The Habits of Writing

Planning to write is as important as planning to go to the gym. If you give yourself a set time to write everyday, you’re more likely to accomplish something. I know writers who can’t write until they feel compelled or inspired to write, but I’ve found in my experience that if you make yourself write — and sometimes (a lot of the times actually), you would really rather be doing something else and you’ll even invent excuses not to write that day — if you just sit down and at least write for fifteen minutes, you’ll feel better about yourself; even if what you wrote is horrible or you only wrote one sentence, at least you’ll be writing, and it’s practicing the craft that makes us better.

My set time to write is in the evening after supper. I usually come in from work, eat, watch thirty minutes to an hour of television, and then I make myself sit down and write. Seriously, there are days when I just feel like lying around and doing nothing, but then that unfinished novel is always lingering, beating in my head like the beating of the heart beneath the floorboards, and if I try to ignore it and push it aside, it just comes back stronger the next day. Writing takes a lot of self-discipline and motivation, and it is so easy to get out of the habit and so difficult to return to it. That’s why I’m afraid to break my routine. Perhaps, if I skipped writing for a week, I’d be okay, but what about after two weeks or three? Then, I might never want to pick my novel up again and continue writing, and it would remain unfinished. And to be so close to the end now; all that time wasted. Once you’ve written your first draft of your first novel, it’s much easier to write a second or a third one and to continue the habit of writing. I don’t think I could break the habit now without some sort of patch; it’s like an addiction; it’s ingrained within me to write.

Every writer is different, and it’s important to find what routine works best for you. Professional novelists have all day to dedicate to writing, but what about those of us who have other full-time jobs and obligations and families? It may be much more difficult to find an hour to steal or even thirty minutes to dedicate to writing. Stephen King in his memoir On Writing says he writes something like ten pages a day, and Nicholas Sparks, on his website, recommends writing 2,000 words a day. A tall order for many of us. On average, I probably write two pages an hour (approximately 650 words), so to reach 2,000 words a day, I would have to spend at least three hours a day writing, or maybe more, depending on how much planning I may have to do on plot or characters or historical research, so it would most likely take me five or six hours to hit 2,000 words. I just don’t have that kind of time every day, and I’m sure many of you don’t either. Ten pages would take me about eight hours.

Let’s be practical. Some authors recommend word limits, and others recommend time. I’m for the latter. I make it a goal to spend at least an hour every day writing, excluding weekends and sometimes excluding Fridays depending on my schedule. Weekends are just too hectic for me right now; I travel a lot on the weekends and it’s rare that I have much time to write then. Ideally, I would like to write for two hours every day, and some days that’s possible, but my goal is to at least block out one hour every day, no distractions, no interruptions, just me and my pen (or computer) and paper. Turn off your phone if you have to. If you’re married and have children — now granted I don’t fall in either of those categories at the moment — I still recommend blocking out an hour, maybe thirty minutes is more feasible, and telling your husband or wife that you really need this time without interruption, and I’m sure they’ll understand. They can handle the kids by themselves for an hour or half an hour; it’s not going to kill them.

While I would love more than anything to spend eight hours a day writing — if I had that kind of time, it would mean I was a full-time novelist, and I would have achieved my ultimate goal — unfortunately, the demands of life command the majority of our attention: children, husbands/wives, your full-time job, various life events (marriages, funerals, old friends come to visit), buying/selling a home, moving, vacations, etc., so find what time you do have, make a routine out of it, and follow that routine as often as you can. The important thing is to write and to write at least some each week. I think that’s a realistic goal for most of us: two or three days a week dedicated to writing.

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2 thoughts on “The Habits of Writing”

  1. The discipline of screenwriting is also the same. Just fifteen minutes a day can make all the difference. Here are a couple of other pointers I’ve picked up on:

    1. Try WRITING rather than TYPING. Keep a journal of your thoughts. There’s something romantic and intimate about actually writing your thoughts on paper. Believe it or not, physically writing also helps you to remember. That way, it’s easier to keep track of your characters, story structure, plot outline, etc. I always keep a “film journal” where I write any thought that comes to mind regarding a particular screenplay I’, currently working on.

    2. Just WRITE, without any concern for correctness. When developing your story, characters, etc. just write whatever comes to mind. Even if you’re just writing nonsense. Even if you’re writing “I don’t know what to write.” Just write it down. I’ve been amazed at how many break-through’s I’ve experienced just by keeping my hand moving. The thoughts flow much better. It’s a great way of defeating writer’s block.

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  2. I’ve started keeping a journal of ideas as well. Should have probably been doing it a long time ago. Usually, I think of stuff while I’m at work and quickly jot it down in Google Notebook.

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