If you want to be a writer, you need to write. You need to put words on the page and form them into a story. Thinking about it won’t do it, wishing for it won’t make it happen. To do it you need to set time aside, sit down, and focus on simply and only writing.
Maybe you read that and think, “I want to but I don’t have time! And even when I do, I try to write and it feels uninspired and boring.” I’ve called myself a writer for years, but getting actual words onto an actual page has always been an illusive goal for me. Nothing sounded better than crafting an emotional, exciting story, but I would run out of time in the day or feel like I was cutting down a tree with a spatula.
So today is a big milestone for me: I have written every day for the past two months. That adds up to just over 22,000 words.
Those two months weren’t easy ones, either. In September I worked 12-hour days editing a documentary. I went on a 5-day trip to Colorado for a camping trip. My mom came to town for a visit. I moved to a new house. A couple weeks ago, I was in my roommate’s wedding along with many other out-of-town friends. Yet through each of those events, I still wrote every day—and it wasn’t because I am awesome.
Be strategic with your writing
The key to writing every day is to be strategic about it. If you just wait for it to happen, something else will inevitably come up. So here are a few things I’ve learned over the past two months.
- Set a ridiculously attainable daily goal. I rarely have huge chunk of time to set aside for writing, nor do I have the stamina or inspiration to write 5,000 words in a day. So instead I set a goal that sounded ridiculously easy to meet. For me that was to write 10 minutes a day. Surely I could find 10 minutes! On the days I really didn’t feel like writing (believe me, there were plenty), I would tell myself, “Just 10 minutes, that’s all you need to do. Then you can go sleep or relax and watch a movie.” The great thing is, once I got going I usually wrote for longer. My average time has been about 19 minutes per day.
- Think ahead through your day and find the best 10 minutes. When I was editing for 12 hours a day, I knew I wouldn’t want to write just before bed. Instead I wrote during my dinner break. On the day of my roommate’s wedding, I seized the first opportunity that came along.
When something urgent pops up, we usually drop whatever we’re doing to take care of it. By thinking through your day you can plan ahead and get your daily writing in.
- Don’t edit while you write. I often will write a sentence, think it’s awful, and want to start over. But that disrupts the flow. It’s like pedaling a bicycle up a hill: if you stop every time you think your form is bad, you lose all momentum. Instead give yourself permission to fix the sentence later. You still are going to write a perfect sentence—just not this moment.
- Write with whatever is available. Because I am a video editor and sit in front of a computer all day, I am writing my book in with a notebook and pen. But some days, like my roommate’s wedding or road tripping to Colorado, I’m not able to carry around the notebook. In those cases I just grabbed my phone and wrote an email to myself. By not being tied to one place and one item with which to write, I can do my daily writing no matter the occasion or location.
- End your writing session with a cliffhanger. One of the hardest parts of writing can be just thinking of what to write! So I try to end every writing session just as something is about to happen in the story. Here are a few of my ending lines from random days:
The gate clattered up and the kid drove us out of the elevator shaft.
“Now if you’ll move to the next section,” the lady said, waving us on, “you can receive your earpiece.”
Taking Edith’s and my hands, she pulled us out into the ship.
See how each of those sentences suggests the next action? By ending this way, I have a direction to head the next day. I don’t have to think up something new and fresh; I just keep following the action from the day prior. This has helped me so much, and helps me spend my 10 minutes actually writing rather than thinking up new ideas.
Why should I write every day?
There are two main benefits to writing every day. First, you keep your head in the story. It’s hard to remember where you were in a story when you haven’t worked on it for a few days. Writing every day keeps the ideas fresh and rolling. It becomes something you constantly think about and mull over. When that happens, it is easy for me to sit down and write for 10 minutes because I’ve been thinking about it all day.
Second, you become better at writing. Writing, like exercise, can be hard at first but then easier as your creative muscles expand. Since my daily average has been higher than my goal, last week I increased my time to 15 minutes. I’ve been pleasantly surprised that I’ve been able to write that whole time. My stamina has increased, which is a great sign.
All that being said, don’t feel bad if you can’t write every day. Life gets crazy sometimes and that’s okay. If you’re in that place, I encourage you to look at your schedule and think of an attainable goal within your limits. Even if it’s only something like writing two days a week, that will be more than you are currently doing. And that’s progress!
Progress is success
I’ve never had a time like this in my writing, and it feels great. I feel competent as a writer, and the feeling of making progress inspires me to go write more. I’m sure a day will come when I just can’t write, but that will be okay. Because the story is still advancing, and that is success.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go write the opening of chapter 5. Emma is about to wake up to her second day in space and visit a friend who she left at a hospital. (That’s the cliffhanger I left yesterday:)