For those that want to create a writing practice, here are some simple tips that I notice have really served me. It’s taken me a while to gradually empower this structure, and I think it’s okay if it takes you a while too. Start by taking on one piece of structure at a time — see if you can empower that in your life, and then add as you see fit.
First, writing is a generative exercise, which sounds jargon-y, and really just means that it’s creative. Unlike a consumptive or stimulative exercise, which doesn’t demand anything of you other than that you be receptive, writing requires that you actively create. When I’m in a creative process, all of my judgment shows up.
Is what I’m creating good enough? (“No”).
Do people care about this? (“No”).
Does this make any sense? (“No”).
Is this actually what I should be writing about? (“No”).
Your inner critic may have its own voice. What I find works with this is to acknowledge its presence and remind myself that my job as an author is simply to darken the page. The content of what you write isn’t important. Just make sure you’re darkening the page, and if you’re doing that, you’ll be moving yourself forward.
This is the most simple and the most important aspect of being any kind of author. If you’re not darkening the page, then you’re not writing, and if you’re not writing, nothing is going to shift. Darkening the page means you’re in action, and once you’re in action, you can start to add or subtract from your practice, based on what works. (Special thanks to Steve Chandler for the concept of darkening the page).
I find writing at a consistent time every day helps me a lot. I know what I’m at my desk to do, and I make sure I have all my other apps shut down. No e-mail, no messenger, no messages, no safari, my phone is turned face-down on my desk (and is in DND mode), etc. In the face of your inner critic, distracting yourself with LITERALLY ANYTHING will feel better than continuing to press forward. Set yourself up right by minimizing the distractions up front.
When you write at a consistent time every day, it makes it easier to honour these boundaries — you start to hold them as a sacred space at a certain time every day. Over time, it’s okay to start to add some flexibility into your space, but when starting out, be rigid and disciplined in your approach. Let people know you’re unavailable if you need to, hang a sign on your door, etc. Do what it takes to create sanctity in your writing practice. You are spending time in the dojo. Treat that time with reverence.
On that note, I find writing first thing in the morning is the best time for me. I’m usually the freshest and have the most energy and mental capacity early on in the morning. Late at night, I’m tired, have already expended a great deal of mental energy trying to focus on what matters, and what I really want to do is distract myself. All of those are recipes for knocking the wheels off your writing practice.
That doesn’t mean it has to be the morning for you — but find out for yourself when you are most generative, and then practice consistently using that time to write.
Remember — this isn’t about figuring out the time when you’re most inspired. The majority of my time as a writer is not spent inspired. That doesn’t mean I’m not inspired by what I write; it’s just that experience usually only happens after I’ve finished generating and my inner critic no longer is in the way of me putting words on the page.
Save yourself some effort: don’t try to identify when you are going to be most inspired to write. Identify when you will be able to be most consistent in your writing practice, and then make a point of writing at that time, over and over.
Because of how painful generating in the face of my own judgment can be, my brain is often trying to escape. That escape looks like a million things, like wondering why the 1812 Overture was written, whether or not I sent that e-mail to a client that I promised to send, whether it’s possible to get a piece of art that fits this empty space on my wall, and whether or not my armpits currently smell bad (and literally anything else).
To work with that, I usually keep a notepad beside my desk, along with a pen. Every time a distraction arises, I write it down. Putting the idea on paper will soothe your brain — there’s a mental element to closing the loop when you put it on paper. Almost like we let our mind know, on some level, “Hey, I’ve got this — don’t worry, it’s going to get handled now.” By closing the loop for yourself this way, you’ll find that it’s easier to let go of the distraction and get back to writing.
When all else fails and you find yourself at your writing time staring at a blank page unsure of what to write, remember that your job is, first and foremost, to darken the page. Ideally, you darken the page with your own thoughts, but in the absence of “knowing what to write” (which I am very familiar with), start by writing absolute garbage, word salad, or even copying words from the newspaper onto your page.
This will feel silly, stupid, and unproductive when you start, and I promise you that if you are willing to do this, you will, in time, discover what there is for you to write in the morning. I have resistance to this practice every time, and it works, every time. Sometimes I don’t discover what I’m meant to write on a given day until there are only five minutes left and I rattle that off — sometimes, these are the posts that most resonate with people. Sometimes I spend an hour writing hot garbage and that is how my writing practice went that day.
Sometimes, I spend an hour, inspired and crafting a masterpiece, only to share it and see that a single person liked it.
Remember, your job isn’t to write the most inspiring piece. Your job is to write, consistently, and to trust that if you keep doing that, you will develop as an author.