Whether you’re just starting out with writing, or whether you’re a seasoned pro picking up your pen again after a dry spell, you might have discovered just how daunting that blank page can be. Sitting down and putting words on paper (or on a computer screen) can be a huge effort. No wonder writers find themselves engaging in displacement activities: checking emails, Twittering, even the housework can seem more attractive than writing.
Over several years of writing fiction and non-fiction, I’ve found that writing really is a habit. If I write every day (or at least most days), I find the words flowing easily; if I take a writing vacation for a few weeks, it’s much harder to get back into writing.
Here are some ways you can help yourself build the writing habit:
1. Write Something Each Day
One of the most common tips from established authors to aspiring authors is to “write every day”. This is powerful advice: a daily action quickly becomes established in your routine, and, if you’re working on a book or other long project, writing every day helps build momentum.
You might have days when you’re burnt out, exhausted, or hectically busy. That’s fine. Even if you can only manage a single sentence, just write something every day.
2. Set Yourself Targets
There’s no one right way to set yourself writing targets: different authors like different methods. You might want to consider a couple of things, though:
1. Published authors have deadlines – and, as any student pulling an all-nighter knows, deadlines are a great way of concentrating the mind. So why not set yourself a firm completion date for your current work in progress?
2. Give yourself a daily target. Some writers have a word target (eg. 500 words per day), others prefer to write for a set period of time (eg. half an hour). Try both, and see which works best for you.
If you don’t have any sort of deadline or target, it’s easy to put off writing until another day. Try posting your targets near your desk, so that you’ll see them while you’re working, or keep track of your progress using a blog, Facebook or Twitter.
3. Join a Writers’ Circle or Group
I’ve been a member of several different writers’ groups over the past decade. Without exception, they’ve encouraged me to write more, and they’ve helped me to improve my writing immensely. Meeting regularly with other writers, and sharing work-in-progress, can motivate you to finish and polish pieces to submit to the group.
Most writing groups focus on fiction and/or poetry: if you’re a non-fiction writer, you may be able to find or form a group with similar interests, though.
If you’ve got the money and time to devote to it, an evening course or a creative writing or journalism degree is a powerful way to give writing a priority in your life. With assignments and group workshops, you’ll find that you pretty much have to get into the writing habit!
4. Keep a Notebook With You
This is another piece of popular advice – carry a notebook. This isn’t just in case you have a great idea whilst in the car or out for a walk: I find that I’m rarely struck with inspiration out of the blue, but that little scraps of time (waiting for trains, standing in line at the post office) can be fruitfully used to brainstorm.
If you’re really short on time, scribbling in a notebook whenever you end up waiting around somewhere can squeeze at least a few minutes of writing into each day.
5. Call Yourself a Writer
Many beginning and even established writers are reluctant to call themselves “a writer”. We often feel that we should be earning money or writing professionally in order to use the title. In reality, though, a writer is simply someone who writes! You’re a writer, so use your title with pride – don’t wait until you’ve got that book deal or even that first paid gig.
Calling yourself a writer isn’t just about having something interesting to say at parties. If you regularly introduce yourself to people as a writer, you’ll become more and more comfortable with this identity. Plus, you’ll feel more motivated to write (after all, that’s what writers do)
Have you got the writing habit – or are you still on your way to making writing a regular focus in your life?
Ali Hale is a freelance writer, and is studying for a postgraduate degree in creative writing. She writes for a number of blogs, including her own recently-launched Aliventures.