My guest today, Holly Clarke, shares how she made writing a habit and her six top tips for making the change yourself. Take it away, Holly.
I love writing. I’ve been writing fiction since I was six years old and, like most writers, I dream of being published.
My work-in-progress is Book 1 of a Young Adult trilogy, something I hope my niece and nephews would want to read. I know what the story is, I’ve just had trouble writing it. I always have problems completing a writing project: I procrastinate a lot and I do mean a lot. I pass it off as “research” or that I’m learning how to improve my writing, but mostly I’m just putting off actually writing words on a page. It’s the fear of the blank page. It’s the fear that if I ever actually finish anything people will read it and they won’t like it. I find lots of excuses not to write, yet I really, really do want to write and I love doing it.
As part of my ‘learning the craft’ sessions, I read many blogs about how people have made writing a habit. I didn’t think I could dedicate a regular amount of time every single day to my writing, like these people did. They seemed so organised with an ability to block out everyday life for a good period of time every day and give it to their writing. I couldn’t. However, a couple of months ago I decided that I’d procrastinated enough and that if I was ever going to finish my trilogy I had to make my writing a habit and a priority.
Over 60 days later, I’ve succeeded in writing every single day and made huge progress with my WIP. How? Well I’m here to tell you.
Firstly, I examined what motivates and inspires me. Is it reward, guilt, the withdrawal of something I enjoy (like chocolate or a TV show), a challenge or dare, not wanting to let myself or others down? Knowing these enabled me to pick out the things that would not let me fail (N.B.—failing at anything is something I hate). I also took a look at exactly how important writing was for me. It is essential. It’s the thing I’ve always wanted to do and be good at. So, it was high time I actually did it.
Here are the prompts and tricks I’ve used to ensure that I am now writing something towards my WIP every single day.
As my writing space is most often my desk in my bedroom I see it all the time (no separate room for me that I can close off and avoid), so I have covered it in things that prompt me to write and there’s no getting away from it. I’m a visual learner and my imagination responds to images more than anything. I see my scenes that I'm trying to write, just as if I were watching them on film. Many of the cues to write are based on this.
Motivational Pictures and Quotes
I cast my books with real people (as if I were casting a film), so I have created a collage of them with their pictures surrounding the simple message “you should be writing, our story won’t write itself” to guilt me into writing. I’ve put it over my desk so I can’t avoid seeing it. Every time I walk into my room there are my characters staring at me. I can almost hear their disappointed sighs and their impatient finger tapping if I don’t write down their story.
I have also put up a photo of the title page of a book called The Truth written by Michael Palin. I was lucky enough to hear him speak at a literary festival and I asked for his advice afterwards. He said ‘just write, if that’s what you want to do, go out and go for it.’ Then he signed my book with “Here’s to your own best-seller!” With that pinned next to my desk, how am I supposed to ignore it?
Computer Desktop and Twitter Background
I am on the computer most of the time, so I’ve made use of the background features. My favourite writing quote is “You can edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank one” (Jodi Picoult) and it is now my desktop. It’s there every time I switch on my computer and every time I switch between windows. It’s a great quote for me and has got me over my trepidation of writing something that’s rubbish. A blank page is probably my worst enemy. Allowing myself to write what comes into my head, even if it isn’t perfect, has freed me up to actually write, knowing I can come back later and tweak it (or edit it to pieces with a total rewrite!).
When my computer is on, Twitter is always open. I have changed the background of my Twitter feed to show another motivational message—this time from my protagonists. This is to make me feel guilty for being on Twitter rather than using the time more productively and writing. It might not have got me off Twitter completely but it has certainly reduced the time I'm on there and increased the time I spend telling the protagonists’ stories.
With all of these things surrounding me, whether I’m at home or out and about, there is no escaping my visual cues for writing.
Finish in the Middle
Sometimes I find starting to be the stumbling block. To counteract this, every day when I finish writing, I try to always leave it in the middle of a conversation or action, so that I’ve got a starting point the following day. I make sure to have captured enough of the idea that I don’t lose it by forgetting, but leaving some unfinished business makes starting again much less daunting than sitting down and not knowing what to write.
Interact With Other Writers (Of All Levels)
As I’ve said, I spend a lot of time on Twitter so I try and make the most of my time on there. I follow lots of great writers—some are already published and are household names, some have just published their first book, some are self-published, others are like me—trying to get there. I love hearing about all of their tips, routines, progress, struggles, successes and setbacks.
Writing can be a very solitary activity and so it’s nice to have contact with others going through similar things. It’s also very inspiring to see new writers getting published for the first time and think ‘one day that could be me’ (but only if I actually write it!) Some of them (e.g., @JaneEspenson and @TheSprintShack) also hold ‘writing sprints’ to encourage you to set aside a specific amount of time to write without distraction; it’s great fun and a lot can be achieved in a short time.
Just like I clean my teeth every morning and evening, I now do the same for writing. I work best late at night so I take advantage of the fact that the rest of the house is asleep and there will be very few phone calls, texts or emails coming in at this time. This way it is part of my bedtime routine and I get it done every single day, even for just 20 minutes. It doesn’t mean I don’t write for the rest of the day, but it’s time I know I’ll have if all else fails. It’s surprising how many words you can get down in a concentrated period like this.
Make Use of Technology: The Write Chain App
I like gadgets and apps but I didn’t think one would help me make writing a daily habit, but it has. The Write Chain app is simple—you set yourself a word count goal and, every day you achieve it, you get a link in your chain. You can even give yourself ‘coast’ days that mean you don’t break the chain if you miss a day (don’t use this too freely or you’ll use it as an excuse).
I was sceptical about how this could help make writing a habit, but once you’ve got a couple of links in that chain, you really don’t want it to break. Then, the more links you have, the more determined you become to maintain it. I gave myself easy targets to begin with, just to give me that sense of satisfaction and then increased it to the word count I was achieving (which was always more than my target). It’s still not huge, but in the last couple of months I have written more words than the rest of the year put together. It really is worth using this wonderful app. It’s available for free here.
These are the things that have really helped me form my writing habit. I hope the ideas help you and you’re able to find what works for you.