5 Simple Steps to Write Every Day

Readers of my blog will know I struggle with self-discipline as a writer. A lot. And, while I understood the benefits of writing every day and do think it’s a good idea, I just couldn’t work out how people put it into practice. Just get your bum in the chair and do it, right? Yeah, ’cause it’s that easy.

Well, things have changed.

For just over a month, now, I have written every single day.

For me this is a huge achievement. I don’t think I’ve ever written every single day for this long before.

And I have James Clear to thank for it.

I ‘trialled’ the method he explains in: Transform Your Habits and it actually works. For realsies.

So in case you don’t want to read the whole thing, here’s how it works in 5 steps:

Step 1: List stuff you do every single day without fail (e.g. wake up, brush teeth, wee) and stuff that happens to you every single day without fail (e.g. sun rises, sun sets, kettle takes FOREVER to boil).

Step 2: Pick one to latch your new habit onto (i.e. when you do this/when this happens to you, you will write.) Mine is dinner. After dinner, I make a cup of tea (it’s a sort of ritual, I guess) and then I write.

Step 3: Start small – it has to take less than two minutes. You don’t want it to require any willpower whatsoever. For example, on my first day, all I had to do was open the document I’m working on and read some of it. I couldn’t argue with that.

Step 4: When you’ve written (or read) for two minutes, congratulate yourself. Sure, you may have only written two words but it’s two words you probably would not have written, otherwise. Go you! (This is positive affirmation and will help in building the habit. Think of it as your reward. Sometimes I give myself a physical reward, too, such as chocolate. And there’s always tea on hand, so that helps.)

Step 5: Keep at it. If you come across a day when you don’t want to write, go back to that first day mentality – all you have to do is whatever it is that takes two minutes (for me, open and read).

Some days you’ll naturally want to keep going for longer (occasionally I can manage 45 mins – an hour). Others you won’t (sometimes 5 mins is my limit). Don’t force yourself. As long as you do it every day you’re building up the habit and that’s the most important thing. You never want to get to that point when you can talk yourself out of it (e.g. ‘You have to write for 30 mins.’ + ‘But I don’t wanna.’ = Not writing AT ALL.)

There are a couple of problems I’ve come across with this method.

  1. Eating out
  2. Limiting myself to only writing after dinner, which sometimes is quite late so may stop me writing for as long.

The first one I’ve overcome by writing as soon as I get home. Besides, I don’t eat out that often so it should be fine.

The second one worries me a little. I can easily say to myself, ‘don’t write now because then you might not want to write after dinner and you HAVE to write after dinner.’ Maybe this means I’m not writing as much as I could. As long as I am writing every day, though, does that matter? Also, in a way it’s encouraging that my mind is telling me to write after dinner and accepts that as non-negotiable. In fact, there have been a couple of days when I have felt an urge to write on finishing dinner. It’s pretty weird because I know I’ve done that to myself but that’s what I’m aiming for so…good.

Comments?

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Don’t Tell me What, Tell me How

Hello, Happy New Year, sorry for not posting in a while and all that.

Something’s bugging me, so I’m going to get right down to business.

It’s business time.

Blogs about writing. I’m not talking about updates on the blogger’s writing, here, but advice. From writers to writers through the medium of a blog.

The problem I consistently have is this:

The blog describes your problem. (Unless it has a misleading title or is poorly tagged or you’re just having a stupid moment and forgot how to read and interpret words. But no, let’s assume the blog is written about the problem which you are currently facing. In my case, this would be discipline/self-motivation – surprise surprise. How’s my New Year’s Resolution to write every day going? *High pitched* Well…)

As you’re reading the description of your problem, you find yourself getting your hopes up. Yes, you think, that is exactly the problem I am having. It’s like this person is reading my mind right now. This is amazing. They are going to cure EVERYTHING.

(You assume that because they understand your problem so completely that they’ll be able to tell you exactly how to overcome it. Perhaps this isn’t reasonable but you’re desperate. You’re done trying to solve it alone. You’ve googled this shit. Maybe you’ve gone a step further and used some kind of writing advice search tool.* Either way, shit has got real.)

You keep reading. The blog moves on to tell you what you need to do to solve this problem. Write every day. Silence your inner critic. Set yourself a deadline. Whatever. It’s the usual crap, you’ve heard it all before. But maybe…maybe there’s one special piece of advice. The golden nugget. The magic key. It will be here. At the end of the blog post. You know it…oh.

It isn’t there.

You re-read. Did you miss it? Was it tucked away somewhere?

No.

Because the problem is they’ve given you a list of things you should try. What you should do. But they haven’t told you how.

How do you write every day?

Er…hmm…no I don’t know. Can’t manage it, myself. Some people seem to just…do it. Could those lucky people please tell me how? Please?

Maybe they do it by silencing their inner critic.

Again – how? Is there a switch somewhere that I’m missing? Behind my ear? No? Sorry – can’t do it either. Except for those rare occasions when it just…happens. If there’s a way of making that happen or at least encouraging it, that’d be good to know. Not much good you telling me to do it, though, unless you tell me how.

Maybe setting yourself a deadline would help you silence your inner critic and write everyday. But, again, how do you set yourself a deadline? OK, this one is actually easy. You write it in your calendar. Stick it on your wall. Set a reminder on your phone. Easy peasy. Right? Thing is, though, who’s making you keep to this deadline? What happens if you miss it?

Nothing.

So why should you care?

You shouldn’t. There is no reason to. It doesn’t matter if you miss your deadline – there will be no consequences. OK, there’ll be the consequence of you not writing everyday and not improving as a writer and not getting one step closer to your goal. But really, is that a noticeable consequence? I don’t think it is. It’s actually very easy to ignore.

The real question is: how do you set yourself a deadline and stick to it? How do you create real consequences when there are none? You can make some stuff up about rewards and punishments but, at the end of the day, who’s dishing those bad boys out? You are. You could reward yourself if you fail or – no idea why you would but it’s theoretically possible – punish yourself when you succeed. No-one’s going to stop you from eating that brownie a little early or catching up on your fav. TV programme when you haven’t written a word. I sat at my desk and opened my laptop! I showed up! That’s totally a step in the right direction – I should reward myself and watch Bob’s Burgers NOW. I can write later. After I’m all inspired.

Yeah. Cause that’s gonna happen.

I don’t have the answers. I’m not pretending to. And yes, I appreciate you trying to help but the thing is…you’re not.

Because I have heard that advice before and it didn’t help me any of those times either and, while, yes I can see that it is theoretically a great idea and would completely work…I just can’t make myself apply it. In, you know, the real world. It just doesn’t happen.

Maybe I should just stop whining about it. Maybe I should accept the fact that every writer is different and what works for you may not work for me and I just have to find my own way of doing it. But then again you’re someone who’s had my problem and has overcome it and all you can tell me is the same old advice I’ve heard over and over again? What about personal experience? How did YOU overcome it? How did YOU make yourself follow this advice?

HOW?

Ahem.

So, in conclusion, my message is this. If you’re writing a blog post about how to overcome some common problem we writers face (and let’s face it – we’re a problematic bunch) don’t just compile a list of what to dos that the person will have already read/absorbed through the ether, explain how to do them. Or, better, yet, explain how YOU did them. In practice. How YOU REALLY overcame the problem. Give it the personal touch.

And, finally, to the people who can do discipline and self-motivation and writing every day, I implore you: tell me how!

*I use Writers’ Knowledge Base but I’m starting to think it’s more a curse than a blessing. My first creative writing tutor said that thesauruses are a curse. Why? Because they send you off on a crazy rabbit hunt in search of the perfect word. That word doesn’t exist. But the thesaurus says otherwise. It makes promises it can’t fulfill. Now, I love thesauruses and therefore cannot agree with him – I guess he hates them because he has a problem with them which I don’t have – but I’m starting to think the Writers’ Knowledge Base (I’m using it as an example because it’s the one I use – I don’t mean it specifically) is my thesaurus. Hummm…

The Magic Solution to Staying Motivated and Achieving Your Writing Goals

GET ON WITH IT!

Normally I don’t shout (use capslock) but this is a shouting situation. Because that really is the answer and if you want something more magical and simple and foolproof than that – you’re out of luck. Sorry.

And I know. I’ve been there. In fact, I’m there now. I’m writing a blog post about getting on with your writing to avoid getting on with mine. So I’m with you. It’s hard. And I too want a magical solution. The golden key to success. But you know what? It doesn’t exist. This is the closest there is – the cold, hard, ugly truth. And I know it doesn’t exist because I’ve looked. Every time I don’t feel like writing I think, ‘hey, you know what would be a great idea, finding out how to motivate myself by googling it’ and every time I look I find the same old bullshit.

For example:

1) Set goals. I know how to set goals. I’m awesome at setting goals. What I need help with is actually working towards the goals. You know – doing something.

2) Hold yourself accountable. Great. How? If I don’t have the self-discipline to not skip a day, do you really think I do have the self-discipline to punish myself in some way? I don’t even know how I could do that – not give myself the reward I already gave myself because I’ll probably do the thing I’m meant to do and I deserve it anyway? Which leads me to…

3) Reward yourself. This is great until you get your reward and it’s sitting there looking at you and you think ‘ah, I’ve started, I deserve one’ and before you know it you’ve eaten the whole box and written one word. If that. (Yes my reward invariably involves food. Usually brownie bites.)

The truth is if you lack self-discipline, none of these things will help you because none of them can actually force you to stop procrastinating and start writing. The only thing, in my experience, that has ever worked is a deadline. And when I say a deadline, I don’t mean a deadline that you made up and it doesn’t really matter if you keep it or not I mean a real deadline such as a coursework deadline that makes the difference between passing and failing a degree. That will motivate you. But at the end of the day, you’ll still procrastinate if you’re that way inclined, until the last possible moment, which varies – for me it’s about a week before, for others it’s more like 5 hours before. But you’ll get it done because you have to. If you don’t have to and you lack self-discipline you won’t. Unless you just bloody well get on with it.

So stop looking up tips and advice on motivation and finishing your novel. None of these will help you and you’re not helping yourself – you’re fooling yourself because, NEWSFLASH, you’re procrastinating and there’s only one surefire way to stop doing that and start writing and that’s to stop procrastinating and start writing. A.k.a.

GET ON WITH IT.

A Treasure Map

Last week, I stumbled across an invaluable blog post by C. S. Lakin, entitled Essential Strategic Planning for Writers—Looking Ahead to 2013 and, in the spirit of doing things as they come up, promptly created my own strategic map, which I like to think of as a treasure map because if I follow it, it will lead to treasure. Abstract treasure, at first, but in 5 years time, I’m aiming for real treasure. Money.

Spurred on my this success, I also finished re-plotting Mother Stands for Comfort, which means I am now ready to rewrite. I’m excited but also a little daunted by the prospect. My plan had me beginning in the New Year, because I thought it would take longer to finish the re-plot, but seeing as I’m ready to go, now, why not get ahead?

And I’ve just 5 minutes ago thought up a reward system to keep me motivated. So a big part of the plan/map is to get into the habit of writing every day. But you know how it goes, some days you just don’t want to. So, whenever I specifically want to do something, such as read or watch an episode of something or listen to a certain song (which tends to happen in the middle of yet another tedious application form or when I’ve been staring at my Personal Profile for half an hour, trying to make it ‘sell myself’) I will stop what I’m doing, fulfil my writing quota (which is going to be 1,000 words a day in January but I might warm up to that with ‘anything’) and then do the thing I want to do. What do you think? Good idea?

Do you have any plans for 2013, yet? If so, how are you going to motivate yourself to stay on track?

The Chronic Hiatus

I’m a bit distracted right now because my laptop is burning up and whirring loudly. In fact, I’m sure I just heard him groan. Cool your beans, Mr Laptop, I’m worried about you. Maybe I’m working him too hard. Poor thing.

Right, both Mr Laptop (this is a new name for it, btw) and myself have had a rest. He is now cool and quiet. So, on with the point of this post: the hiatus.

It’s becoming a serious problem. I think I need help. Some goals or new regime or something to make me start writing again. Well, re-plotting to be exact. I feel like this editing project is draining me of all my creative, literary energy like some kind of vampire. Excuses, excuses. I don’t have time blah, blah, blah. You know what I need? I great big kick up the bum. Help, please?

(Speaking of vampires – and this is completely off topic, by the way – I went to that Edvard Munch exhibition at the Tate Modern the other day. Yeah, I know, I have time for a jaunt into London to wander around an art gallery, but I got an idea which is what I was looking for. Anyway, there was a painting called The Vampyre – two, actually – which was really interesting. It showed a couple in an embrace where the woman appeared to be on the man’s neck – hence the title. Also, there was another painting called The Kiss in which the couple were sort of blurring into each other. Sucking the life out of each other, perhaps. I’m not really going anywhere with this, I just thought it was interesting – in the non-British sense (i.e. literally interesting, not ‘interesting’/stupid.))

Anyone else go see Munch?

Also, any tips on motivation would be amazing.

Procrastination: Just Say No

Telling someone, including yourself, to just stop procrastinating and get on with it is about as helpful as telling an addict to just quit. You know you shouldn’t procrastinate, you know you should get on with whatever ‘it’ is but you can’t seem to make yourself.

One of my new favourite ways to procrastinate is to browse the ‘net about procrastination: why we do it and, more importantly, how to stop ourselves. There’s a lot of advice out there and at first I would believe in most of it. Thing is, though, I can’t seem to apply it. Some of it I do apply, for example, I now log my time-use. However, seeing as I procrastinate a lot, logging the vast amount of time I waste by procrastination tends to depress me. So, it doesn’t always work. Nowadays, I find myself reading advice and thinking: that’s great in theory but I know it wouldn’t work. It’s almost like I’ve given up on myself. Maybe I should just give in to the fact: I procrastinate.

Hello procrastinator’s anonymous, my name is Louise and I’m a procrastinator.

Would that do the trick? I doubt it. I mean, it’s not like I’m unaware or in denial about it. Procrastinators know they procrastinate, even when they’re not aware that they’re doing it at the time, they know that it’s something they do.

I’m tinkering with the concept that knowing why you are procrastinating at specific times might be the answer. Trouble is, stopping to ask yourself why you’re putting something off might be another form of procrastination – you are, after all, still delaying the getting on with it part. Hang on a minute, though, if that were procrastination, why would you want to put that off? Why would your mind turn away from it on impulse? Surely it would jump on it like a kitten on some wool if it were a form of procrastination. OK, so you would be delaying but it might turn out to be the last delaying act you do before truly being able to get on with it.

How do you do this, though? Asking is easy but what about answering? Could you even trust the answer?

More reasons not to do this – my brain is so against this idea, I’m almost convinced I’ve found the golden nugget of reason, so I’m giving it a try.

Music: off. I was enjoying that. Silence is kind of weird.

Closing eyes and thinking. Mind is wandering. Doesn’t help that I need to wee, now.

OK, you know what? I’m a writer. Thinking just doesn’t cut it for me, I need to write through my problems – that’s how I solve stories I’m stuck on.

So, that was rather revealing but I think it worked. (It was included in this post but it got a little too…personal, so I removed it.) I feel like it worked. I feel…motivated.

Have a go, yourself and tell me whether or not it worked out for you.