Getting Good: A Guide on How to Actually Start Writing Every Day
You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again: in order to be a successful writer you need to write every day, no questions asked, just put some words on the page.
All the “greats” do/did it: Stephen King, Maya Angelou, Hemingway. The point is in the repetition, it’s in the practice, and according to many sources it’s probably one of the key ways to “get good.”
However, very few advice pieces actually clarify on how to sit yourself down and do it day in and day out. People often say the principle behind it is simple: just sit down and do it.
As many of you know, it’s not that simple.
There can be a lot of mental blocks surrounding the process of starting to write, whether it be fear of failure, various distractions, or simply looking at a blank page and forgetting what language is. It goes without saying, it’s easy not to start.
At a base level the struggle to write is an internal one. This means, unfortunately, the biggest person in your way is always going to be you.
If you want to write well you have to work with yourself, after all, writing is very much you.
Working with yourself is something we all have to do, it’s just some of the baggage that comes with being human: a complexity of wants and needs all swirling around inside. One of the ways to change habits though is to build a new relationship with yourself.
And like any good relationship you can build it with good boundaries and thorough communication.
Part One: Boundaries with Time
Look, if your boss calls you up at 1 in the morning says “Freddy, I have a really great idea and you need to come in right now to make it happen,” you’re going to be pissed. You’d suddenly be on the clock and demanded to work without any warning, that does not for a happy worker make.
Now. Maybe you’re okay with this, maybe you love the work, maybe you’ll make a huge amount of money, maybe you’re secretly in love with your boss and this will launch the whirlwind romance you’ve been waiting for. But working like this all the time?
No one would be happy with a boss that demanded output on a whim, it’s a recipe for disaster.
Most of us need to make our own dependable timetable if we want to write every day. Making a schedule ensures that your brain forms a habit of getting into “writing mode” and just doing it.
It doesn’t matter at what hours, I personally work best in the mornings and start writing at around 8 am every day, but it’s not about the actual times, it’s about the dependability.
Just like you know when to clock in at a normal job it’s important to your brain to know when to “turn on.” Once you have a specific time then you can rely on yourself to build-up stamina and start automatically over time.
Now, you might be asking: how the hell do I do this??
Central parts of healthy boundaries are agreement and follow-through, both of these things create trust and willingness to listen to the other. Tell yourself you’re going to write at a certain time and then follow-through, even if you only write a word or two, this builds up the confidence to continue.
And if you miss a day that’s alright, another part of healthy relationships is “understanding.” Forgive yourself and then try again, keep talking to yourself, adjusting the schedule, and trying.
Most strong relationships are simply built on the “give-a-damn” factor, the effort itself.
Part Two: Boundaries with Place
Many people have jobs that travel, or don’t have desks because they’re unpaid interns, or maybe they’re committing tax fraud and always on the move, who knows.
However, one of the keys to consistency with writing is also “where.” It’s another way of indicating to your brain when to “turn on.” Of course, it doesn’t necessarily need to be the same place all the time, in fact, I work at a different coffee shop every other day.
The important part is not the exact location, but the rules you set and boundaries you form. Personally, in order to get work done I have one major rule with myself: I don’t work at home.
When I’m at home, just like with most other jobs, I get to relax and not think about writing or productivity. It’s all about having agreements and follow-through, I agree to only work at a coffee shop, library, or anywhere outside the home.
Another way to do this is to choose a room in the house, or even just a desk, and use that as a “work area.” It’s very important you do nothing else in this area but work. The brain will designate that space for writing and then shift into the appropriate head-space when you sit down.
Try to choose a neutral location, no one wants a boss who tells them to start work when they just got into bed or sat down in their favorite comfy chair.
Agreements help the world go around, and it can help you get along with yourself as well. Agree to a time and place, and then train yourself to “turn on” when you get there.
Part three: Communication
Agreement, follow-through, respect, understanding, there are many factors that lead to a healthy relationship, but everyone’s relationship is going to be different. The biggest thing you can do then is communicate.
Check-in with yourself: “I’d like to write today, are you ready? how’re you feeling? Do you need to eat? Do you need water? Do you need to take a walk or a better sitting position?”
When you can’t get things done it’s not because you’re lazy or incompetent or simply unfit for the task, it’s that there’s something off. Sometimes fixing the “off” thing isn’t easy or quick, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Furthermore, you can follow up with yourself: “I understand you don’t want to write, and that you’re haunted by the imagine of live action Sonic the Hedgehog and can’t type right now, but I would really like to write. Could we try for five minutes?”
Ask nicely, ask for just a little bit of time, treat yourself as a best friend would. People often end up trying to bully themselves into writing and that usually won’t work and even exacerbates the problem as you go.
Writing doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it’s you, every word, every sentence, every inch of it. If you want to put yourself down on paper it’s important to build a strong relationship with yourself.
Choose a time, choose a place, do check-ins and communicate with your needs, make any deals with the devil you need to make to get this done. And then write.
Good luck and happy writing!