As writers, we consider it our duty to sit at our desks every day and put down ideas that we hope will inspire the masses and make a meaningful contribution to society.
Doesn’t mean we have to enjoy it. In fact, writing is very often painful, boring and difficult.
But it doesn’t have to be. By making some adjustments to the way you write–and the way you think about writing–you can produce more in less time and even enjoy doing it. Here are eight writing habits that will transform your work sessions from bitter and barren to the best and most productive part of your day.
Planning your writing session
Habit #1: Destroy your distractions
Flow is an important part of writing, but it can be extraordinarily fragile. A knock on the door, the ring of a telephone, even a blinking LED in your peripheral vision can knock you out of the “zone” in an instant. To avoid this, deliberately eliminate potential distractions before you begin: tidy your workspace, put your phone on airplane mode, and send the kids to their aunt’s. Turn your desk away from the window, if need be. Some writers go so far as to work in empty and whitewashed rooms, locking the doors and stuffing cotton in their ears.
If you’re working electronically, your biggest distraction will be the computer itself. Get around electronic interruptions like social media and email by disabling your wifi, using a distraction-free writing environment, or using productivity apps like Strick Workflow.
Habit #2: Select your sounds
If you can’t eliminate distractions, block them out! With background-sound generators like Noisli, you can work to the murmur of a coffeeshop, a chorus of evening crickets, and even the chug of a train, all from the comfort of home. Mix and match to create the perfect writing environment, no matter when or where you’re writing. If white noise doesn’t work for you, try music apps like Spotify, which offers a myriad of focus-based playlists from classical piano to electronic ambiance.
Habit #3: Decide on your focus
The right atmosphere isn’t all you need to fuel your creative fire; a good sense of direction will help you get started more easily and reach completion faster. Before every writing session, consult your book or chapter outline (you do have one, right?) and choose a focus for the day’s work. This will keep your manuscript on-track and save you the wasted mental effort of trying to recap your entire big idea every time you sit down to write. Boundaries can be liberating, so give yourself permission to narrow in on one section of the book, trusting that your outline will help you to bring it all together in the end.
While you write
Habit #4: Review first
Before touching the typewriter, Ernest Hemingway would go over a preceding section of his work to make sure he knew exactly where his book needed to go next. By reading your previous chapter, you can ground yourself in context and re-immerse yourself in your writing voice. Every trumpet player knows that the same note will sound different after they’ve warmed up–our writing style, too, is a fickle instrument, so reacquainting ourselves with ourselves will lead to a smoother tone of voice and a better book.
Habit #5: Start with a word count
A book should not be written “When I Feel Like It”. Set a daily or weekly word count, and don’t let up until you’ve hit it. Five hundred a day is a good start, although everyone is different. Maya Angelou did 2,500 words per day, while James Joyce was sometimes happy with writing three good sentences.
Habit #6: Remember your reader
While writing, make it a constant habit to think not of what you want to say but of what your reader needs to know. Your reader is the most important person in your writing practice. Keep their image burned into your mind’s eye and ask yourself: how can I give them what’s most compelling and useful? Put more of that in there, and cut out the rest.
Habit #7: Resist early revision
I hate to break it to you, but completing your first draft may not be the hardest or most time-consuming part of writing a book; that honour usually goes to editing. But there’s plenty of time for that later. Don’t attempt to catch every spelling mistake and misplaced punctuation while you write–why sweep a house under construction?
After your writing session
Habit #8: Reflect on the process
When you hit the last period on the last sentence on the last page of the day, you’ll probably be dying to close the document (after saving!) and get away from your desk. But as with all complex tasks, our writing abilities will always benefit from reflection, as well as practice. At the end of each writing session, ask yourself a few questions. How did it go? Were your fingers on fire? When did the muse fizzle out? Perhaps you were stuck for a few minutes before remembering your chapter outline. Or perhaps you doubled your word count after a second espresso. By understanding your writing process today, you can set yourself up to write better, faster, and smarter tomorrow.
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