How to Stick to a Writing Schedule
How to Stick to a Writing Schedule
Practice makes perfect, the old adage goes, and the more you write the better you get at it. Whether you’re blogging for money or writing for yourself—perhaps for November’s NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month—here are some tips to develop a writing habit.
Regular writing is good for your mind and emotional health. Sticking to a schedule and always facing that cruel blank page, however, can feel like torture. As the saying goes, though, "Inspiration is for amateurs—the rest of us just show up and get to work." Here’s how to make showing up easier.
Set Aside a Place to Write
You can be creative anywhere—sitting on the subway or standing on a line—but for the long haul and more consistent creativity, your best bet is to carve out a space where you regularly write. That primes you to get into the right frame of mind as soon as you sit down. Michael Pollan built a place of his own where he could think and write, much like Thoreau and countless others have retreated to specific places to better hone into their work. Set aside a particular place that you do nothing but write or create and you can jump start your creativity.
Make It a Habit
The hardest part of working on something is just getting started. That’s why some of the most successful creative people are suckers for routine. Author and poet Robbie Blair suggests on Lit Reactor that we create a writing ritual and invest in it:
My own ritual is to make myself a cup of tea, load up an instrumental soundtrack, then pull up my current project. By that point, my brain has comfortably tuned itself in for the writing it anticipates.
What I encourage is developing your own rituals that involve things that you already enjoy. From there, a simple investment in your rituals can have a profound impact. It doesn’t matter that no one actually needs 16 different flavors of tea (my current total): Buying new flavors is how I get myself excited about the ritual surrounding my writing. Likewise, I regularly invest in instrumental soundtracks (most recently work by Lindsey Stirling) because it makes me excited to get going.
Many people might tell you to just get up earlier to make the most of those magical morning hours when the words might flow more freely, but, honestly, waking up earlier and forcing yourself to write at 5 am isn’t the solution for everyone. Earlier might be better because your willpower will likely get depleted as the day goes on, but some people are more creative in the evenings. There are all types of writers—after-hours writers, lunch break writers, mini-block writers, and more. Track your time and energy for a week or two to find what’s best for you—and then block out that time on your calendar as an appointment with yourself. Even better: mark off each day you sit down to write and don’t break the chain.
Get Unstuck with Timed Sprints
If the hardest part is just getting started, how do you get over that hurdle? Use a timer—a simple kitchen timer will do—that can reduce your anxiety and just force you to write. Set the timer to just 5 minutes if you want, and you might find yourself writing long after that.
Because you’re being timed and sprinting to write as much as you can, you’ll likely censor yourself less during the writing process—just write whatever comes naturally and edit later. (Don’t waste time doing research while you’re in your writing groove either or edit each sentence as you go along. Give yourself permission to write a few lousy paragraphs or pages.) Rinse and repeat.
Become a Voracious Reader
If you’re a writer, there’s no better "bang for your buck" way to spend your time than to just read more. Read anything and read everything—as a skilled reader. The more "I wish I had written that" pieces you come across, the better your work will be and the more motivated you may be to produce something worthwhile. Other arts can be inspiring too—paintings, movies, photography, and so on. Soak it all up when you’re not actively writing.
Tap into Peer Pressure
Having an "accountability buddy" is a tried-and-true strategy for getting things done. Whether you join an online writing group or simply tell someone about your project and goals, other people can help you stick to the plan. A supportive group can also help you get over the natural fears writers and other artists have: fear of humiliation and fear of the solitude that comes with art-making. There are plenty of online forums and critique circles that can get you closer to publishing your work.
Follow the Two-in-a-Row Rule
You have your schedule, your alarm set, your routine down pat…but one day you break it and just don’t feel like writing, so you don’t (even though you know "not feeling like it" is not a good excuse). We all slip up now and again. Don’t beat yourself up, but also don’t slip twice in a row. Develop a plan for when you might miss a writing session but use the "never miss twice" mindset to get back on track.
Also, be flexible. Your writing schedule might change—often. Life events will throw wrenches in your plan, but you can plan a new schedule. And then stick to that.
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