We all get overwhelmed with how much we have to do – especially now many of us are writers, publishers and marketers.
As well as parents, spouses, friends and people living in the real world! But it's important to remember what we are doing this for, our definition of success, and whether we are willing to pay the price for that future.
In today's article, Erin Bartels talks about how to be intentional about your writing practice.
The power of intention
I live about two minutes away from Michigan State University. For nine months of the year, nearly everyone around me is talking football or basketball. It’s a performance-obsessed city.
Practice makes perfect, and you can bet that the many young men and women involved in collegiate sports just down the road know how much practice it takes to be great, to be champions. Day in, day out, early in the morning or late into the night, they are honing their skills, pushing their bodies, and slowly but surely becoming incredible athletes. They are intentional about their chosen sport.
Become a writing champion
What about us as writers? Are we being intentional enough about our writing?
Are we giving our art the kind of dedication a gymnast gives to the uneven bars?
Are we practicing our craft day in and day out like the tight end who never misses a lifting session? Or are we giving in to our excuses? I don’t have enough time. I don’t have the right space. I don’t know what to write about.
We’ve all done it. But if we want to be great writers, writers who finish and publish our books, writers who attract readers and fans, writers who win contests and awards, then we need to treat our writing like the athlete treats the practice field.
Devise a game plan
Would any self-respecting coach allow a player to remain on the team if he kept flaking out of practice? No. His body would not be conditioned enough to endure the game. Her skills would not be up to snuff. It’s possible—easy even—to write in fits and spurts. I did it for many years. But when I was doing that, I never finished anything. I didn’t have the endurance, the conditioning, the skills to push through the obstacles because I was flaky about my practice. I thought I was naturally good enough to play, that it would be a cinch. Wrong. What I needed was a way to get beyond my excuses (see above) and be my own coach and whip myself into shape. I needed a plan that I could stick to.
Strength, endurance and conditioning
Knowing that I would fail miserably if I started too strong—like trying to run a marathon when I couldn’t even run a mile without a mild heart attack—I came up with a very reasonable plan: write one short story each month for a year. That’s it. I didn’t make myself write every day, but I had a monthly deadline to meet, which caused me to write much more regularly.
Hitting your goals
And it worked. I reached my goal, practiced my art, and conditioned myself so that now I write nearly every day. My storytelling skills have improved, my characters are more interesting and nuanced, my output has greatly increased. In fact, since the beginning of 2014, I’ve already written far more than I did for the entirety of 2013!
Don't let excuses stop you
Without plans or goals, we can let years go by as we get busy with other things—raising children, inventing home improvement projects, watching a relentless string of must-see TV shows, pursuing other more enjoyable hobbies, or even mindlessly staring at our cursed phones. And sometime down the road we can find that we’ve produced nothing. Not just nothing worth reading, but nothing at all.
Use a winning strategy
I want to leave you with three specific tips—one for finding time, one for finding space, and one for finding inspiration—that can help you coach yourself into a regular “practice time” so that you can become the writer you’re meant to be.
(1) Time: The Creative Power of Momentum:
Everyone knows the standard advice: get up earlier or stay up later. But what if you want to get in a block of concentrated writing, kind of like a writing boot camp? If you have vacation time, take a week off while your kids are in school and your spouse is working, then write like the devil is at your heels for that entire week. I have twice written 40,000 words during vacation weeks. Think of the kind of momentum you generate by getting that much content on the page. It’s exhilarating.
(2) Space: The Creative Power of Solitude:
Whether actual walls or a kind of invisible force field, we all need space in which to work. If you must write where others have access, you have to set up boundaries. “Mom is not to be disturbed for the next hour for anything less than a hideous raging inferno.” And then stick to your rules. Ignore the people around you and refuse to answer them. Don’t make eye contact; it only encourages them. Eventually, they will get the picture and it will soon become a normal part of life. This is not you being a jerk to your family.
Growing up, I knew I was not to talk to my father for the first thirty minutes after he came home from work. He sat in the living room, martini in hand, eyes closed, blaring his favorite music on high-end stereo equipment. During his decompression time, we did not speak unless spoken to and we sure as heck didn’t play in the living room. We were allowed to sit silently in there. That’s it. We didn’t think he was mad at us. We didn’t resent it. It was normal.
(3) Inspiration: The Creative Power of Routine:
Professional writers, like successful athletes, have a schedule, a routine that they adhere to. If we generally write at the same time each day and stay at our desks until the same time each day, we train ourselves to open our minds to inspiration at those times. That doesn't mean there aren't times when we simply stare at the screen, fingers poised limply over the keys, doing nothing. But it means that we are more likely to break through writer’s block because we don’t allow ourselves to get distracted. A routine might seem like it would stifle your creativity, but in most cases routine actually aids and invites creativity. It makes room for inspiration every day.
Commitment and follow-through
Here’s the hard truth: Your time is entirely under your control. We all make time for what is important to us. The players on Michigan State University's football team made time for the practice they needed in order win the Rose Bowl this year. They committed themselves to the team and gave it their all. They made it happen because they made time in their lives to become great football players.
You can waste years waiting for everything in your life to fall into place so you’ll have the time, space, and inspiration to write. Listen: it won’t. You have to take charge and make writing a priority in your life. No more guilt. No more excuses. I know you can do it.
How do you make time and space for your writing? Please leave a comment below and join the conversation.
A prolific short story writer, she is the author of The Intentional Writer, which offers many more tips and tricks for making great creative writing a regular part of your life, and is currently writing a novel. She is a board member of the Capital City Writers Association and the features editor for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. Find her at erinbartels.com.
Top Image: Flickr Creative Commons running shoes by Timothy Takamoto