I have had a steady writing practice for nearly two years now (20 months to be exact, but who’s counting? Clearly I am.). There are times when writing feels more natural and productive, and there are definitely times when I struggle to curate my thoughts into words on the screen (I’m rarely a pen-on-paper kind of writer, but more on that in a bit).
One thing is for certain about writing, and that is that it’s never easy all of the time. I’ve heard this over and over again from even the most accomplished writers (Anne Lamott, Dani Shapiro, even Earnest Hemingway) so I’m finally inclined to believe it (because seriously, if it's hard for even them, then how could I expect it to be easy for me?!?). Until I was able to actually internalize and accept that fact, I assumed that the resistance I felt was due to my lack of experience or even worse, lack of talent. While those may be contributing factors, it’s also reassuring to know that even highly productive and famous writers also have times when they struggle.
Over the past two years, I’ve had the chance to try a lot of different strategies to develop my writing practice. Some were more helpful than others, but each was a step along the way. Whether you have specific writing goals for yourself - like penning a novel, writing poetry, submitting articles or essays to websites, or even just journaling your own history for your children or grandchildren - or you just want to dabble in writing as a creative outlet, here are some tips to start you on your way.
Ten Tips for Developing an Enjoyable Writing Practice
1. Choose the writing method that works best for the way you think.
Some people love the physical feeling or even the sound of putting an actual pen to paper when they write, while others prefer to tap away at the keyboard. I’m a laptop girl - my hand can’t keep up with my thoughts if I’m trying to write on actual paper and I get frustrated by having to slow down, then I lose my momentum and train of thought. But for others, the keyboard is stifling and they feel more inspired by using pen and paper. Try both and see which feels most satisfying to you.
2. Use materials that make you happy.
Find a pen that feels good in your hand, flows well over the paper you use, and looks nice on the page. Get yourself a journal or notebook or even a 3-ring binder that inspires you. Do you like lined paper, or a blank page? I actually prefer graph paper to write on - I have no idea why, but it works for me.
If you write at the keyboard, use one that feels good under your fingers. I use a rubber keyboard cover on my laptop because I like the slight stickiness it gives to the keys - it makes it easier for me to type faster and with more accuracy. My keyboard covers are in pretty shades of aqua and pink because they just make me smile. Why use something dull when there’s a more beautiful, inspirational choice?
Taking pleasure in your materials helps keep you coming back to your writing practice.
3. Start with small goals.
If you’re new to writing as regular practice, don’t start by imposing huge expectations on yourself. Start by setting a realistic goal, say, 100-200 words a day. As this start to feel easier to accomplish, increase your word count goal. And for goodness sake, use a program that keeps count of the words for you! If you’re writing by hand, count up the number of words on several different pages of writing to come up with your page average. Or set a page-length goal for yourself if you’re writing by hand.
4. Set a timer.
The goal of establishing a writing practice is not to torture yourself, although it can feel like that at times. If you find the idea of using a word count as guide to be stifling or intimidating, then try setting a daily time goal instead. Tell yourself to just keep writing until time is up. Here's a tip - set the timer on your phone, or your microwave, or even your kitchen timer to keep track for you - nothing is more distracting than monitoring the clock while you're writing!
5. Try different times and locations.
Some people write best first thing in the morning, while still in their bedroom. Some people are more energized and productive with the hum of a coffee shop around them. Some people prefer sitting at a desk, while others get more done while sitting on their couch. Try different locations and times of day and see what you enjoy most.
6. Start with “warm-up writing.”
If you’re finding it hard to jump right into writing for a particular project, then start with some warm up exercises instead. Try describing your surroundings, or observations of people nearby, or write a reflection on your day. Or try telling a story from your past - the goal is to get yourself in a writing frame of mind and then build on that momentum.
7. Doodle before or while you write.
Instead of starting with a warm-up cue, start with a doodle on your paper. You can make it a mindless doodle, just seeing what emerges from your pen, or more of an intentional doodle, something related to your topic (e.g., if you’re writing about your childhood, try doodling a picture of your house as you recall it). Not only does doodling help warm up your hands and your brain, it also fills the page, giving you less blank space on the sheet, which can feel less intimidating. Or try doodling when you get stuck.
8. Write nonsense if you have to.
Whether you’re working toward a word count or a time limit, there will be times when your brain freezes up and you want to stop writing. While it’s fine to take a breather to gaze out the window for a few moments, or stare off into space and let your mind wander, try not to stop your writing process for very long. If you feel like you’re hitting a block, write purely from your stream of consciousness, including the fact that you feel stuck, it’s too cold in the room, it’s gray and rainy outside, what you’re planning to make for dinner, etc. Just keep the words flowing out onto paper on into the computer. Once your mind finds its way back on track, follow that train of thought.
9. Set an initial goal for your writing practice.
It helps to tell yourself how long you’ll commit to your writing practice before you revisit your own expectations. A month is a good length of time to try out a practice - it’s short enough that the end is in sight yet long enough to establish a pattern. Check in with yourself after the month is up and adjust your guidelines if necessary.
10. Reward yourself.
Find ways to reward yourself for meeting your initial goal (whether it be a word or page count, the number or days or weeks of continuous writing, etc.) Celebrate what you have achieved, even if it’s just the fact that you’re starting out on your writing journey. A new coffee cup, a new flavor of tea, a new throw blanket to keep you cozy in the winter, etc. - pick something that you enjoy and use it as both motivation and reward!
Getting a writing practice underway does not have to be an enormous or stressful undertaking. It’s as simple as sitting down and writing. That part is easy though, it’s maintaining your writing practice over time that takes commitment and discipline.
So what are you waiting for? If your goal is to start writing, or to write more, try these tips to get you on your way.
Do you have additional tips or tricks to share? I’d love to hear them - leave them in the comments below!