Is one of your resolutions to make more time for your writing? Perhaps even establish a writing routine? Here are our top tips for keeping those promises to yourself.
1. Set a specific target that’s easy to achieve. Think about the amount of time you would feel able to spend even on a busy day. For most folks that’s something around five to ten minutes. Some days you may be able to spend longer, but you’d be surprised what you can accomplish in a daily five to ten. Short but frequent commitments have the added advantages of taking the pressure off your output on any given day and keeping your imagination simmering. Of course, if daily feels unrealistic, you can shoot for only a few days per week and/or longer time periods. Teachers Jennifer van der Kwast and Inge Lamboo are both big fans of the 25-minute Pomodoro. Or if you respond better to a word count target, go for it. Just remember to set the bar low. If you write 200 words per day (something just a little longer than this paragraph), you could have a novel-length manuscript in under a year.
2. Schedule your writing time in the morning (if you can). No doubt you’ve heard this one before, but it bears repeating: if you do your writing first thing, when your willpower isn’t already used up and your mind is fresh, you’re more likely to keep your promise to yourself. You’re also likely to be more creative (see 5 science-backed tips to boost creativity). In her post My Daily Practice, teacher Karen Kao revealed that although she’s not a morning person, she does her best writing in bed just after her first coffee (and a little time to putz around the kitchen). If mornings just aren’t feasible for you, don’t sweat it. Ultimately, the best time to write is whenever you can do it.
3. Add in some accountability. Create a situation where people are expecting you to show up or share work. This could mean signing up for a writing workshop, joining a writing group or making a standing appointment with a writing buddy. In a recent master class with us, best-selling author Jean Kwok said she uses writershour.com — a version of our write-togethers, where you can show up and write online with others. Even though it’s anonymous and involves no formal commitment, Jean said she sees the same people all the time and knowing that they’ll notice if she’s not there encourages her to log on. (You can see Jean’s other tips from her master class in this post.)
4. Establish a ritual. Having a ritual helps kick your brain into writing mode and can boost the feel-good factor associated with your new routine, making you more likely to stick with it. Maybe you make yourself a cup of tea in a favourite mug, turn on some inspiring music, light a candle or some incense, or don some fuzzy socks — whatever helps you feel calm and focussed. Stephan King’s ritual is ultra simple — he sits down at his desk at the same time every morning, has a glass of water and his vitamins and arranges his papers. As he says, “The cumulative purpose of doing these things the same way every day seems to be a way of saying to the mind, you’re going to be dreaming soon.”
5. Give your writing more headspace. We all have activities in our day — showering, commuting to work, loading the dishwasher — that require minimal thought. Try using that time to think about your writing. No need to focus too hard. Just start with the intention and see what bubbles up. It’s handy to have a notepad nearby or a note-taking app on your phone to capture any brainwaves. Jennifer van der Kwast said she composed most of her first novel in her head on the 45-minute walk between her office and home (read more about her writing practice in this interview).
6. Be kind to yourself! Remind yourself that this is a gift you’re giving yourself, not another chore. Celebrate every day you manage to show up for your creative time. And cut yourself some slack — beating yourself up when you don’t meet your target is not helpful. So many people miss a few days, feel like they’ve failed, and give up. Recognize that there are going to be those times when your kid wakes you up at 3AM with a fever or you have a ridiculous work deadline and you’re just not going to make it to the page. When you’re running on fumes, give yourself permission to spend your scheduled writing time in activities that recharge you, like reading or taking a walk or a bath. Or give yourself a day or even a week off. And if that pesky negative voice in your head is telling you whatever you’re doing is not enough, read our post on how to deal with your inner critic.