E.B. White once said that, if we wait for ideal conditions under which to write, we will die without putting word on paper. Why is it then that so many writers that I know still struggle with how to create a regular writing routine?
Sometimes I think it’s the alluring appeal of the inspiration trap. You know the one: it’s where we tell ourselves that, if we were real writers, writing wouldn’t be this hard. If we were real writers, the ideas, the stories, and the words would find their way out of us in their own time.
But talk to anyone who writes, and you’ll find that the opposite is true. The important part to writing isn’t waiting for that ever-fickle muse to show up. It’s ritualizing your writing: turning your work into a habit that can allow that elusive muse to show up on a regular basis… But that’s where things get tricky. Because, for me, finding a way to continually show up, to keep those channels to open so that I can be inspired, is the hardest part about being a writer.
So how do we create a regular writing routine that we can stick t? There’s certainly no perfect way to make it happen, but alternating these strategies have helped me through the years to keep the words keep flowing, even when the inspiration isn’t.
1. Face Your Fear: Oftentimes, the thing holding us back in our writing is fear. I can feel it sometimes, bubbling under the surface as I procrastinate on edits or grumble over how many pages I have left to write. When I start to feel the fear of getting words on the page, I ask myself: What is preventing me from facing my work today? What is it that I am afraid of? Writing out the answer to those questions for ten to fifteen minutes is sometimes all I need to push past that rising tide standing between me and my work.
2. Have an Accountability Partner: Accountability can take many forms, but I find that having accountability in the form of other people usually works best. Finding someone who I can check in with regularly about the status of my work is the simplest way to show up. The emails can happen weekly or monthly, but you could even commit to a daily exchange if you’re feeling brave. Ask a friend to join in and send each other the words that you wrote that day, with zero obligations to read or respond to what the other person has written. Copy and paste your work into an email or just send a picture of the pages in your journal. Knowing that there is someone out there in the world, waiting to receive your words is sometimes just the nudge I need to show up.
3. Join a Writing Workshop: I’d love to tell you that I am the kind of person who is entirely accountable to herself, but this is simply not the case. Signing up a writing workshop (or, in my case, leading them) is sometimes the only way that I am able to find time to write during the week. Knowing that I have a group of people expecting me to show up once, twice, or three times a week is still the most reliable way that I have found to be consistent with my writing.
4. Pair Your Writing Habit With Something That You Love: Love browsing the tables of books at your local bookstore? Have a favorite coffee drink that you only get on special occasions? Love going for long walks? According to habits guru, Gretchen Rubin, the Strategy of Pairing is one of the simplest and most satisfying ways to make a new routine stick. So find a comfy chair in your favorite bookstore and write freehand for thirty minutes. Go to your local coffee shop and buy yourself a caramel macchiato to sip while you write. Find a library that you can walk to instead of your usual neighborhood route. Pair that thing that you love with the habit of writing so that it becomes something you look forward to, not something you dread.
5. Plan a Weekly Writing “Retreat”: Even if you can’t show up to write every day, finding a few hours on a weekend to hole yourself up in a local library can sometimes be just as productive. And it’s even more fun if you treat it feel like a real retreat. Pack a bag with all of the things you’ll need: your favorite scarf to keep warm, your journal to jot down notes, writing prompts, your computer, and a nice big thermos of coffee to keep you going.
With each of these strategies, the trick is to let go of the outcome and commit instead to the practice. That’s all you have to do. And then just show up. Show up and do the work.
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