I think there are two things that separate writers from everyone who wants to be a writer. They are mindset and endurance.
I’m not a fan of working out or going to the gym, but there are people who love it and do it every single day. They have a motivation that forces them to set an early clock and fit working out into their schedule. It might be being healthy, the rush of endorphins or the way they look in their clothes, but they have a reason that is greater than the excuses to not work out. And, like an athlete or workout enthusiast, you have condition your mind to make writing a priority.
There are millions of people in the world who will talk about wanting to write. There are millions more who will write a few pages and give up. But, then there are those of us who are pushed to write until we have a finished product. And, the only thing that keeps our butt in the seat is endurance.
“I went for years not finishing anything. Because, of course, when you finish something you can be judged.”
– Erica Jong
Endurance isn’t about who has willpower, but who can outsmart all the ways we sabotage our progress. Here are some tips:
- Schedule time designated for writing and stick to it.
- You have to be honest with yourself about setting this time or you are never going to do it. There is a snowball effect to missing appointed writing times. You miss some, then you feel guilty so you start avoiding it completely. Plan it during times where you aren’t forcing yourself to commit. So, if you know you watch Scandal on Thursdays, don’t set your writing time for 9 p.m. on Thursday. You are forcing yourself to compete. Recognize your weakness and be kind to yourself by setting your writing time when it will be easy for you not to be distracted or tempted.
- Let the fear be the sign that it’s time to write.
- If it scares you, it’s probably the very thing you need to write. I often feel something nagging at me to be expressed. And, even as I am typing it, I’m wondering if people are going to think I’m crazy or will they get it? I feel the same fear when I write my blog posts up until and after I hit the button to publish them. I feel it throughout the editing process. I feel it when I send my work off to be judged or reviewed by someone else. It never really goes away. The fear isn’t something you get over or you stop feeling it once you’ve done it enough times. I confront it the entire time my fingers are tapping the keyboard. The only time I don’t feel it is when I’m not writing. So, let the fear be the sign that you’re doing something important.
- Don’t treat it like a hobby.
- Writers have to write. It’s encoded in your DNA. Stop treating it like it is optional. Hobbies aren’t priorities. They are something you do when you have small cracks in your concrete schedule or a few unexpected dollars. Writing should be a concrete block in your schedule. You treat it on the same level as you would eating, sleeping, or work. Even when it doesn’t pay your bills, it feeds your spirit. It’s cathartic. You have to see yourself as a professional whether you sell your work or not. It’s your life’s work or you wouldn’t even be wasting your time reading this.
- Write whatever comes into your head.
- If you aren’t working on an on-going project, just free write. Write gibberish if you have to. Just get into the habit of writing and the habit of getting things out of your head onto paper or the screen. Journaling is a great way to getting into the habit of writing on regular basis. It can also be a source of stories later. If you don’t want to buy a book, there are online journals. One I am a fan of is Penzu.com.
- Stop thinking you are going to write a masterpiece.
- Of course, we all have dreams of writing the next Pulitzer Prize or you have visions of throngs of people showing up for your book signing. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have those dreams. They are great dreams to have. But, don’t think that just because you put your butt in the seat that what is going to pour out of you is going to be the greatest book ever written. It may be pure crap, at first. It might be brilliance mixed with crap. You won’t know until you write it. But, the anxiety of worrying about it being great can keep you from writing it or cause you to second-guess yourself while writing it. Writers can face a great amount of rejection before their work reaches the “great” level.
- Be a DIVA about it.
- There is nothing wrong with developing a ritual around it. If you like to drink coffee while you write, then brew or buy some coffee. If listening to music sparks inspiration, then put together a playlist that you can listen to while you write. If you need a special pen and notebook, then buy it. Setup your write room with furniture that you find comfortable. Don’t be afraid of being seen as eccentric. These are the tools of your craft and ambiance can play a major role. Writing takes concentration so do whatever you feel you need to help you with concentrating and feeling comfortable. It is also a solitary activity so you have to keep yourself company.
- You can edit when you are done.
- This is my personal tip. Some writers can edit while they write. I am not one of them. I have to capture the thoughts while they are in my head. Then, I can come back and edit for grammar and clarity. I believe that story is crafted during editing. And, you have to be willing to be ruthless in your editing. You can’t be too loyal to your prose or your characters. Enjoy it when you read it over and marvel at your brilliance, but then cut it like a serial killer if it doesn’t serve your story. Note: One reason why I save my revisions as separate documents is that I cut a line that I really love, it may be able to be reworked and used for a later story.
“Do you understand? I hadn’t written anything good. It might be years before I would, if I ever did at all. That didn’t matter. What counted was that I had, after years of running from it, actually sat down and done my work.”
― Steven Pressfield
These are just a few suggestions. But, the main advice is to understand that writing requires dedication and endurance. It’s something you commit to when your mind is giving you a million other alternatives. If you are a runner, you run whether the sun is shining or it is raining. And, if you fall off, you get back on the treadmill and get in shape. You’re a writer. So, don’t wait for inspiration to strike. Write whether it feels like you can or not. Inspiration will find its way to you.