We’ve all heard the well-intentioned advice: Write every day. It always seems to be spewed by privileged people who have a flexible schedule or a stable income without a day job or who have somehow managed to eschew all other commitments. And while there’s truth to the advice–I certainly find that writing is easier when I’m doing it consistently–for most of us, the pressure only leads to a cycle of despair that actually reduces our creative output.
So if you’re not one of the privileged few, here are some tips for getting all that daily writing in:
- Find yourself a wealthy significant other/sugar daddy/sugar mama/patron who will support your daily writing habit, and maybe buy you bonbons to munch on too.
- Wake up three hours early and get your writing in before your day job. Then hope that no one notices that you’re sleeping at your desk or in front of your classroom full of kindergarteners or while piloting an airplane. That day job isn’t that important, is it?
- Wish upon the correct lucky star so you can get a 7-figure book deal and afford to stay home and write. Or, better yet, win the lottery. The odds are probably better.
- Don’t do anything except work and write. Your toddler can get by without you; they’ll find their own food, and it probably won’t be laundry detergent. And your spouse doesn’t need any attention; they can spend time with the cat. Writing must be your priority. Forget all else.
- Quit your day job. You don’t actually need a place to live or food to eat, do you?
Okay, maybe not helpful. So how can you become more prolific in the midst of family, job, and whatever else you have going one? Here are some more reasonable ideas:
- Give yourself grace. If you’re dealing with illness (chronic or short-term, yours or a loved one’s), poor mental health, outside stressors (moving, changing jobs, unemployment… anything), do not expect that your creativity is going to flow. It is absolutely okay if you can’t write for a few days or months or years.
- Try to think about writing each day, even if you’re not able to write. It might not be much. Maybe think about your characters while driving to work or the grocery store. Listen to a song that reminds you of your manuscript. Do whatever you can do to keep your creativity flowing, even if it isn’t much. Take notes on any ideas you get so you don’t forget them.
- If feasible, schedule a few times a week for writing, and don’t allow anything to intrude on those times. Have the spouse or a parent or a friend watch the kids and go to a coffee shop. Take an evening to yourself. Obviously, this isn’t always possible, and there are things that are going to come up, so see #1 on giving yourself grace if this doesn’t happen. But having those planned times can be a great way to focus and ensure that you get something written.
- When you do have time to write, if the creativity isn’t flowing, don’t give up until 20 minutes have passed. I find that it takes me time to get into the flow of writing. If I’m not there after 20 or 30 minutes, though, I might be wasting my time trying to force it. If I’m tired or have a headache, it’s often a lost cause.
- Write whenever and wherever you can. I’ve written while my kids are at swim lessons (Sorry, kids, I really wasn’t watching your feeble attempts at doggy paddling!), at the playground, and on my lunch break.
- Don’t let yourself be distracted needlessly when writing. I’m notorious for writing a few sentences and then checking Twitter, which keeps me from finding my flow. If you need to turn off your phone and block social media for an hour, do it. There is software available that can help you overcome distractions.
- Know what kinds of rituals help inspire your creativity. If you’re feeling stuck, having these rituals can help get you started faster. I like to take a nature walk or a bath or listen to music to help get the ideas flowing. I prefer to listen to non-distracting music while writing, and diffusing essential oils can inspire me. Writing at my favorite coffee shop almost always helps. Find what works for you.
- Know your own creative cycle and set expectations accordingly. I write best in the summer. I work in education, so I have more time (and less stress) in the summer, and I can get outside and breathe the fresh air and exercise. Winter is tough. I live in Minnesota, and I don’t like going out in the bitter cold. I go to work when it’s barely light out, and I come home at dusk. Seasonal depression sets in and squashes my creativity. I do what I can, but I don’t expect to be as prolific as I am in the summer. Beating myself up over my lack of productivity in January only makes the depression worse. Know when you work the best and capitalize on those times.
- Don’t compare your productivity to others. There are people who can write an entire draft in a month. I’ve always been envious of these people, but the reality is that most of us can’t work like that. My last draft took me 18 months. I’m not proud of that, but I was suffering from crushing self-doubt for a good chunk of it, and I also switched job and took a few grad classes. Don’t beat yourself up if you’re a slow drafter/reviser or if life/health just gets in the way (See #1 on giving yourself grace).
- Find your own writing process and ignore the judgement of others. If outlining steals the joy from your writing, don’t do it. If you want to write scenes out of order based on what’s inspiring you that day, do it. If you need to have every plot beat written on index cards before you start your first draft, do it. If you try to force yourself to do something that doesn’t fit your process, you’re only going to be frustrated and lower your productivity. And remember, too, that what worked for one of your manuscripts might not work for the next. It’s frustrating, but you might need to discover your process for everything you write. Turn off the inner critic, and do what you need to do.
Writing is hard (and wonderful and exhausting and exhilarating), so don’t make it harder than it needs to be by placing unrealistic expectations on yourself. As with everything in writing (and life), you need to find what works for you. If someone, no matter how famous or high up in the industry, gives advice that doesn’t resonate with you, ignore it. You do you, and you’ll get where you need to be, even if it’s not as quickly as you hoped.