To improve your writing, write every day. I’ve received this advice dozens of times. However, I equate receiving such advice with going to the dentist. The dentist says to floss daily. Intellectually, I know flossing daily would reduce plaque build-up, but I also know I have no intentions of following this advice. But of course, I tell my dentist I will not only floss, but by golly, I will delight in it. At my next cleaning, I try to keep up the façade: “I flossed daily. Can’t you tell?” But evidence to the contrary is all over my gum line.
It’s the same with being told to write daily. I nod and smile, grateful a writer is giving me advice at all. I tell them I’ll give it a try, which is a lie. Then six months later, the process begins again.
Recently, though, things changed.
This summer I began my second semester at Vermont College of Fine Arts. The semester kicks off with a 10-day residency, and each residency features talks from visiting writers. One of the writers this summer was Emily Raboteau, author of Searching for Zion. In her talk, Raboteau focused on how she juggles writing, teaching and parenting. She spoke, of course, about the need to write every day, but also the steps she’s taken to insure she follows her own advice. Listening to Raboteau speak, I could only think: Crap. This is going to get harder.
Let’s face it, one of the reasons I wasn’t an eager beaver about writing every day was that it’s really hard! I love my job, but it uses up my creative energy and often leaves me unmotivated to do anything except watch Teen Mom 2. I also just bought a house and find renovations to be a convenient distraction from writing. Plus, ya know… going to bars.
What happens when I get older? I have always imagined myself having children, but how will my writing survive such a time suck? The answer is, you guessed it, I have to start writing every day.
When I returned from residency, I bumped up my morning alarm by an hour and a half. Which is a big deal. I love my sleep something fierce. This time, though, would allow me thirty minutes to wake up, feed my demanding cats and make coffee, and an hour to write. I’ve read it takes 21 days to form a habit, and I’ve crossed that threshold. Though waking up doesn’t get any easier (that kicks in around day 10,976), I’ve noticed other improvements.
1) It’s easier to keep track of my story. Before this routine, my writing process involved of 3 days of “thinking” followed by a long, guilt-ridden writing session. Currently, I’m writing a page or two each morning. Per week, I’m probably producing the same amount of material, but the work is stronger, particularly my first drafts. I don’t need to reread my story to remember where I left off or (worse) what my characters’ names are. Writing every day guarantees no matter how many other issues I have to deal with throughout the day, the story is always in the back of my mind. By waiting a few days. I’d run the risk of my story being pushed out of that mental space by, ya know, life stuff.
2) It’s easier to get in a creative mood. Apparently, scientists have proved that grogginess corresponded directly with higher levels of creativity. Personally, I’ve only been able to prove that grogginess corresponds directly with grogginess. However, I think doing the same creative task at the same hour every day made it easier for certain neural pathways to open (or however science works). Before, I felt like a runner praying for endorphins. Now, I feel like my brain knows to stretch as I’m making coffee so I can take off running once I sit down at my computer.
3) I’m less stressed about deadlines. Certainly some days are less prolific than others, and my worst involve 15 minutes of actual writing and 45 minutes of resisting the Internet. But even if I only write 200 words, I’ve made progress. And that feels good. Besides, I know I’m going to try again tomorrow. No more of those panicked “it’s now or never!” moments before a story is due.
4) The rest of my day is more productive. Even if it’s 200 words, I feel like I’m checking off an item on my to-do list. That early “accomplishment high” has proved pretty powerful. It’s given me the motivation in the evenings to do all the other things I’ve wanted to do, from calling my grandmother to installing a kitchen backsplash.
Those are my big discoveries. Well, those along with the confirmation that coffee will always be quite literally the reason I get out of bed. What about y’all? What are some of your writing routines? What benefits have you seen from adopting one?
*Photo credit: "Written in moleskine" by Homonihilis - Own work. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
Liz Breen is a freelance writer and producer who has worked for productions such as CONAN, WordGirl and Phantom Gourmet. She is also an MFA candidate at Vermont College of Fine Arts and a writing instructor at Cambridge Center for Adult Education; her writing has been featured in Columbia's Catch & Release, Postcard Shorts and Cleaver Magazine. In her free time, Liz enjoys looking at dogs available for adoption. You can find her on the web at lizbreen.com or on Twitter @beinglizbreen.See other articles by Liz Breen