Writers Write and you can too OR how to stop browsing Twitter and write your damn thing.
A recent tweet by John Zaozirny, Bellevue Literary Manager, reads:
Aside from the obvious, the tweet is true. Writers actually write. They don't just think about writing, they don't just talk about writing, they actually sit in front of a computer (or a typewriter if you’re old school, or a pad and pen if you’re old old school) and they write something.
They write because writing has become a habit. It’s something they don’t FIND time to do, it’s something they MAKE time to do.
Essentially, it’s about the power of making a plan and sticking to it, and not allowing yourself to be distracted by things that can take you away from the important task of writing.
While I thoroughly recommend his book, the tl;dr version of it is:
MAKE TIME IN YOUR CALENDAR TO WRITE.
Yes. Put it in your calendar. Even if you don’t have a wife or husband, boyfriend or girlfriend. To share this info with, do it for you. From 8-9 am I am WRITING.
This time is sacred and you are going to stick to it.
Now you at least know WHEN you’re meant to be doing it.
Then, turn your phone off. Turn off the internet. And open your document. There. You’ve won the battle. Hurray.
Because most of the battle is just that. Overcoming what’s easy to do something that’s hard. Because you don’t WANT to write. You WANT to WANT to write. But there are so many other things that you could be doing.
That’s why you also have to MAKE IT A HABIT.
It’s great, and you should definitely read it.
It talks about HOW you can form habits, and then stick to them.
He sets out four laws of making habits. They are:
1) Make it obvious.
2) Make it attractive
3) Make it easy
4) Make it Satisfying.
So what can you do to use these laws? Well, is it placing your laptop, times to turn on at a certain time, when you want to make time to write? Is it about not finishing a sentence so that you can jump right back into your book or screenplay?
What are you doing to make it attractive? Combine something you love with a habit you want to build and you’ll find yourself doing it a lot more often? Is it going to your favourite restaurant or coffee shop to write?
How can you make it easy? How can you make doing it satisfying? “I’ll buy myself a Starbucks if I write for two hours?
Alternatively, you can flip any of these laws too, if you’re trying to NOT do something. For example, if you check your phone too often, can you leave it in another room? Can you lock it up?
A few years ago now, I started writing my first novel, Milly Tipton and the Spirits of Christmas. I was narrating audiobooks on the side and realized “Hey, I could write a book too!” And so I started one.
And it was HARD. HARD to just make myself sit down and write. Because I wasn’t doing it with my long-term screenwriting partner, Ben. I was just doing it by myself. I had no one to hold me accountable.
But, reading Clear’s book, I unknowingly used a bunch of the ideas he lays out in his book.
Every night I would lock myself in my closet and record one chapter of an audiobook (if you want to listen to one of them, check out this one), and THEN I would write for an hour. I wouldn’t leave the closet until it was done.
This is known as habit stacking. You likely already stack habits. For me, it can be as simple as saying “Keys, Wallet, Phone” when leaving the house. Or flossing at night after I brush my teeth.
Essentially, habit stacking is “When I do X, I do Y.”
“When I record a chapter of an audiobook, then I write on my own book for an hour. “
Right now, my morning habits have a pretty strict routine. I wake up at 6. I chant/visualize for 30 minutes. Then I get the kids breakfast. Then I read a self-development book for 15 minutes (you may find me tweeting things I like at around 7 am every day). Then I exercise for 20 minutes. I have a cold shower. Then I get the kids to the bus stop and walk the dogs. By this time it’s 8am ( and I already have my exercise ring closed!), and then from 8-9 I write on my book projects. Then at 9, Ben and I get on FaceTime together, and we start our work day.
So by 9am, I’ve done a spiritual practice, a mental practice, a physical practice. I’ve spent time with my wife, kids, and dogs, and moved the ball down the field on a book.
This is a habit now for me.
Now I’m fortunate to have Ben as my screenwriting partner because he holds me accountable to my screenwriting work, and I him. If I don't turn up on a day, it’s a problem. He is, by being my business partner, my accountability partner for screenwriting. This is another thing you can try.
As I wrapped up the most recent draft of my book, I used an app called Stikk. WIth it, you set a goal, and then select an accountability partner to help track your progress. You can also give yourself goals or punishments. My goal was “I will write ten hours on my book every week until it is done.” If I didn’t, I would have to give $50 to a cause I don’t believe in. (One week I actually failed and gave $50 to a political movement opposite from my personal beliefs! Doh!). For me, a punishment was a good motivator, but it should just as easily be a reward. “If I write for x hours this week, I will buy those shoes.” Of course, you have to be honest with your accountability partner, or what’s the point, right?
Lastly, don’t dwell on the output. Dwell on the input.
This is something that both Nir Eyal and James Clear talk about and this has been important for me in the writing of Milly.
As I began to write my book, I imagined I was staring up at a giant mountain. How was I going to scale its peaks? I wanted to write a middle-grade fiction book, similar in length to the first Harry Potter (approx 76,000 words). How on earth was I going to do that? How would I write all those words?
Well, I still stand by the idea that I can’t write a book, but I CAN write for an hour.
And so I just started writing for an hour. And I wouldn’t do more. I would do that. And it was deeply satisfying because at the end of the hour I had WRITTEN. And oh the glory of that feeling! Hour by hour, a book or a screenplay will get written, but only if your put in the time. By focusing on what you’re putting IN, you’re not beating yourself up if/when you don’t make that goal. So rather than saying “I’m going to write 5 pages,” you can say “I’m going to write for 45 minutes.”
Some fun math facts:
Did you know that if you write ONE PAGE of your book today, you would have a finished manuscript in a year?
Did you know, that if you write ONE PAGE of your screenplay today, at the end of this year you would have written THREE screenplays?
But first you have to make it a habit.
So get out there, and start that habit today.