At a recent London Writers’ Meetup session we discussed how tough it can be to make yourself sit down to write. You might have loads of time on your hands and no excuses not to write. You might desperately want to write. And yet, time and again you find yourself not actually writing. Sound familiar?
This is exactly what I went through when I started writing. I could not make myself write for love nor money. And when I did, it felt like some sort of torture. I couldn’t understand. I was sure that being a writer would bring me joy, so why did I find it so unpleasant to actually sit down and write?
It turns out, I needed to turn my writing into a habit.
Once I had succeeded in doing this, sitting down to write became as necessary and important as eating and sleeping and I honestly haven’t looked back. OK, I still have good days and bad days, like everyone, but I get over the bad days pretty quickly, and return to my desk the next day eager to write again.
Becoming a Writer
There are lots of tips out there about developing habits, but for me, my writing habit came about mostly thanks to the wonderful 1930s book ‘Becoming a Writer’ by Dorothea Brande. (I highly recommend this book, by the way, for anyone struggling with their writing. It’s a joy to read and it’s super short too!)
So today I’m going to share the two strategies from this book that most helped me develop my daily writing habit.
1 Morning Pages
This is about tapping into your unconscious. But you’re also teaching your brain that writing is something that should be done every day, without fail.
How to do it:-
It’s pretty straightforward really. Keep a notebook and pen beside your bed, and as soon as you wake up in the morning, before doing anything else (before making tea, checking emails, reading the news, talking to your partner or kids), you grab your notebook and write for 10 minutes or so (build this up over time if you can).
You can write anything – what you just dreamt, what’s on your mind, something related to a story idea, or a load of old rubbish if you really can’t think of anything else. The important thing is to just write.
Keep this up for at least a month, better still 6 weeks, or longer if you find it helpful. If you have a job to get to, you’re going to have to set your alarm 10 minutes earlier than usual, so keep that it mind. And don’t be tempted to turn on the snooze button.
2 Write on Schedule
Once you’ve been doing your morning pages for a couple of weeks it’s time to start the next strategy, which is to make a daily appointment to write.
Here, you’re teaching your brain that you can write at any time and in any place, no matter what the circumstances. You’re not bound by the need to wait for inspiration or by some superstitious feeling that you can only write in your kitchen in your favourite chair with your favourite cup beside you. You can write whenever and wherever.
How to do it:-
Once again, it’s pretty simple. At the start of each day, check your schedule and set an appointment with yourself to write. Try to vary the time of day, and also vary the location; this will help you develop a flexible approach to writing. Make sure you have your notebook with you at all times.
Again it only need be for around 10 minutes. It can be longer if you have plenty of time on your hands, but that’s not the goal here. The aim is to get into the habit of making a daily appointment to write – and sticking to it.
Like I said, it’s a pretty simple idea. The tricky thing is keeping this up no matter what happens. Day after day your brain is going to tell you – hey, it doesn’t matter if you start a bit late, or, you can skip a day, what’s the big deal? Or, this isn’t a convenient time right now, you should do it later instead.
Under no circumstances must you listen to your brain – it’s lying to you! Your brain wants you to take the easy – lazy – option. But as Dorothea Brande says, you must consider your appointment to write as a debt of honour!
So, if you happen to be on the phone at the time, in an impromptu meeting, talking to your boss, your mother, your spouse, whoever, you must find an excuse, extricate yourself, and go somewhere private and write. It’s only 10 minutes, you can do it. Even if it means hiding in the loo!
The writing can be part of your work in progress, a journal or just noodling around some new ideas – whatever it is, just get writing.
Once again, keep this up for at least a month, and by the end that period, sitting down to write will hopefully have become second nature.
That’s it! I hope you give these strategies a try and I hope they work as well for you as they did for me. Get in touch with any questions, or just to let me know how you get on. I love hearing from my readers!
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Finally, if there’s something in your writing that you’re struggling with, would you get in touch and let me know? I might be able to address your issue in a future post.