I used to spend a lot of time on Pinterest, looking for tips on how to become a better writer. One day, as I was scrolling through, I came across a pin that said: “The three steps to becoming a great writer – 1) write 2) Write 3) WRITE.” I kind of smirked and kept scrolling. I mean, I was looking for real tips, not sarcasm. After spending almost an hour on research, I began getting frustrated at the lack of good advice in this area, so I decided to shut down my computer and call it a day. Just as my screen went blank, my mind suddenly lit up with inspiration. Those three steps to becoming a great write were possibly the most genius things I had ever read!
There is no specific formula for becoming a better writer. No one can teach you that. You have to learn it for yourself. How? By writing. All the time.
But telling yourself this just simply isn’t enough. Believe me, I know. When I first saw those 3 steps and realized their significance, I told myself I needed to write more and that I’d start soon. And then I got too busy or decided I’d wait till tomorrow to write. And then tomorrow would come, and guess who sat down and started to type? Not me. So I came up with a solution. I am now what I like to call a Scheduled Writer and wow, what a difference!
But wait, you’re a writer. You can’t force creativity! You have to be in a specific mood to write!
Lies. All lies.
Think about it. In order to become good at something, you have to practice. You have to form a habit, a schedule. Writing is no exception. Yes, it’s hard for the first few days, but after that, you’re golden. Your writing will be better, your productivity will be greater, and your ideas will come more quickly. Don’t believe me? Just give it a chance. Follow these 9 steps for 3 weeks and then see how you feel:
1. Pick a time of day. By choosing a specific time of day to write, you won’t be able to put it off for a ‘few minutes,’ which we all know usually turns into hours. I like to start writing at 5:30 in the morning, which I know is a bit crazy for most people. But I like it because I know nobody else will interrupt me. But if 5:30 a.m. is not an option, try to pick a time of day that you know will be yours, and yours alone. This time should be used for writing only. No social media, no e-mail, internet for only project specific use.
2. Pick a place. It’s easier to form a habit if your surroundings are the same every single time. So pick a place to sit and write that you enjoy. I like to write at my desk in my room or sitting in bed.
3. Plan how long you want to write. No, don’t set a word count. This is possibly the worst piece of advice I’ve ever tried to follow. It just stressed me out and made me feel bad when I was unable to finish my 1,000 words by the time other duties asserted themselves. Having a minimum time limit is great because it’s not stressful and allows you to fit it into your life more easily. I like to write for at least 30 minutes, but 20 minutes works too. Sometimes I only get a few paragraphs, but that’s okay because it’s better than nothing. However, most of the time I end getting ‘inspired’ and writing much more than that.
4. Decide how many days a week you want to be on a writing schedule. It shouldn’t be less than 5 days, otherwise the habit becomes too easy to break. The more frequent, the easier it is to stick to. However, it probably shouldn’t be every day of the week. It’s good to take a break and have ‘freedom days,’ days where you can choose to write or just let it alone. I only stick to a writing schedule on the week days, but that’s just me.
5. Tell the world of your commitment. In this case, pride is a very helpful thing. If you tell others what you are planning on doing, you’ll be less likely to break your habit. If you have a Facebook, post every day that you stick to your plan. If you use Twitter, tweet about it ( #TheScheduledWriter). If you have a blog, post about it. Yes, you get to brag about how many days you’ve stuck to your schedule. But here’s the thing: you have to tell the world if you quit or mess up. And if you’re anything like me, that is not at all appealing.
6. Find your weaknesses and destroy them. By now, you probably have come up with reasons why this will be hard for you. Write them down and then think of ways you can make these less of an issue. If you’re afraid of sleeping in, set an alarm clock. If you might get distracted by text messages, turn off your phone. It’s easier to deal with issues before they arise, so plan out how to remove any disruptions before they happen.
7. Define writing. If you’re going to sit down and write on specific days, in specific places, at specific times, you need to have a specific definition of writing. If you’re trying to write a novel, don’t go writing a blog post. Find a category of writing you want to work in like novel writing, blog writing, short stories, or even editing and stick to that. Don’t bounce around from blogs to short stories to novels, otherwise you’ll never finish any of them.
8. Give yourself some flex-space. Even though you should define the kind of writing you are doing, try to think outside the box. For example, just because you’re going to try to write a novel doesn’t mean you need to work on the book starting at Chapter 1, moving to Chapter 2, and then 3 and so on and so forth. You can write scenes for chapter 22 even if you’re back in Chapter 4. You can go back and add scenes to Chapter 1 even if you’re almost finished with the epilogue. You can edit passages that your wrote just a few days ago. You can write out a character’s back story or a world’s history, even if it will never make it into the book. That way you won’t get stuck staring at a blinking cursor until your allotted time is up.
9. Keep it fun. Just because it’s a schedule doesn’t mean it has to be unenjoyable. Listen to music, drink some tea, eat a cookie. Find things that make you happy and surround yourself with them while you write. This is really dorky and you can laugh at me if you want – I probably deserve it – but I have a little Ariel Polly Pocket standing right next to my computer. For whatever reason, that always provides me with a lot of amusement. It’s the simple things, right?
Now don’t let this be one of those articles you read and then shrug off! I challenge you to put these 9 steps to practice for 3 weeks (21 days). Let me know how it goes by tweeting me (@_HannahHeath) or leaving me a comment. I want to hear all about it!