abouts got in the way. Still, though, there were times where the what-abouts seemed to be turning the tide against my healthy habit. So how did I reinforce my writing positively?
Complementary Thoughts and Habits
A lot of those Zen and the Art of books focus on visualization as an imperative to success (or at least I imagine they do, anyway). Visualizing my scenes in my mind prior to writing them helped me settle into my sessions more easily. In this way, I didn’t need fifteen minutes in front of the laptop getting all namasté before I could get to typing.
Visualization didn’t end there, though. I’d also think about myself getting up that extra hour early in the morning, pouring my coffee and feeding the cats before sitting down and putting in the work (you have to feed the cats first—otherwise they just, well, you know how cats are). When at work, in the fifteen minutes or so before I take my lunch, I start refreshing my memory as to what scene I have to write next in an attempt to recapture that mood before I plop down with another coffee and a Klarbrunn.
To further reinforce the above, I also tied my writing to other positive habits during which I could do additional visualization. If your dentist is still nagging you about flossing once a day, for example, why not start doing that, too, and using that time to think about the writing you’ll do the following morning?
Clean teeth + clear mind = crisp pages. Or something.
Rely on Support
Writing may be a solitary activity, but next-to-nothing exists in a vacuum. That’s why it’s important to surround ourselves with people who will understand and respect the boundaries we need to establish in order to pursue our habit of writing daily, weekly, etc.
On the positive side of this, perhaps you can ask a friend to shoot you a follow-up text every day that asks whether you got that writing in. Sure, you could have a digital reminder set to ask you this every day, but to whom do you feel more accountable: a friend or some app?
Sometimes even just communicating how important your writing is to you can help others reinforce your habit without needing such a direct approach. I’m not advising anyone to wedge this into conversation (please don’t be a that-guy, here), but if it does come up, mention you’re trying to get into that daily habit and see how people react. Your supportive friends might have suggestions of their own for how to help yourself achieve this. Some might frown or say that’s silly or say, “Oh, I wish I had the time to write,” but we all know that those people aren’t choice-quality friends, and are actually, in fact, a bunch of hosers. You read that right. Hosers.
And we don’t listen to hosers.
Over time, I found that the best reward was looking back every couple of months and realizing how much progress I’d made on a manuscript, series of blog posts, or collection of stories (sometimes a combination thereof).
Perhaps, though, you want to up the stakes to really sweeten the deal for yourself—especially as you’re just getting your habit started. Then hey, go for it, but be sure to pick a positive reward that will reinforce the habit going forward. Maybe you can even pick something that will push you toward developing yet another healthy habit. In time, you might even find yourself with a bit of a habit chain!
You, too, can get yourself to writing every day or week or what-have-you, and following the steps above may help you get there. If you’re still not sure how you might achieve this, feel free to check out this writescast episode featuring Danielle Maurer, in which she discusses an approach she once used to keep herself in the writing habit. Or, there’s this blog post in which I discuss writing every day more broadly. If you’re still unsure, why not reach out? I’m always available on Twitter or through my contact page.
Thanks for reading. Now get out there and make that habit happen!