It’s one thing to call yourself a writer and quite another to actually write. So what separates the pros from the amateurs? Is it God-given talent? Natural skill? Or something else?
Listen to the audio version of this essay here:
Is writing a discipline?
Something I often hear writers say is they’d like to write more frequently but lack the discipline. But is this true? It raises an important question: Is writing a discipline or a habit?
The definition of a discipline is:
The practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience.
Wow. Does that sound fun or what? This, however, epitomizes the way many writers treat their craft. They subject themselves to a set of rules, and when they break those rules (i.e. not writing every day), they punish themselves. Can you relate? I sure can.
Contrast that definition with that of a habit:
A settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.
Now, imagine that. Imagine that your writing was so ingrained into your daily set of practices that it was hard to give up. Not something you had to force yourself to do for fear of punishment, but rather something that you enjoyed so much it was difficult to avoid. I submit to you that this is a choice. You can choose to treat your writing like a discipline, another daily chore to be endured, or as a privilege that it is. You can write for the love of it, not the dread of it. You can write a little bit today, just because you enjoy it. Then, do the same tomorrow.
This is what real writers do: they write every single day. Don’t worry about that now, though. Just concentrate on what you will write today. Before you know it, you will have created a habit. A writing habit. One that is hard to give up.
But you still have to work
With that said, don't get any funny ideas in your head about writing being some kind of mystical process that doesn't require effort on your part. Forming a daily writing habit isn't easy. It forces you to give up your misconceptions about writing and embrace the truth. This takes work.
Of course, we all have skills we've inherited and opportunities we didn't deserve. But what we do with these gifts and opportunities is what separates the outliers from the rest of the pack. The difference between a professional and an amateur is simple — it’s practice. The amateur quits; the pro never gives up.
That sounds a lot easier than it is. So how do you get up every day and write? This is the question that plagues those of us who struggle to stay motivated in our creative lives. We know we have something to say. We're just not sure how to say it. Fear is often what holds us back. The solution, though, is not beat the fear but to trick it. To outsmart fear.
You do this by forming a habit of writing every day. Do it so frequently that you don't even have to think about it, so much that your brain doesn't have time to feel fear. That’s what the pros do. They don't beat the fear or fight through it; they do the thing afraid. And it’s what you and I must do, too, if we're going to get serious about our craft.
3 steps to starting a daily writing habit
So here's how it works. There are three steps, I’ve found, to starting a daily writing habit.
- Pick a space. You need an environment that is conducive to your writing. It can be your dining room table or a desk, even the couch. But the idea is that this is special, sacred even. It’s where inspiration happens. Try to set it apart.
- Set a time. It can be 5am or 11:30pm. Whatever it is, just try to make it consistent. You need to show up every day at this time and put your butt in the chair. It doesn’t matter if you have any idea what you’re going to write; until you commit to a time, you will never get into a daily rhythm of writing.
- Choose a goal. This can be a hundred words or ten thousand. Whatever it is, give yourself grace. Hemingway was renowned for writing 1500 words one day and 300 the next. In my experience, anything from 300-1000 is sufficient to forming a writing habit. I try to shoot for 500.
Do this over and over and over again, as often as you can. If it helps, join the My 500 Words 30-day writing challenge. Within months, you’ll be surprised how much easier writing comes to you.
Sounds good, right? But, you might be thinking, “What if I don't know what to write?” Great question. Here's the answer: It doesn’t matter. Write anyway. If you haven't formed a habit yet, your writing probably isn't that good. That's fine. Expected, even. All you’re trying to do is show up, to be consistent enough to start practicing and get good. Still, if you need a prompt or two, here are some ideas:
- Write about your surroundings.
- Write about what you did today.
- Write a section of a chapter to that book you’ve been working on.
- Write a letter to your kids… or one to yourself.
- Write anything!
I’m not kidding when I say what you write about doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t. At the end of the day, there is one box you need to check, and it reads:
“Have I written?”
If you missed your word count, blew your scheduled time, and wrote a bunch of malarkey — but you still get to check “yes” — then consider the day a success. Get up tomorrow and do it again. The goal is to just get going and to get better and more consistent as we go. You can do this. Good luck. Remember: It’s one thing to call yourself a writer; it’s quite another to actually write. Do the latter.
Other writing resources
- Why you need to write every day
- How a daily writing habit makes you better
- The Secret to Developing a Regular Writing Habit
Sign up for the My 500 Words Writing Challenge and get a prompt every day for a month to help you stay on track. Click here to get started.
Do you write every day? Why or why not? Share in the comments.