As a writing coach I find myself approached by two types of clients, the ones who want to improve their writing, and the ones who want to improve their writing practice. The latter is crucial in terms of being a productive writer. I have seen writers who struggle so much in this area – not being able to stick with their project, feeling unmotivated, like failures when they don’t put ‘enough’ words on the page. They often say, I don’t know what the problem is.
Many writers believe they must develop a writing routine in order to succeed. For the most part I agree. You have to show up and get words on the page, but I’ve also found that it could be the routine itself that is getting in the way of staying productive.
Try some of these ideas to see if they have a positive impact on your writing practice
- Don’t write at the same time every day!
Personally, I associate a strict schedule with school, or appointments? As soon as we feel pressure to perform, or even show up, we risk feeling like a failure if we can’t maintain the schedule. A better approach is to commit to your project, not to a timetable. When you wake up ask yourself when you will write that day. If you think of your writing as a good friend you will meet, you will look forward to it. The idea is to maintain a momentum with your project or a natural rhythm by avoiding a sense of obligation.
Even full time writers can’t usually work for more than 4-5 hours a day, so you still have some flexibility about when you write.
- Create writing goals that are about the project, not about a quantitative word count or time frame.
Writing goals don’t need to be measurable in the predictable time and number method. Not only is this boring for a creative mind, it has nothing to do with the project except getting it finished.
Consider these goals: Write for as long as the words flow. Write to complete a scene. Write to generate ideas. Write to explore.
- Write somewhere besides your desk
I wrote a third of my novel on my phone. I found it incredibly liberating to tap away furiously for a few stolen moments, on the train, having a coffee, waiting for a client. There is a formality to sitting down at your desk, surrounded by a big screen, cords, coffee cup, piles of paper and producing something. Something I often tell people who struggle with the pressure to write, is the obvious. Remove the pressure!
- Find a muse
Writing is solitary. Whether you are dedicating hours a day, or hours a week to writing it is still an activity in which you are creating with your mind and this can start to feel exhausting. A muse is any kind of inspiration that replenishes your reserve and recharges your mind and creative spirit. It could be a person you spend time with, a book you read and re-read, a particular practice such as yoga, or in my case my muse is escaping to Italy! (This is a perk to living in Vienna- it is right next door)
- Get dressed (or undressed) to write
A year ago, during one of the many lockdowns, I was chatting with another writing coach and she confessed that her clients were starting to lose motivation because they were spending so much time at home. She was joking around with one of them, and the woman confessed she tried sitting at her desk completely naked except for a pair of socks, and ended up writing some fantastic prose. So from then on she incorporated “naked Thursdays” into her writing practice. On that same note, you could dress up, put on a cocktail dress, or a business suit. This is back to the idea of liberating yourself from your norm.
- Write standing up
Personally this one was a game changer for me. When I sit too long I get sleepy. Try an ergonomic desk designed for standing, or take a walk and lean against a tree and type into your phone.
- Train yourself to write in less that optimal situations
As writers, it is sometimes easy to get precious about our writing practice, claiming we can only write when it’s absolutely quiet, or if we’re at our desk, or or or … Many well known writers have said they write regardless of where they are – airports, cafes, while feeding babies, on trains. Practice taking advantage of situations you would have deemed unworthy of writing.
- If the words aren’t coming, go do something mindless and go back to it
I have a ‘hoovering’ obsession. My kids think I love to vacuum, that I believe dust on the floor is unfathomable. But when I feel the words start to dry up, or my concentration loosening, I go and do something else - hang a load of laundry (no dryers here in Vienna), unload the dishwasher, water some plants, and then go back to it.
I challenge you to try one or two of these writing practice alterations and take note of the impact on your work!
If you think you might benefit from a writing coach, please contact me for a free 30- minute consultation. I welcome face-to-face, audio, or video sessions.