After a decade of applying myself to the craft of writing, I am finally reaping some publishing rewards.
After all those butt-in-seat hours, I have found a few invaluable daily practices that have leveled up my writing and made me a more focused and accomplished writer. In the interest of #mayitbeofbenefit, I would like to share them.
We all have our preferred routines, habits, and methods to our madness. We need to be mindful of what works best for our personalities and circadian rhythms. For example, in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King admits that he used to listen to heavy metal when he writes. Yet, on the other hand, Anne Lamott said in a recent interview with Tim Ferriss that she writes in silence.
Take my tips with an open mind. You may find that maybe, just maybe, one or two of them land and give you further inspiration for your writing journey.
Here are my six practices to level up your writing game.
1. Cultivating a daily meditation practice.
It doesn’t have to be long. Ten or 15 minutes is excellent. Meditation helps regulate homeostasis in the body, helps us find focus and center, and clear away all the bullsh*t that can muddy our writing practice.
Before I had kids, I used to meditate an hour each morning and evening. This time commitment doesn’t work for me anymore, so I meditate 15 minutes each morning. If possible, I endeavor to meditate once more in the evening, but I don’t beat myself up if that doesn’t happen.
2. Practicing accountability.
Whether it’s to a friend, mentor, teacher, app, or just to yourself, we need to stay accountable; otherwise, it’s too easy to veer off track. So find a friend or a family member, or join a writing group. If you can’t find a group, start one.
If working solo is more your jam, download an app to keep you on track. However you do it, just find a way to stay accountable to your writing goals. I can’t stress this enough.
In the past, I’ve had writing partners and was part of a committed writing group, The Non-Fictionistas. (Two of the writers from that group, Janie Chang and Janie Brown, have had their books published to great acclaim.)
I currently work with a writing mentor who finds me submittal opportunities and helps me with my edits and grant proposals. Working with a writing mentor is like hiring a personal trainer—you can get decently fit on your own, but once you invest in a trainer, you’ll show up and do the work because you’ve put your skin in the game.
3. Blocking time for writing.
No matter how much time you can give to your writing, schedule it. Then, make this time nonnegotiable.
I sit down on Sunday mornings and time-block my writing a week out. Everything else gets scheduled around my writing. Of course, there will be times when you won’t be able to stick to your schedule. The dog may get sick, or your child needs to be picked up early, or (as in my case this past week) a family health crisis erupts and you don’t write for three days. These things happen, but if you schedule your writing, you can go back, see how much writing time you missed, and reschedule it for a later date.
It’s like the concepts of Swallowing the Frog and Rocks before Sand. If you do the most important or challenging thing first, everything else you get done that day is a bonus. And we all know how good it feels to get that dopamine hit of getting sh*t done.
One tool I have found immensely helpful to keep me on track when I’m writing is the Time-Timer. I bought this years ago when I was homeschooling my daughter. I set the timer for whatever amount of time I have to write—it has a maximum timer of one hour—and while it’s counting down the time, the clock’s face turns red, which allows me to see time pass. It’s a fantastic tool for visual learners like me.
4. Tracking our writing—and our emotions.
Many writers track word and page counts. I do this and find it invaluable, but I have also implemented a tip I learned from author Kristen Milares Young. I have begun tracking how I feel during each writing session.
Was I comfortable? Was my environment too hot or too cold or too noisy? How did my body feel when I wrote into the uncomfortable parts? What was my energy level like? Was I inspired, or did I dread the writing?
This glimpse into my emotional and body intelligence enables me to learn how, when, and where I write most effectively.
5. Find the writing system that works best and stick to it.
I used Microsoft Word for years. Then, someone suggested I switch to Scrivener. Unfortunately, I spent more time trying to learn that program than I did writing. So now I implement a combination of writing my first draft in pencil on scrap paper and then transcribing this to Google Docs, which I can easily share.
There’s something about writing in pencil on scrap paper that makes it easier for me to mind map, doodle, and turn off my inner critic because it feels more like play. It takes the pressure of perfection off.
6. Rewarding ourselves.
For each hour I write, I reward myself with half an hour or so of exercise or with a yummy snack—usually both.
Find what reward motivates you, and allow yourself to enjoy it.
You did the work.