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The deadline's looming. You declare that you shall complete the chapter today. You turn off all distractions. You cancel appointments. You sit in front of your computer. Nothing happens.
Knowing how to "turn on the writing juices" as and when there is a need to is something I have been experimenting with as a writer. Now wouldn't that be useful. Writing every day is a great habit for a writer to have. Many people talk about forming new habits but few actually tell you how it is really done, which makes me wonder how many actually get down to doing it. That being said, I did put and have put and do put myself through periods of intense writing. And here's my take on how to write every day:
1. 99% perspiration, 1% inspiration
That I am “passionate” about writing, and that the "passion" I have for writing is somehow always pleasurable, comfortable, is, of course, only partially true. While the writing process will have its peak moments, there will be moments where discipline and hard work count more - far, far more - than sparks of inspiration. Go ask anyone who is honing their mastery of a skill and they will attest to this. Getting the ideas out and onto paper needs more than inspiration. So if you find yourself "struggling" to "find" that 1% inspiration... how about this: why sweat on that 1% when you can work on the other 99%?
2. Stop when stuck
Ah. The "Writer's Block"... When "stuck" on a piece of writing I have to do, I stop, and switch to another topic to get the words moving across the page. It could be another chapter if I am working on a book, or I’ll start on another topic or another assignment. Tip: work on a few writing assignments at the same time... it makes your writing more variable and gives you different things to look forward to.
3. Free-flow write!
I’m a big, BIG, B-I-G fan of free-flow writing. Free flow writing means exactly that - there is no form, no structure, no topic. Sometimes it is akin to journalling. Sometimes it is part of a story. Sometimes I wake up in a half-daze, and I flip open my laptop, and free-flow write. 10 minutes of free-flow writing is good enough to clear my mind. The trick is to keep writing.
4. Know what writing is, and what writing isn't
Reading is NOT writing. Research is NOT writing. Browsing in bookstores is NOT writing. Talking about writing is NOT writing. (Discount all the hours spent in discussions with clients, editors and publishers as writing. It is NOT writing.) Recording ideas down is NOT writing too. The act of transforming the recordings into words on paper is writing. Everything else – EVERYTHING ELSE - is a nice to have and could lead to some serious writing, but it is NOT WRITING. “Getting prepared to write” is not the same as writing. Getting an education, shopping, listening to music, cooking, eating, clearing clutters, love-making, housework, gardening, exercise, child-rearing, pet-walking, meditation, sleeping, dream-walking, hypopnsis, traveling are not the same as writing.
I repeat: writing is writing. EVERYTHING ELSE - is a nice to have and could lead to some serious writing, but it is NOT WRITING.
(You get the idea)
5. Have places to go [to] write in
I consciously work towards creating environments that support me writing. By "environment" I mean creating physical spaces where I can write in - the emphasis being "places" - at home, or at someone's office or home, at the library, cafe, the beach/park, and so on. Of course I have my favourites, but having a range of favourite places to go to write in gives me options to keep the writer's block at bay.
6. Set tangible outcomes
If I am going to be doing something every day, I might as well get something tangible out from it. So here I'm talking about setting specific targets, objectives, goals - the usual project-management stuff to keep me on track. Nothing new here to shout about, and it works. Like submitting my finished work to a new magazine or client or publisher. Or submitting a piece of writing for a competition or to a listing for more exposure. The performance-driven type of writer will have a ball with this one.
7. My best friend - the calendar
A calendar is a great way to get all the deadlines and targets organized in one place. It is how I take stock of my writing schedule, what is coming up, what needs to attended to, what needs to be completed. It keeps me focused on what needs to be done. Plus, I literally have to write down stuff, and sometimes, all that is needed to jumpstart the writing for the day.
8. Get out there: Mingle
Writing is lonely work but it doesn't always have to be that way. When I feel stuck or lacklustre about my work, I find it useful to make contact with other writers as only another writer can relate to the isolation writers put themselves through. If there isn't many writers within your circle - get out there - get to know other writers / editors! Or find a writing-partner, or join a writing support group or movement.
I also hang out at bookstores to update myself on what's new, what's hot, what's working. Hey, it's part of my job to get books out there in bookstores!
9. Peer pressure
If "internal" self-checks aren't strong enough, I find peer pressure helps. From time to time, I would tell everyone I know that I am working on a particular piece as an invitation for anyone to “check on me".
10. Reward me
Rewards work for me. And there are "rewards" and there are R-E-W-A-R-D-S. Some are indulgent in nature, while others can serve a "higher" purpose. Rather than indulge in a huge slice of chocolate cake (which I do from time to time), I have discovered that having a reward range works better. So I mix it up such that I get to choose rewards depending on what is happening next in my life. For example, a shiny toy like a new computer, a new game for me to immerse myself into to reading a book on my to-read book list, or an evening of doing something I've wanted to do (expose myself to a new environment for fresh content) or taking a trip for a chance in environment to stimulate me.