First things first: This advice is a little rich for somebody who struggled to write regularly for, oh, 10 years, and who has made approximately two dozen half-hearted, apologetic blog posts that start “Wow, it’s been so long since I’ve written here… not sure I have anything to say hahahah * sob*”. HOWEVER! Things have changed drastically for me in the last few months and I think I have landed on some magical tips and tricks and a solid routine that really works for my writing. The proof? I write daily for at least 30 minutes no matter what is going on; I’ve written 11 pretty solid pieces in the last two months; I put together a lengthy newsletter every Sunday; and most importantly, I rarely face writers’ block anymore and every single day I look forward to my writing as one of my most fulfilling times.
So what’s the secret?
Well, as anybody who writes nows by know, and even those of you who don’t, there is literally no secret except: write every day. Write when you have no ideas. Write when you feel sad. Write when you feel happy. Write when you don’t feel like it. Write even when you really feel like the words you are actively typing out at that very moment are the worst words anybody in all of history has ever strung together. Write. Write. Write.
I rely on a few other tricks I have up my sleeve to gin up my writing routine, and today, I’m going to share them with you, for the low low price of free. Get ready.
- Write By Hand Every Day for at Least 20 Minutes
Yes, it has to be by hand, and yes, it has to be for at least 20 minutes. Look, you can’t run a marathon, or play a… sports ball game… of some sort… without practicing with your body every day on a regular basis to loosen up the old creaky joints. Writing is the same. This is my most critical and urgent tip and the one that has completely given me all of my motivation to start writing again.
I do my longhand writing in the form of Morning Pages - three 8x11.5 notebook pages filled up the first thing each morning. I just write whatever pops up, and I never reread. The shit in there is unbelievable. Sometimes it literally says, “Wow I’m tired, and I made the coffee too weak this morning. Not looking forward to this particular meeting I have today, and why won’t the birds outside shut up?” Literally. That is like a literal line from my morning pages. But I can also tell you that every single piece I’ve written in the last two months has started as a sprout of an idea that appeared during my morning pages. It, for lack of a better term, gets the creative juices flowing.
As for the handwritten aspect of it, I feel very strongly about this. You cannot self edit, get distracted by Twitter, or even really pause to second guess a phrase when you’re doing your writing by hand. You must connect with your thoughts manually. Now, when I’m doing full drafts of actual pieces, I type. But the handwritten 20-30 minutes a day -- it’s the start of everything creatively that I do. It’s where I get most of my ideas.
- Speaking of Ideas, Keep an Idea Log of Everything You Want to Write About
We all know we get our ideas for our creative projects everywhere and anywhere. As I said, I get most of mine during my morning pages. To keep track of what goes on in there, I keep an idea log with the main concepts that come out of that process, and also index my morning pages notebook, so I can refer back to it when writing the full piece that started as a terribly-scribbled phrase on ruled lined paper.
I take that idea log with me into my day, too, post morning pages. Carry that idea log everywhere. You just don’t remember stuff if you don’t write it down the second you think of it. I have literally had amazing ideas, thought to myself, “This idea is so amazing I will never forget it!!!” then 5 minutes later I’m like… oh jaysus. Your idea log could be a tiny little notebook, as mine is, or I suppose it could be the Notes app on your phone (ugh. More about phones later). But write it down, and keep those precious ideas safe. You did hard work to get to them.
I’ve recommended Stephen King’s “On Writing” before as a good process-oriented book, and this metaphor of his struck me:
When, during the course of an interview for The New Yorker, I told the interviewer (Mark Singer) that I believed stories are found things, like fossils in the ground, he said that he didn’t believe me. I replied that that was fine, as long as he believed that I believe it. And I do. Stories aren’t souvenir tee-shirts or Game Boys. Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible.
If I am to take this metaphor to an inelegant conclusion of my own making, it is this: your excavation tools and your digging are the writing by hand, the very act of writing. The soil is your mind. The fossils you find are your ideas. You don’t want to lose precious fossils, do you? The idea log is the special museum case where you store them, then. Keep it safe.
- Create a Special Place for Where You Write
Writing is special, and you should make a special place to do this special thing. No, you should not write on your Doritos-dusted couch with its butt imprint the size of Texas. How dare you do your sacred work on the same place where you glassily-eyed consumed seven hours of The Real Housewives of Atlanta last Saturday? HAVE A LITTLE RESPECT FOR YOUR CRAFT!
Now, I’m not saying you have to get all fancy. My writing space doubles as my dining room table. Because I am an introvert who lives alone and eats microwaved dinners on my coffee table (don’t feel sad for me, this is honestly my dream come to life), this dining table is luckily basically a desk. And I’ve made it purty. I have candles. I have fresh flowers. I have my whackadoodle crystals. I light some fucking palo santo incense when I write, and stuff gets real. The side benefit of having this dedicated spot is that I’ve also learned from muscle memory to associate this spot with writing. When I sit at my crystal-laden desk and light those candles, I am performing a magic ritual. Honestly. Writing is magic. Treat it as such.
- Block Off Times on Your Calendar to Write
This piece of advice is short by necessary: schedule writing blocks and stick to them, like you would a dentist appointment or an parent-teaching meeting or your spousal sex schedule (sorry not sorry). I know it’s fun to think that writing is all sexy and spontaneous and you are just gonna write America’s next great novel when inspiration strikes, but it’s never going to just strike, so write down a date with it in your day planner, and get used to routine.
These four tips above are my core ones for a writing routine. What follow I also find extremely useful, but more on the unnecessary side.
- Start a Meditation Practice
Let’s go back to King’s fossil metaphor. Look, you’re never going to find some really solid fossils unless you can sift through the dirt pretty easily. And without meditation, the dirt… of your mind… uh… this metaphor is not working.
Just know this: meditation clears your mind, gives you focus, and lets your ideas and dreams rise to the forefront of your consciousness. It will make you a better writer, in that you will be able to concentrate and pay attention more easily; you will have a much better attention span; and ideas will come to you more often. Also, it makes you happier, and you only have to do it for like 10 minutes a day. What’s stopping you?
- Burn Your Phone
Your phone -- and Twitter -- are killing your ability to write. I’m sorry to put it so bluntly but we all know it’s true. I know you can’t truly grind your phone up in your garbage disposal, but you can do the following: delete Twitter and Facebook from your phone. Turn it on airplane throughout the day. Do not, under any circumstance, allow it into your bedroom.
Some resources I’ve written that may help you:
- Read. A Lot.
There are these things called books you can take into your bedroom that help you fall asleep instead of shooting blue light and angry pundits straight into your brain in the moments before you are supposed to rest your body and your mind. The other benefit of reading is that it will inspire you to write more. You’ll absorb techniques of authors you admire without even realizing it. You’ll, dare I say, learn new things.
So that’s it. Those are my seven tips for creating a writing routine that’s worked for me. And to remind myself, again, and you, what writing is really about, I’ll quote King one final time:
Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.