Long before I was a freelance writer, I wrote fiction. One of the key things I learned from my writing mentor, the late novelist Les Plesko, was the importance of writing daily. “Write every day, even on your birthday,” he would say with a toothless grin. Maintaining such a practice is crucial in your success as a writer.
Needless to say, writing daily—especially fiction—remains an endless struggle. Setting aside time to let the words flow and the story to take shape, while essential, is the ultimate test in discipline. But how else can you hone in your craft, work through any mental hurdles, and produce your best work? And like a muscle, if you neglect your writing and don’t do it on the regular, it’ll atrophy.
If you have big writing goals, then you need to commit to writing daily, says Ashley Eneriz, a freelance writer and children’s book author. The same principle applies to getting in shape or learning a new language. “You can’t wait around for inspiration to hit, nor can you expect creativity to flow the second you sit in front of your computer,” says Eneriz. “You wouldn’t expect to run a marathon without training, and the same is true with writing.”
While it’s not easy, it’s certainly not impossible. Here are some tips on how to go about maintaining a daily writing practice.
Carve out time every day and honor it. Yes, this is easier said than done, but even thirty minutes a day is enough for it to be habit-forming, according to author Jeff Goins. If you can’t spare thirty minutes a day, start with fifteen. While it may not seem like a significant amount of time, writing in short spurts is far better than not doing it at all.
I’ve started to subscribe to what Cal Newport calls “monk mode mornings,” where you devote an uninterrupted block of time to focused work. Yup, that means no Facebook, no emails, and no surfing the Internet. As you might imagine, this is easier said than done. I’m an early riser and as I start my days quite early—and commit to a monk mode morning until 9 a.m.—I hope to be able to work in longer blocks of time.
Whether it’s a desk in your bedroom or a makeshift office in a cozy closet, carve out your space to write. I have a daily gatha, or Zen Buddhist saying, on my wall that reads: “Breathing in, I begin a period of creative practice. Breathing out, I learn to expect nothing.” To me, writing is a passive act, where letting things flow without being too self-critical is the best way to get started. Remember, you can always tweak or edit later.
Image attribution: Aaron Burden
To stick to your daily practice, find a buddy to keep you in check. My writing buddy Carley and I committed to a month of writing for at least fifteen minutes a day. To stay accountable, we’d simply message one another “Done,” along with the time we wrote. The other person would respond with “Check.” It was such an easy to thing to do, but knowing that someone out there was going to give you a hard time if you didn’t write made all the difference.
Another thing you can do is pay yourself—literally. Whether it’s in the form of a reward, such as a massage or a nice dinner out, offer yourself an incentive to commit to this daily practice. Try to think of your writing practice as a “client.” For instance, for every fifteen minutes of fiction I write, I transfer five bucks to go toward a writing retreat.
Even if you don’t have any current writing assignments, work on a passion project, such as a work of fiction or a personal blog. “Writing daily keeps it fresh, and the more you do something and push yourself, the better you’ll get,” says Zina Kumok, a personal finance writer and blogger at Debt Free After Three. “The key, though, is to write in a focused manner and not be on autopilot.”
Even if she’s not working on assignments for clients on a particular day, Kumok may write a blog post or write in her journal. These passion projects not only give you a reason to write on the regular but give your writing focus too.
Most writers struggle with writer’s block from time to time. To overcome this, try doing a “word vomit,” where you let whatever comes out of your brain spill onto the page. Writing will never be about perfection. If that were the case, nothing would get done. Very few writers, if any, craft perfect sentences from the start. The most important thing is throwing some clay on the wheel, so to speak, and shaping it as you go.
If you’re feeling stuck, try writing exercises. For instance, fiction writer Aimee Bender would do font exercises, writing stories based on the mood evoked by different fonts. Another fun writing exercise is writing a description of, say, someone’s face or a view but without adjectives. The idea is to be more judicious with your word choices, and to choose stronger nouns and verbs. Another one is drafting a short story without using the letter “e.” (Truth: An entire book was written without the letter “e”.) When I workshopped with Plesko, he had us write stories using sentences that were no longer than seven words. Conversely, my colleague Dana Mazur wrote an amazing story that was a single run-on sentence.
Writing every day can feel like a tall order, especially when you are juggling so many other things. But by maintaining this practice, it’ll be easier to get into the flow and to sharpen your writing chops.
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Featured image attribution: Thought Catalog