Building Up Your Writing Muscle

Today I want to talk about how to develop your writing muscle as I truly believe that one of the hardest things about writing is sitting down to write.

Let’s say you really want to write. You have ideas, you love the thought of writing, you visualise yourself doing it and in your head it feels wonderful. You have a big chunk of free time coming up, but when the day comes round and you’re faced with the prospect of actually sitting down to write, you’re filled with dread, you do everything you can think of to put off starting, and in the end, if you’re lucky, you manage about 5 minutes before being pulled away to do something far more urgent.  

Sound familiar? That’s exactly how I used to feel.

One of the best ways to overcome the dread of sitting down to write is to build up your writing muscle and eventually turn ‘sitting down to write’ into a habit – something you do instinctively, rather than something you have to decide to do each time.

Here are 8 tips to help you build up your writing muscle.

Start Small

Your goal is to end up being able to sit down and write for a whole day. But that doesn’t mean you have to start there. In my opinion there’s absolutely nothing wrong with starting with 10 minutes of writing a day. In fact 10 minutes is a great start. You could, for example, set yourself a target of writing 150 words – a good couple of paragraphs – in each of your 10-minute chunks. If you did that every day, think about how your word count would soon start to build up. Little by little you’d make brilliant, consistent progress.

Celebrate Each Chunk of Writing

The key here is to feel good about your writing achievements, rather than beating yourself up for not doing enough. The better you feel about it, the more likely you are to sit down again tomorrow. So if you manage to do 10 minutes today, give yourself a gold star!

Be Consistent

To help you develop your writing habit, you need to be consistent, and this means writing for 10 minutes every day for at least a month. Ten minutes isn’t a lot, so don’t panic, you can do it! 

Try Morning Pages

In ‘The Artist’s Way’ Julia Cameron talks about the importance of doing morning pages – which is starting your day by writing for 10 minutes. It can be anything: your stream of consciousness, the dream you just had, or an idea you are working on. The important thing is that you keep your notebook by your bed and start writing before doing anything else – before checking your phone, before listening to the news, before having a conversation. Just write.

Make an Appointment to Write

Dorothea Brande, in ‘Becoming a Writer’, recommends making an appointment to write each day.

The gist is, that at the start of each day, let’s say over breakfast, you check your diary to see when you might have a gap, then book into your day an appointment to write. It doesn’t have to be much – 10 minutes is fine. But the important thing is that you stick to you, no matter what happens. If you’re in the middle of a phone call or a conversation, you need to extricate yourself as if this were the most important appointment of your day.

Again, keep this up for a month, but try to vary the time of day. Sometimes you might have your appointment over breakfast, other times over lunch, sometimes it’ll be during your work day, take a break for 10 minutes, shut your office door (or slip into the bathroom and lock the door). It’s important to vary the time, because you are training your brain to believe that when you make an ‘appointment to write’ you stick to it. But you’re also learning to be flexible, to write at different times of day.

Write in Different Locations

Continuing on the theme of flexibility, try writing in different locations – sometimes in bed or at the kitchen table, other times at your desk at work, in the midst of a busy café or at a friend’s house. You don’t want to be too wedded to one specific location, because that gives you licence to skip your daily writing if ever you’re away from that location. So practise writing in as many locations as you can imagine. Remember, the key here is to learn to write every day no matter what.

Use a Stop Watch

If you are still struggling to sit down and write, try using a stop watch and set your alarm for 10 minutes time. Somehow, this little action, really focuses the mind and makes us get going fast. It’s also nice to know that when that alarm goes off, that’s it, we’re done for the day. Of course, you can always continue if you’re feeling inspired and have time available. But you don’t have to. Ten minutes is still an achievement.  

Build up Slowly

Continue with these various suggestions consistently for a month. Then, as you move into the second month, start to build up the amount of writing time you do. First a week of 15 minutes writing per day. Then a week of 20 minutes per day, then onto 25 minutes per day, and so on, until sitting down to write feels automatic and something you look forward to. Eventually, when you have a big free chunk of time, you will no longer feel daunted, but excited instead.  

How about you, has anything helped you develop your writing habit? I’d love to hear your tips as we can all learn from each other.

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