Today’s post is an excerpt from 10 Core Practices for Better Writing. This is from “Chapter Two: Writing.” Enjoy!
“I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately I am inspired at 9 o’clock every morning.”
– William Faulkner
Ideally, you’ll write every day.
Writers who come to the craft out of passion never have a problem with this. They write every day because they need to write every day. Writing is not a habit, an effort, or an obligation; it’s a necessity.
Other writers struggle with developing a daily writing routine. They start manuscripts, launch blogs, purchase pretty diaries, and swear they’re going to make daily entries. Months later, frustrated and fed up, they give up.
Routines don’t work for everyone, but they do work for most people. Almost all the writers I know say they have to write every day. If they miss a day, they end up missing two days, then three, four, and pretty soon they haven’t written in several weeks.
A scant few writers can produce good work by binge writing. They don’t write at all for a few months, and then they crank out a novel in a few weeks. But this is the exception rather than the rule.
So, are you the exception or are you the rule? The only way to find out is to experiment.
I’m a huge advocate for writers trying different things. Go ahead and try writing only when you’re inspired. Over the course of a month, how much did you write? How about in the span of a year? Did you write a whole novel? A page? Nothing? If you’re productive working this way, stick with it.
When weeks have passed and you haven’t written a single word, when unfinished projects are littering your desk and clogging up your computer’s hard drive, you can give up entirely and take out a lifetime lease on a cubicle in a drab, gray office. Or you can step back, admit that you have a problem, and make some changes.
These days, we’re all crunched for time. You’d think technology would give us more time for leisure and personal pursuits, but it seems to have the opposite effect. The world just keeps getting busier and busier.
What you’ll find is that if you write only when you feel like it, you won’t write very often. The world is full of distractions—phone calls, emails, television, video games, social media…The list goes on and on.
We’ve already established that the best way to improve your writing is to practice. You can improve your writing by writing occasionally, but the improvements won’t be significant and it will take decades for you to become an expert. What you need to do, even if you just try it for a month to prove to yourself there’s a better way, is to make writing part of your daily routine.
The single best way to develop a routine, to make something a habit, is to do it every day. Okay, you don’t have to write every day, but you should get in a good twenty-minute writing session at least five or six days a week—I would say that’s the absolute minimum. If you can write for a full hour, all the better. Remember, this is time spent writing—not reading, editing, or brainstorming. It’s your writing time.
I once had a music teacher who said it’s better to practice for fifteen minutes every day than to practice for two hours three times a week. I think the same is true for writing. Even if you dedicate only a few minutes to writing every day, it will become an ingrained habit. Writing will become an integral part of your life.
Think of it this way: if you exercise for five hours every Saturday, you end up sore. By the following Saturday, your muscles have weakened again, so you have to start all over. On the other hand, if you exercise for forty-five minutes a day, five days a week, you’ll build up your muscles. The soreness will subside and you will get stronger and leaner. And overall, you’ve actually put less time in.
Your writing practices are not unlike your diet and exercise habits. You’ll get the best results if you start slow and develop a regular routine.
This doesn’t mean you have to do the same thing every day. Sure, you may be working on a novel, but you can take breaks to write poetry or essays. If you don’t have a project in the works, then do some writing exercises. I have found blogging to be an excellent way to ensure that I write consistently, especially between projects.