One-twelfth of 2018 has come and gone, and as February rolls on, there’s a bit more elbow room in my yoga classes, my personal trainer’s schedule has opened up, and all over the world, stick-to-it planners are starting to collect a little dust. As that New-Year vigor begins to lose momentum, how’s that writing resolution of yours going?
I’ve just had a chat with Raphael, a would-be writer friend of mine. “How,” he asked, “can I finally overcome those (unnamable and unfathomable) barriers that have stopped me from seriously investing time into writing something meaningful?” It’s a dream that has whispered patiently from the back of his mind for years, but creating a writing habit that endures has eluded him.
For those of us who want our writing habits to be so much more than a well-intended push that’s bound to sputter and die away, how do we finally make good on those aspirations to write, to keep writing, and to finish something?
How to Make Good on Your New Year’s Writing Resolution
Developing any new habit is a challenge, but this can be particularly true for writing, which is so often pushed aside as less-than-a-priority on busy days. Here are some ideas for keeping this New Year’s promise to yourself and your future readers.
Make it Easy on Yourself
In Lieberum’s ridiculously straightforward manual for finally bridging the gap between ambition and action, he addresses the strain on willpower in these earliest stages of habit formation. His advice is to make it easy on yourself.
What that means when developing a writing habit depends on when in your day you aspire to write, which tools you need, and what usually gets in the way. I like a first-thing-in-the-morning session before starting my workday. I must, therefore, make sitting down to write with my first cup of coffee the easiest thing I could do in the morning. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, let’s take a look at what usually gets in my way:
If I wake up with time to write, I tend to go straight to the kitchen and wake up the Nespresso machine. While I’m waiting for it to warm up and then to brew, I start tidying up the kitchen or the living room. Before I know it, I’ve finished my coffee and my house is neater, but I’ve got no writing done and it’s time to get focused on work. Other days, I spot whatever book I’m reading and think, I’ll just read a chapter and then get to writing. Or, worst of all, I make my coffee, forgo the housework, resist my book, and get onto my laptop, but then I get lost in my inbox or on social media.
The solution? Well, at night, after Paul and I finish dinner, we tidy everything up before heading to bed. Then, after a little pre-sleep reading, I tuck my book away into my nightstand drawer—I won’t even see it in the morning. And for the final bit, which is admittedly less than ideal for me, I have to write on paper to avoid the internet and its countless distractions altogether. I pack away my laptop at night and make sure that my notebook and my favorite pens and pencils are sitting exactly where I like to have my morning coffee.
Get Held Accountable
Each week, I have two calls with a lovely client named Desiree. We meet for some negotiated editing and slowly, her manuscript is moving along. Over these last several months, a pattern has emerged: Whatever progress Desiree has made since we last spoke was accomplished exactly just before or after one of our calls. Anticipating our session pushes her to be prepared for the next call.
Of course, paying an editor for weekly coaching or writing support isn’t accessible for all of us. Luckily, there are several other options for finding accountability. On meetup.com, for example, there are creative writing groups who meet biweekly or monthly to write together or give feedback on each other’s work over brunch, creating a sense of community and a built-in accountability group.
What tends to work for me are “writing dates.” I’m lucky enough to have several friends who write for various reasons, so I often plan a date with one of them, at a cafe or on a video call, and we’ll talk about what we’re working on and then use pomodoros to structure our co-writing sessions.
Give Yourself a Daily Objective
If you’re simply working on developing a writing habit but don’t have a particular project underway, give yourself an objective for each session. Planning to sit and write whatever comes to mind is problematic for those of us who may end up putting it off when we’re not sure what to write about.
For Raphael, who’s been traveling nonstop for several years and who is now considering writing a memoir, I suggested that he research several literary concepts and writing techniques. His memoir would cover the unreal experiences he’s had all over the world, the random strangers who changed his life, and most importantly, what it all did to him. I assigned him the following tasks:
- Read up on the character arc and the three-act structure and spend some time each day outlining several approaches to the themes and organization of your memoir.
- Spend a week playing with show, don’t tell. Pick some unforgettable moments that you’re sure to cover in your memoir and give the scene a go, focusing on show, don’t tell. Practice describing specific emotional experiences on different days.
- Monday: Outrage (e.g., an experience, for example, that left you feeling cheated, mistreated, or angry)
- Tuesday: Euphoria
- Wednesday: Jealousy
- Thursday: Vulnerability
- Friday: Gratitude
- Take show, don’t tell into your character development. Instead of summarizing the personalities you’ve met along the way, show them to us in a scene where we can make our own judgements based on what they say and do. Focus on a different person each day.
Whatever your writing endeavors are, there are endless techniques and aspects of writing that you could focus on for a session. Having an objective gives you a focus and therefore fewer excuses for putting it off. If you’re like me and the gratification of checking things off of a to-do list motivates you, definitely give this method a try.
Got more ideas on how to develop a writing habit? Please share them below. Tell us what works for you!