On Creating a Regular Writing Habit- Part Two

Welcome Back! This post continues my tips for creating a regular writing habit– such as writing every day. For part one, click here. Part two begins now!

Tip #4- Eliminate Time Wasters– One of the biggest challenges when it comes to writing every day is simply finding the time. And it’s not that surprising. Between the regular responsibilities of juggling family, friends, a career, and something resembling a full nights sleep, the idea of carving out  time for daily writing may seem impossible. Fortunately it isn’t. You just need to be honest to yourself about what’s really a worthwhile use of your attention, and what’s just wasting that precious time.

To me, time wasters include spending a lot of time on social media, mindless shopping (online and in real life), or marathoning TV shows or movies. While participating in these activities may be beneficial to a certain extent (social media allows us to connect with friends, shopping allows us to take care of necessary purchases, and I’m the last person to look down on someone for having a favorite TV show!), people have a habit of taking things too far, which ends up eating into precious writing time. For me, my biggest time waster is youtube. I’ll start off with one news show, and before I know it I’ve fallen into a black hole of movie trailer reactions, and haul videos. And while watching a video or two can be a nice way to unwind, I know that I push things too far, eating into time that could be better spent elsewhere.

Recognizing what these time wasters are requires us to pay serious attention to how we spend our time. Be honest with yourself. Do you spend more than an hour a day on social media. How many weekends have been lost to maratoning the latest Netflix series? If you’re really going to make writing a priority, that means taking these time wasters, and minimizing them.

Tip #5- Create A Visual Representation of Progress (or your lack thereof)– This one is super simple. I have a calendar, and each day I write down how much I’ve written (either in time, or how many words). This visual representation allows for an extra layer of accountability. If I miss a day, I put in a big X instead, and seeing too many X’s when I’m not dealing with a planned break (more on that later) really shows me where I’ve fallen short. On the other hand, seeing several days all lined up in a row where I managed to get in an hour or more of writing is a real motivator. My old fashioned method may not work for you, so there’s always the spreadsheet option. And there are great aps like “Don’t Break the Chain.” The actual method is up to you. It just really helps to have something to keep track of your progress.

Tip #6- Be Aware of Your Own Strengths and Weaknesses- This one is going to be the most personalized one of all of my tips, because when it comes down to it, we all have our own unique strengths and weaknesses when it comes to writing. For example, I am an extreme creature of habit, in love with my precious, precious routine. An example of this is when I was in grad school, I spent most of my waking hours in the library. There were several glassed in doors at the front of the building, and I would always enter using the same one. After a while, one door stopped functioning property. They locked it, and posted a sign asking people to use another one. The first day I came across this, I, being a creature of habit, ignored the sign, went right to the locked door, and walked right into it. And then I did that the next day. And the next. And the next.

Fortunately, what makes me a horrible person at opening doors, makes me a great person for creating a writing habit. I just need to to write at the same time every day long enough, and eventually the habit will stick. Of course, it something occurs to break my beloved routine (say, ahem string of snow days mid-February), I often find its not so easy keep up my habits, and need to take serious effort to refocus.

Another thing I struggle is with is finishing. Once I come to the end of something, I have a habit of mentally checking out before I’ve actually reached the finish line. As a result, when I get to the end of something, I need to really push myself to get through those last few pages. To get it done, and get it done well.

Finding your own strengths and weaknesses is something that will happen over time as you spend more time writing. For example, you might discover that you struggle to get over the hurdle of that first blank page, but once you get going, everything falls into place. You might discover that you do really well at write-ins, and that writing with other people is a great way to keep you motivated. Or you might discover that you’re like me and need to do all of your writing solitary, in silence, oftentimes with the lights off like a creepy vampire hermit. Picking up on these quirks is something that will take time, but try to be aware of them so you can know when your writing will be the smoothest, and when you will need to push through a rough patch..

Tip #7- Work Towards Planned Breaks to Keep You Refreshed, and Focused- Writing every day has so many benefits. It makes makes my writing flow much better, and helps me when it comes to keeping all of my plot lines and character arcs straight. And it makes it a hell of a lot easier to finish things! But the idea of doing something every day for the rest of my life can be daunting. And like everyone else, I feel the urge to skip a day every now and then. Only, once I’ve skipped one day and the habit is broken, it becomes very easy to skip two days. Or three. And then, before I know it, the habit is broken and I’m back at square one again.

That’s why I’ve really come around to the idea of taking a planned break. Here’s how it works for me. I separate my writing into chunks- with an ideal chunking lasting about a month. Then I take a week off to do something fun, and come back at the end, refreshed and refocused.

 

Those were my tips on how to create a writing habit. I hope that they’re helpful to someone! Writing on a regular basis has helped me so much, not just as a writer, but just in general. I find I’m overall a happier person when I’m writing on a regular basis, which I’m sure makes life a of easier for my loved ones as well.

I would love to hear if anyone has any other tips for writing every day/creating a regular writing habit. As mentioned previously, these may be what works for me, but everyone is unique. Finding what works for you can be a hell of a challenge, but there’s no denying that rewarding feeling that comes with finishing something good. Creating a regular writing habit is completely worth your effort!

How I Learned to Write (Pretty Much) Every Day- On Creating Regular Writing Habits- Part One

One of the biggest tips that you hear from people when it comes to writing is the advice to “write every day.” This makes a lot of sense. I find that the quality of my writing goes up when I’m writing on a regular basis. Also, it just makes it a lot easier to accomplish something when you’re committing time to it every day.

I’ve gotten pretty good at creating a steady writing habit over the past few years, even if I fall short of writing every day. Since I know it’s something that a lot of people struggle with, I thought I’d share what works for me. The key words there being “what works for me.” Everyone approaches their writing differently. I don’t claim this to be a full proof method. All I can claim as that’s it’s made me a hell of a lot more efficient as a writer. And it mostly breaks down to being prepared, being specific, and being realistic.

Tip #1- Decide that You’re Going to Make Writing A Priority- This one may sound unnecessary. If you’ve decided that you want to write every day (or at least on a regular schedule), haven’t you already done that? To me, there’s a very big difference between saying “I’m going to write more” and “I’m going to make writing a priority” and the key word there is “a priority.” By mentally preparing myself in advance by setting up this specific goal, it ends up being a great way of dealing with distractions. Say I feel the urge to spend time clicking around on the internet during writing time. The second I pull up my browser, I hear a little voice saying “but Nancy, writing is supposed to be a priority.” Maybe there’s a book I really want to read, or TV show I want to watch? “No, writing is a priority.” But I want more sleep! “Nope. Priority.”

Of course, there are things in your life that are going to take priority even over writing (or at least should). You probably shouldn’t neglect your kids for example. And while it’s one thing to fight the urge to sleep in, neglecting your need for sleep for an extended period of time just doesn’t work. But creating this goal has really helped me stay focused in times when I would otherwise be distracted. We’ll get more into dealing with distractions in Part Two!

Tip #2- Pick a Project That You’re Excited About, and Prepared to Dive Into- This was something a concept introduced to me in Rachel Aaron’s 2k to 10k (a great book about writing), and one that’s worked well for me. Each year, I do NaNoWriMo. The years that I enter NaNoWriMo with a project that I’m really excited about, and well prepared for, are years that I’m a lot more productive. And by “prepared,” I don’t necessarily mean having a detailed outline written out in advance (although that may work for you!). Instead, I make sure that I when I sit down at my computer, I know what I want to write that day. Beyond that, I have a really solid idea of what I want to do for the next few chapters, and a vague idea of what I want to do for the rest of the book. This allows me to stay true to my discovery writer roots, without having to worry about my flow getting derailed by simply not knowing what to do next.

As far as excitement goes, I think it’s natural to become frustrated with a project during certain points of the writing project. But for me, the better prepared I am, I’m less likely to find myself dissatisfied on a regular basis. So that’s another example where a certain level of preparation can help.

This process works a little differently while editing (which is what I’m working on now), but I find that it still helps to go into the day excited about your project, and with a really solid idea of what you’re going to do next.

Tip #3- Pick and Time to Write, And Stick to It- One of the biggest tips I see when talking about setting up New Year’s Resolutions, or any kind of goals, is to make sure that they are specific and within your control. So, instead of saying “I’m going to lose weight this year!” you say “I am going to work out for at least a half hour, five times a week.” The second goal is focused around daily tasks that you can do, rather than some general goal you want to do sometime during the next year. Another benefit that comes when setting goals like this is it helps to break down something large, into smaller, more manageable parts. It’s why during NaNoWriMo, you’re more likely to succeed if you think “I need to write 1667 words today” not “holy hell, I only have a month to write a whole book!”

When it comes to writing on a regular basis, I find it’s best to set aside a specific time that you can write every day. Ideally, this will be the same time every day. For me, that’s an hour before I go to work every day. As my work schedule fluctuates from day to day (but is pretty stagnant week to week), this means I have to be a little flexible. Still, for the most part, my mornings go like this- wake up, eat breakfast, get ready for the day, write.

Of course, my path isn’t going to work for everyone. Maybe you’re a baker, and have to be at work at some ungodly hour in the morning. Maybe your work schedule fluctuates from week to week. It’s why, before actually sitting down to write, I recommend taking a good look at the limitations of your actual schedule. This may mean that you don’t find time to write every day. Maybe your weekends are just too full. Maybe your weekdays are too full, but you can find a nice chunk of time on Saturday and Sunday. The point with these tips isn’t to find an ideal situation, but to find something sustainable.

Cause that’s the point, isn’t it? To create a pattern. To make your way steadily toward a goal, step by step, through creating daily habits that you can stick with.

And speaking of step by step, this is turning out a lot longer then I suspected it to be. So as a result, I’m breaking this post into two parts. This is the end of Part One. Please check back for next week’s post for Part Two!

On New Years Resolutions, and Writing Goals

I’m a sucker for new years resolutions. I usually make too many, and don’t always stick to them as well as I should, but I’ve always liked the fresh new start that comes with a new year. The idea that bad habits can be left behind, and better ones can be forged. And sure, I get the argument that New Years Resolutions can be viewed as useless, especially when you look at people who sign up for gym memberships, but never show up, but I think there’s a lot of value in setting goals, and taking time to refocus. You’re going to fall off the horse every now and then, but if you continue to make time to think about what you want, and plan how that can be achieved, you’re in a helluva better place then you were if you never paused to make the resolutions in the first place.

For example, if I had never sat down and said, “I’m going to make writing a daily habit” I probably wouldn’t have written anything at all. And instead, I’ve written and revised three whole novels that have taught me a lot about writing (even though they will never be published). And now, I find myself working on new projects, and new ideas that I hope to make strides on in 2017.

So, without further ado, here are my writing projects and resolutions for 2017!

Project #1- Red and Black
Red and Black is a superhero novel (the first in a planned series) that I put MANY hours into over the past year and a half. I’ve brought the book from a broken, partial rough draft (the result of a very strange, often disappointing/frustrating NaNoWriMo in 2014) to a full manuscript, workshopped it with my wonderful writing group, brought it through multiple rounds of revisions, and have now sent it off to no less than a half dozens first readers (two of whom have already gotten back to me with encouraging comments and helpful suggestions!). This year, I hope to bring Red and Black through its final revisions and begin sending it out to agents during the spring. From that point, its future will bet out of my hands, so I try not to stress about it too much (of course, I don’t always succeed).

Project #2- Black and Blue
Black and Blue is the sequel to Red and Black. I wrote it during a very successful NaNoWriMo this past November (not only did I manage to “win” NaNoWriMo, but I also finished the damn book before the month was up!). Since the beginning of the New Year, I’ve been working on my first round of revisions. And I must admit… it’s going surprisingly well. Normally this part of the revising process is hugely painful. Like, “Dear God! I’ve managed to regress as a writer without realizing it! Time to throw in the towel! Abort! Abort!” Of course, the book has flaws- in abundance- but I’ve been able to figure out how to fix most of them. Thinking back on the rough draft, I have a pretty good idea where this smooth sailing will start to get choppy, but I’m going to enjoy the ride while it lasts. I hope to spend most of my writing time in 2017 revising Black and Blue, then workshopping it with my oh-so-helpful writing group.

And if you’re thinking “gee, Nancy, isn’t working on a sequel to a book before it’s technically done, like, a really bad idea?” The answer is… probably, but right now this is the project I’m the most excited about, so I’m just going to embrace that. My books go through a lot of changes in my revision process. Maybe I’ll just have to make a few more then planned as a result of Red and Black’s final revisions.

I plan on accomplishing these goals through daily writing. I try to go for at least an hour every day, and that’s been going well so far. Some days, time gets away from me and I just can’t get that full hour, but I can get in a half hour, and make up the lost time down the line. To prevent burning out, I will be working on my writing in chunks of about 30k. Once I reach the end of a chunk, I’ll take a little time off from writing (maybe a few days, maybe a full week. It depends on how I’m feeling, and my other responsibilities). I’ve become a big believer in taking planned breaks (with set end dates, rather than just skipping days here and there) from writing, In fact, I’m thinking about writing a blog entry on it.

As for other writing-related goals, I do hope to get back to updating this much neglected blog more often, as well as continuing to contribute regularly to Speculative Chic. As a result, I’m going to try to update here about once a week. At Speculative Chic, I have my big monthly entry, but I also contribute to group posts. It may be tricky to find a balance between my writing, SpecChic, and this blog, but I suspect I’ll be able to figure it out with some trial and error.

Does anyone else have any writing-related resolutions? Are you a fan of New Year’s Resolutions too, or consider them to be a waste of time?