Have you heard the story of how Sylvester Stallone wrote the entire script for Rocky in three days? Or, similar tales of workaholic writers scrawling entire books from cover to cover with only the hint of a slight breather?
As aspiring writers, those stories don’t serve us.
Unless you are some sort of hermit, recluse, or shut-in you probably have a busy life filled with work, friends, family, and cable T.V. dramas. Not everyone can escape to Paris, Walden Pond, or the Overlook Hotel for months on end to pen their magnum opus.
Our lifestyles call for a more systematic approach to writing that fits with our schedule but still fulfills our desires to write. My approach is to commit to writing daily. Here are my tips:
Start by Setting an Achievable Goal
I’ve found it important to write or journal daily to keep the proverbial pen sharp. My personal goal is to write at least 500 words each day. This may be a lot to start. Start with a number that you can easily do and is hard to avoid doing. The hardest part of any new habit is just showing up. If it’s too big a mental hurdle, you’ll find an excuse to skip it.
Pay Yourself First
Personal finance experts agree that you should pay yourself before you pay anyone else. I think the same holds true for your work. Do work for yourself each day before punching the clock for someone else.
I don’t find a lot of free time in the evenings. My lunch breaks at my day job are dedicated to eating and reading, so I write in the early morning before getting ready for work. I wake up about 45 minutes earlier than I need to and get writing.
If you’re struggling with motivation to write, it may be better to write in the morning rather than at night. Will power has been shown to decrease throughout the day.
Use the Seinfeld Method
Jerry Seinfeld writes everyday and hangs his hat on this as a means to his success.
I imagine Jerry sitting alone in his office. On the wall overlooking his desk is a calendar showcasing the entire year. The calendar is methodically riddled with X-marks in succession across the days, weeks, and months. One X for each day that he wrote original material.
His calendar serves as visual example of what he has accomplished for the year. The idea is to not break the streak.
Make it a Daily Practice
The idea behind writing daily is to “work the muscle” and establish a writing habit. I start each morning with a “brain dump” so I can get the words and clutter out of my head. I write without judgement, whatever comes out comes out. I have actually received some of my best ideas during these burst sessions. I don’t edit myself, I just let the writing flow.
Write Now, Edit Later
Notice I haven’t even mentioned quality of work yet. It’s important to develop the practice of writing. If you focus on writing only when you feel inspired or when you’re writing well, it will never come. I was stuck in this loop for many years. Write daily just to write, and you can always edit later. If nothing is worth editing that day, that’s fine; you’re going to write more tomorrow. It’s often the pursuit of perfection that paralyzes our writing.
Track Your Progress
Keep track of the days you write. Seinfeld uses a calendar with X-marks. I prefer a more high-tech approach. I use a free app called Lift.
The Lift app allows you to create or join and an existing campaign, check off each day you wrote, and it keeps track of your streak. You can also set daily reminders to keep yourself motivated. You’ll be surprised when you get a streak going how hard it is to break it. Your mind yearns for continuity.
For Apple users, the Commit app does a similar job as Lift with a clean, no frills UI.
Another way to keep track of your productivity is 750words.com, a gamified word processor. You receive points for each day you write and bonus points for writing 750 words or more.
Store Your Work in a Consistent Place
I use a website called Draft as my word processor. It keeps me focused by opening up an entire browser window, with no sidebars and no distractions. In the bottom right corner of the word processing screen is a word count to make sure I hit my desired 500 words.
Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin uses DOS-based WordStar 4.0 to pen his tomes. Whatever works for you!
Hell, you can even go old school and use paper or a journal. Seinfeld only writes on a yellow legal pad with Bic clear barrel in blue ink.
There are many methods and systems you can use to instill a daily writing habit. Start small and achievable and use what feels comfortable, as long as it serves your writing.