Professional writers don’t wait for inspiration. Sure, there are times when they stare out the window waiting for the muse to whisper, but it’s somewhat controlled. Rarely does it go on for more than a day, because they know what’s at stake and that their job is to write and come up with material by a certain deadline. Many have likened writing to a muscle: the more you use it, the easier it gets to use. So writing every day on a regular schedule is the best habit you could ever develop. The difference between working writers and dreamers is that at the end of the day, they have more pages written than the day before.
1. Write every day because you love it
2. Write because it’s your job
3. Write or die
The process of writing is so joyful, so satisfying, so necessary for me that I would do it even if no one else in the world but me was ever going to read it, let alone pay me a dime to do it. Aside from the pleasure I get from interacting with the people I love and care about, writing is the most intense pleasure I could ever have alone.
-Ron Bass in The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters
This is for all writers who truly feel they have to write. It is attributed to prolific author, Isaac Asimov, for whom writing was a life or death activity. Writing was like breathing, sleeping or eating. It wasn’t something he forced himself to do every day. It just was. Most writers have to force themselves to write amid constant life distractions. For Asimov, it was the opposite; he had to force himself out of his typewriter in order to be social.
MAKE TIME TO WRITE
Unless you have a wealthy spouse or live off a trust fund, chances are that as an aspiring writer, you’re juggling a day job with periodic bouts of writing. As you’ll see, if you really want to write, you make the time. Most beginning writers don’t make writing a high enough priority. They intend to write, but their desire is not enough to keep them from doing more pressing things. Professional writers make writing an excuse not to do other things. They view their work as a job they get paid for, that has deadlines, and that demands a schedule.
A writer I know used to make herself write one scene per night before going to bed, until she finished her script in about eight weeks. Sometimes it took her 15 minutes to finish a scene, and other times up to four hours, but she made herself finish the scene before rewarding herself with a good night’s sleep.
When I had a day job, I found the time to write. I’m awfully disciplined. I always say to people at seminars that if you write two pages a day, five days a week, you’ll have a hundred pages in ten weeks. So if you can be disciplined enough to just do two pages a day, and I think anyone can find one hour to do two pages, even if you have to do them on a cocktail napkin.
-Eric Roth in The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters
I had the pleasure of hearing Ray Bradbury at a book festival where he shared his writing ritual. Asked about his preparations for writing, he said that waking up was the number one, and then lying in bed and listening to his voices. He calls it his “morning theater.” Inside his head, his characters talk to one another, and when it reaches a certain pitch of excitement, he jumps out of bed and traps them on paper before they are gone. So Ray never worries about a routine because his characters are always in there talking. As to how long he writes every day, Ray said a couple of hours. He can write three or four thousand words, which he believes is more than enough for one day.
FACING THE BLANK PAGE
Although some writers view this stage as a joyful opportunity for exploration, many complain about the mental torture of having to face the blank page every morning. Regardless, successful writers have learned to minimize their anxiety level by not leaving the page blank. They’re either prepared for it—perhaps by having already developed an outline or a rough sketch of the scene the day before—or they read the previous day’s work and the light rewriting of it gets them warmed up.
When I face the desolate impossibility of writing 500 pages, a sick sense of failure falls on me, and I know I can never do it. Then, gradually, I write one page, and then another. One day’s work is all I can permit myself to contemplate.
When you’re hungry, do you put off eating? When your favorite television show is on, do you put it off to a later time? Chances are, when you want to do something, and you’re not afraid of it, you just do it. Although many consider procrastination to be just another word for fear, it can also be part of the incubation stage of the creative process, where ideas simmer in your subconscious. So it’s not all that bad for you. In fact, all writers procrastinate in one way or another to alleviate the pressures of writing, or simply “waste time” puttering around in order to warm up into the day’s work. The difference is that they control how long they procrastinate.
Having trouble keeping on task? Give yourself the following marching orders: You may not check your email, play Solitaire, surf the Web, or do anything else on your computer except write–until a certain time in the day. My time is 3 p.m., which is email time. (I deleted all the games that came with my computer, which is a little extreme, but after kicking a “Doom” addiction a few years ago, I remain a bit squirrelly.) Stick to this edict and you’ll be shocked at how much more you produce. This means you!
If procrastination is an issue in your writing life, and you’d like to overcome it, try to understand the root cause of it. Procrastination experts say that there are six main reasons why we put off things: 1. We’re bored. 2. We’re afraid to write; our low-self-esteen makes us doubt our talent. 3. We’re easily distracted by things around us. 4. We’re just plain lazy. 5. We’re overwhelmed by the task at hand; it’s just too big to tackle. 6. We just don’t like the work. When you truly understand why you’re procrastinating, you can do something about it, especially if writing is important to you.
Sometimes, your mind gets foggy. No words or images come to mind. It’s just a complete blank. Some writers panic at the first sign of block and rush to their shrink, while others believe it’s only temporary and have a bag of tricks to overcome it. There are literally thousands of tricks employed by writers, while other writers believe block doesn’t exist! For them, block is just another word for fear. Fear of failure, of being exposed as a fraud, or feeling your writing isn’t good enough.
1. Feel the fear and do it anyway
2. Jump to another part of the story
3. Have the courage to fail
4. Retype and keep going
5. Get inspired by art
6. Pick up a crossword puzzle
7. Listen to music