When you first start out as a writer, it’s tempting to think that writing will be a fun way to spend your time and you’ll write regularly, whenever inspiration strikes.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t tend to work that way.
Writing is hard work; but that’s the key part, it’s work.
If you want to write as a hobby then waiting for inspiration is fine, but if you have professional ambitions, you have to be more focused. It can take a steely resolve to write every day when you have other commitments and the sofa is calling you after a long day at the office.
The thing that has helped me most when it comes to writing efficiently has been building a writing ritual.
By a writing ritual, I mean a series of habits that tell my mind it’s time to write. The repetitive actions ensure that writing itself becomes a habit that I can fulfil on a regular basis. Your writing ritual doesn’t have to be the same as mine, but here are a few ideas that might help you to build your routine.
Choose a time to write
Many people find it easiest to get up an hour or two earlier in the morning and spend time writing while their minds are still fresh and they aren’t distracted by the minutiae of the day.
Unfortunately, I’ve never been much of a morning person. I find it much easier to write in the evening, but that is a time that is often full of distractions. Usually I have a list of tasks that need to be completed before I can sit down to write and if any of those overrun, I run out of time.
To deal with this, I’ve tried to build my own routines around some of my other commitments, for example I aim to batch my blog post writing and get everything done at the weekend so that I have weeknights free to work on my novel.
Have a writing space
By choosing to write in the same place – whether it’s at your desk, the kitchen counter or even with your laptop on the sofa – you’re building associations between work and that location.
It helps if that spot is dedicated to writing: I often work on the sofa, but as that’s my main TV watching spot, it can be tempting to switch the box on in the background (fortunately there is nothing on at the moment). The flip side of this is that I now associate my sofa with work, so it’s not a place where I can fully relax anymore.
If you’re able to have a desk or an office (or a whole writing shed like author Chuck Wendig!), it does help you to focus, particularly if you decorate the space with items that you find inspiring.
Create a writing playlist
I find it especially helpful to listen to music while I write, as it helps me to create the right emotional space. I have a playlist of 100 or so songs on my iPod and I set it to shuffle as soon as I sit down to write.
It doesn’t matter how many times I hear each song, because I associate them with writing. Each time I get the same swell of emotion that helps to carry me through my story.
Listening to music also dulls some of the background noise in my brain after a busy day, making it easier to focus on the manuscript in front of me.
Complete another task first
One recognised way of building a habit is to link it to something else that you already do. So, for example, if you phone your mum each night, once you’ve finished chatting, get out the computer and start to write.
The phone call is already an ingrained habit, so by linking it to your writing, you’re increasing your motivation to complete a second task after the first is done.
Have a mindless escape tool
When I get stuck or struggle to focus, I do something different. The temptation here is to open up Facebook or Twitter, but that can become a time suck.
Instead I start a game of Minesweeper, or complete a memory test online. Both of those activities are fairly mindless, but they allow me to focus on something other than my writing, while the creative part of my brain ticks away in the background, unconsciously attacking the problem.
Sometimes I even start a writing session with one of these activities, almost like a palette cleanser to focus my mind away from whatever I’ve been working on at my job that day.
Have you ever thought about building a writing ritual, or do you have one already? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!