A couple of weeks ago I announced that I was going to start work on two books. One is non-fiction, the other is an erotic novel that I’m writing using a pseudonym.
One thing that I’ve learned during this process is that it’s very easy to put off writing for another day. I can be an Olympic-level procrastinator! Unfortunately, if you put off writing too many times then you’ll never get a big project done.
My favorite writers all talk about how important it is to just sit down and write. Neil Gaiman has this advice:
“If you’re only going to write when you’re inspired, you may be a fairly decent poet, but you will never be a novelist — because you’re going to have to make your word count today, and those words aren’t going to wait for you, whether you’re inspired or not. So you have to write when you’re not inspired. … And the weird thing is that six months later, or a year later, you’re going to look back and you’re not going to remember which scenes you wrote when you were inspired and which scenes you wrote because they had to be written next.”
I’ve heard this idea echoed over and over again by professional writers. Sit down. Grind it out. Repeat.
So, maybe you’re looking for some ideas on how to get into the habit of writing regularly. Here’s a few strategies that have worked for me and some additional tips that might help you.
Nothing is going to happen until you decide that this is important to you. Unless you commit to being a writer then no amount of tips or strategies are going to make a difference in the long term.
Take a step back and do an honest assessment on why you want to write. Is your motivation money? Is it fame? Do you have some expertise you want to share? Do you just want to tell all the stories that are floating around in your head?
Find out why you want to write and then keep that reason in mind. It will keep you motivated to get the work done.
It’s Okay to be Terrible
Writing can be intimidating. You have to worry about your “voice.” You have to worry about research. You have to worry about grammar. You have to keep the attention of your audience. You don’t want to suck. All of these worries add up and can get you locked in a constant state of writer’s block.
Let it go.
Just be terrible. It’s alright. Seriously.
One of the things that really set me free was to finally allow myself to make mistakes. Once I gave in I discovered that the words flowed much easier. There’s freedom in being terrible.
Just get it down, then clean it up before anyone sees it. Take your terrible words and shine them up. The hardest part of writing is the first draft. Editing is a breeze.
The Write Place
You’ve got to have a consistent place to write—an oasis. For some people that will be an office. Others may like taking their laptop to Starbucks. You have to decide what’s right for you, but figure out the environment that works best and get your ass in that place.
Once you do this regularly it’s going to be easier to find your groove. Your mind will begin to realize that you’re in a work space and it will click into gear. It’s a trigger to get busy.
Remove All Distractions
I’m the world’s worst about checking email, social networking updates and news. I’d like to be connected to the internet using a giant cord that plugs into the back on my head like Neo in “The Matrix.”
Distractions might be the phone, or kids, or friends for you. Identify your distractions and do your best to remove them while you’re writing.
Anything that pops you out of your creative mind has the potential to destroy your productivity. Turn off your cell phone. Tell everyone to leave you alone for a bit. Make a pact with yourself to not check your email. Those distractions are your enemy.
Something that has worked well for me is to create goals that I have to complete. My first goal was simply to write 1000 words a day. Sometimes I do more and sometimes I don’t make it, but that goal has pushed me to be more productive.
You can also set up imaginary deadlines. Write it down in a calendar and stick to them. Those deadlines will help you stay on track with your project. Don’t make unrealistic deadlines though, it can work against you.
A Time for Writing
Setting up a consistent time for writing can make you very productive. The habit of writing at the same time every day does several good things.
- If you have friends or family that interrupt you, having a consistent time to write can help you teach them to leave you alone.
- A consistent time will put you in the right state of mind. Ideally, you would set aside a time when you’re the most creative.
- Writing the same time every day means that you’re automatically putting in the time to get a big project done.
- It’s an excellent prompt. Every day you’re either in the right spot, or you’re blowing it off.
The One Hour Rule
I got this tip from Chuck Palahniuk. Set a timer for one hour and agree to write until the timer goes off. If you don’t want to write any more then go do something else. That’s it.
What I’ve discovered is that once you get going, it’s actually hard to stop, particularly when you’re writing fiction. You get caught-up in your world and your characters and your situation and you want to keep going. Additionally, if you’re having a hard time getting the words out then it forces you to keep going.
A variation on the One Hour Rule is the Pomodoro Method which sets up your working time in 25 minute chunks with a five minute break. Two chunks of time will effectively create the One Hour Rule. I’ve never stopped after one hour.
Here’s a small free program for Mac or Windows that will help you keep track of Pomodoro time that I use.
One of the reasons why I announced to the world that I was writing two books was to create social motivation. I’m on the hook for two books now.
I don’t think anyone is sitting up late at night worrying about whether I’m going to finish these books or not, but I sure am. By putting it out there, I’ve made a commitment to my followers to get the work done. I also told my friends and family about my plans. It’s a commitment.
When I don’t feel like sitting down to do my work it can be a powerful motivator to get in my office and start writing.
Committing publically also starts the very important process of creating some interest in what you’re doing. At some point you’re going to want to publish your work and you’ll need an audience of potential readers. You’ve alerted everyone that something wonderful is coming. It’s up to you to deliver.
I’d like to hear your ideas of how to create effective writing habits. You can leave me your thoughts below. As I discover more I’ll be glad to share.
By the way, this article completes my 1000 goal for today.