08 Apr Create a Writing Routine Part I: Prepare Your Inner Self
It is extremely complicated to create a writing routine, especially these days. Not only do we have day jobs, families, bills, and responsibilities of all kinds, we also have more technology than ever before, tempting us with an infinite amount of information, and useless distractions, at our fingertips. To be a successful writer now means to push back against everything that comes first in our lives and to fight every day for the time and space to put words on a page. And even though it is a fight, it doesn’t have to feel like one. With some planning, a shift in how we view our day to day lives and routines, and some positive self-reinforcement, we can all be successful writers, whatever that means to each of us individually.
I’ve had a lot of lifestyle changes recently. I’m married now, I have animals to take care of, a house to look after, and more bills than I’ve had before, plus, I’m constantly on the pursuit of different ways to make money. I’m also living in a new town without the comforts and resources I’ve had previously. Luckily, I’m pretty good at finding places to work wherever I am in the world, but the struggle of staying in one location longer than normal, plus stress of the other changes in my life put writing to the back of my mind. While I’ve always been interested in productivity, especially in a freelance work setting, it’s never been more important for me to stay on track and continuously progress both in my short-term money making opportunities, and my long term writing goals.
After reading books by Carolyn See, Áine Greany, Anne Lamott, Ron Carlson, and Natalie Goldberg, I’ve compiled a list of tips and advice that has really changed the way that I work and view the work that I’m doing. I’ve focused on five topics and have created a post for each of them.
Table of Contents
- Preparing you inner self for writing and being more productive.
- Ways to getting (re)started in a writing life, maybe again.
- The importance of having a daily and weekly writing habit.
- What to do about talking to others about our work.
- How to not let life get in the way.
Preparing Your Inner Self for Writing and Being More Productive
Preparing your inner self for writing might sound unnecessary but it can make all the difference if you’re having a difficult time with daily writing or sticking to a project long term. Because our writing comes from within it’s essential that we prepare our minds for this type of work, especially for the long term.
The most important way to prepare our mind is to gain confidence. A lot of the time we lose momentum or dedication to a project simply because we lose confidence either in our abilities, or in the longevity of the project. Natalie Goldberg says to gain confidence we first need to learn to accept our minds and the way we think and process the world around us, because for writing, it’s all we have.
Accept the Way Your Mind Works
She says, “It would be nice if I could have Mark Twain’s mind, but I don’t. Mark Twain is Mark Twain. Natalie Goldberg is Natalie Goldberg. What does Natalie Goldberg think?” She says, “The truth is I’m boring some of the time. I even think about rulers, wood desks, algebra problems.”
I have the same problems. My first instinct is always doubt. I get an idea for a story about a girl that moves from New York to New Mexico and my first thought is how boring the premise is. Not until I actually write the story, open my mind to the possibility that there’s something interesting in there, can I see the story’s potential. Goldberg goes on to say that the process of writing teaches us about acceptance. But I think that’s easier said than done.
One exercise that might help us accept the way our minds work, and gain some confidence, or at least push aside some of the doubt, is writing from the prospective of, what Goldberg, calls a sweetheart. This sweetheart might be a real person you draw inspiration from, or someone completely made up. This character’s only job is to throw compliments at you. Write these compliments, write all of the things you’re good at: the ways that you’re unique and can do things others can’t. Write anything you can think, even if you don’t fully believe them to be true.
Now you have a list of positive things. Force yourself to believe them, force yourself to at least not recoil from them. There are so many times that we hear how we’re not good enough, especially in the writing world. So for just a few minutes, make yourself believe that you are and take away power from the negative thoughts. It’s enlightening and freeing when you start writing with this positivity.
Sticking with the theme of telling ourselves things. Goldberg says, “Every morning as soon as you wake up and each night before you go to sleep, say to yourself, simply and clearly, ‘I am a writer.’ It doesn’t matter if you believe it. Just plant the seed. Soon what we want to be and who we are meet and we are one.” “Practice saying it when people ask you what you do. You might feel like a complete fool.” But, “step forward and say it anyway.”
Maybe if you’re reading this you’ve already crossed this point. Maybe everyone in your life know’s your dreams. But even so, when you meet someone on a plane or in the grocery store, what do you say that you do? Most people’s first instinct is to say their primary career, you know, the one that makes you most of your money, unless you’re lucky enough to sustain yourself with writing. But if we make that switch, say that we’re a writer first, instead of a teacher, we give ourselves a new confidence. By saying our other job, we’re unintentionally invalidating this dream and further hindering our productivity and motivation.
One of my favorite craft writers, Carolyn See says, “If you can’t really believe you’re a writer, why not pretend you’re one? You pretended when you were little; why not now?” Picture in your mind what a writer looks like. Are they wearing something specific? A black turtleneck? Maybe they’re smoking a cigarette, tapping away on a typewriter? Think of a different writer. She’s probably sitting in a café with a laptop and a latte next to her, trying to figure out how to use the bathroom while keeping her stuff at the table near the outlet but not have her stuff stolen.
The truth is there’s no one kind of writer. So why can’t you be a writer on your commute to work, or after the kids go to bed, or on your lunch break or, quickly writing in the notes on your phone while standing in line at the DMV. A writer can be anything you do as long as you write. It’s just important that we know we’re writers, and constantly remind ourselves of this commitment or else our dreams are at risk of being pushed to the background.
Tell Those Around You
Like reminding ourselves that we’re writers, it’s important that those around us also know our dreams and our daily commitments. See says it’s essential to be around those like us. See says, “The truth is that about 97 percent of “normal” people everywhere—not just in America—look on writing, if they look on it at all, as one step below whoredom. Because at least if you’re a whore you’re helping someone have a good time.”
She says, “It’s better to be a sculptor, because your mother can show her friends a big chunk of rock out in the backyard and say, “Phillip’s been working on this since November.” In that case, people can see something physical when you dive into the crazy world outside of the standard office jobs. But they can’t see you write. “And even if you do ‘succeed’— publish some magazine pieces, or your first or second or third book-people still don’t understand. They often question, “but how do you make a living?”
We need to find people who will support our writing. These people should be easygoing, open to our lifestyle, never be condescending about our writing, or make us feel we’ve not doing enough. I’m extremely lucky in that my husband knows my dreams and accepts them as part of who I am. He knows that my freelance lifestyle doesn’t make me heaps of money and he doesn’t make me feel bad about it. He pushes me to write when I feel overwhelmed, asking questions about it and creating opportunities for me to get more done. He’ll say “I’ll make dinner, make a youtube video, leave the house… whatever, while you write for an hour and we’ll meet back up after.” He asks about my workday as if I don’t work from home in my pajamas. All of the things he does make me feel more legitimate as a contributor to society, something that was lacking in my relationships years ago.
Hopefully we all have someone in our life who is like this, and we don’t have to deal with negative people who don’t understand what exactly we spend our time doing while on the computer or with a notebook in hand. See says, more than anything, you need to create this circle of people, or just a person, around you as a way to keep on track and not constantly feel torn between what you want and what is expected of you. Bluntly, See says, “Get yourself a better set of friends.”
Let me know about how you created your writing routine, specifically how to prepared your inner self. Do you have any other tips?