Though it’s certain that most of us have mind-manglingly busy lives, it’s also true that we can usually find enough time to watch TV, dabble in Facebook or go for coffee with friends.
I’m not suggesting that you abandon these activities, but if you want to write you must carve out some protected time.
I don’t know your schedule, so I can’t predict what precise time will work for you, but here are seven tactics you can employ while you look for it:
1. Write first thing in the morning. Even if you’re a night owl (as I used to be) it’s so much easier to write first thing in the morning. There are fewer distractions—little email, no phone calls, no screaming children (unless you still have babies). Even better, your cranky, critical inner-editor is slower to awaken than your creative brain. If you can squeeze in 30 minutes—even 15 is a good start—of first morning writing, you are far less likely to become incapacitated by doubt. This has been the experience of writers such as Merrill Markoe, and it’s been my own, as well. After writing for just 30 minutes every morning for the last few months, I’ve hit the 34,000-word mark for my next book. (Only 36,000 more words to go!)
2. Write for the same small amount of time—at the same time of day—five consecutive days a week. Writing is a job, so treat it like one. Clock in and clock out at the same time. This will help you develop the power of a habit. Habits, unlike willpower (which depletes you), are self-sustaining. Start with 15 minutes, and build from there.
3. Resist the urge to do more. You may have developed the college student’s habit of leaving your writing until the very last possible minute and then writing in a white-heat fury. Yes, you can do that, but it’s not a smart strategy because: (a) it reinforces the idea that writing is a horrible chore that can be done only in desperation (do you really want to feel that way about writing?), and, (b) it’s utterly unsustainable. You can write like a desperate zealot a couple of times a year, but not five days a week.
4. Shut down your distractions. Writing time doesn’t count if you allow yourself to be distracted by Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest or email. Shut those things down and write. Reward yourself by playing with them when you’ve finished your writing.
5. Give yourself a goal, and track it. For my book, I have created a little table for myself in Word. It has five categories: the date, my feelings about writing that day, the number of words I wrote, the cumulative total of words I’ve written for the book, and the total number of words remaining. This kind of tracking helps me know exactly when my rough draft will be finished and allows me to celebrate my own momentum. Seeing the required number of words being steadily accumulated, day by day, is my cheesecake, my caffeine, my pain-killer. It keeps me going.
6. Reward yourself. I remember to reward myself for my big accomplishments, but I’m not so good at tracking the littler ones. This is a mistake. Big achievements are made possible by a thousand small actions. Celebrate them. Reward yourself for writing every day. It doesn’t have to be expensive: a latte, a song from iTunes, a magazine. It can even be free: time watching fantastic French cat videos on YouTube, time on Facebook, a conversation with a friend.
7. Make a plan for the next day. This is my most strategic piece of advice, so I’ve saved it for last. When you finish your day’s writing, take a couple of minutes to make a plan for what you want to write the next day. Put this plan in a fresh document so that when you open it up (tomorrow), you’ll be greeted with instructions about what/how to write. This will take away the horror of the blank page and will give you specific directions about what you want yourself to do.
You might be sleepy when you awaken, but you won’t be so sleepy you can’t write.
This article appeared originally on The Publication Coach blog.