I used to talk about writing a lot. I’d get all dreamy and imagine my future career as a world-famous novelist. But it was always a hazy dream, filmed through Vaseline so you couldn’t see the harder realities of it: the actual work. It was “someday.”
But I wasn’t doing anything to make it happen.
Sure, I wrote. Once in a while. When I felt inspired. When I was in the mood, or when one of my ideas was just so tenacious there was no escaping it. But I didn’t take myself seriously as a writer, and neither did anyone else. Why would they?
Then, I was turning 42, which Douglas Adams taught us is the answer to life, the universe and everything. It was my crisis moment. I told myself it was time to give writing a serious attempt. There was a lot less “someday” left than there once was.
That’s when I committed to a daily writing habit. It was a game-changer for me.
Practice, Practice, Practice
It’s funny how it works sometimes. We accept that you have to practice playing the guitar for a long time before you’re any good. We don’t expect pilots to fly without hours of training, or ballet dancers to go on pointe on the first day. But when it comes to writing, we seem to think that talented writers are born rather than made, that it’s an innate gift that you have or don’t have.
The truth is that it takes a lot of words and a lot of butt-in-chair time to hone your skills as a writer. Just like singers born with beautiful voices can gain strength, endurance, and technique through training and practice, so can writers. It’s the difference between a hobbyist and a professional.
I used to struggle to create 250 words in a writing session, and then I’d throw away 200 of them in the next session. Now, I regularly write 800 or more at a sitting and more of them are keepers. Writing every day means that I write more. Just statistically, there’s a better chance that some of it isn’t drek.
Writing daily, I practiced my craft and I grew. It’s still working. The more I write, the more I learn about how to write.
Holding Myself Accountable
Daily writing was also a way to hold myself accountable. Tracking progress is something people in a variety of endeavors do. Athletes track their miles or laps or hours. Dieters track their calories. Crafters track the numbers of items they create. Readers the number of pages they read. Tracking is part of how we know we’ve made progress. You can see where you started, and where you want to be, and that’s motivating.
There are a lot of tools for tracking your writing. The one I found and stuck with was Magic Spreadsheet. It’s a very intricate spreadsheet which awards you points based on your word count and the number of days in your chain. It has the added benefit of a friendly and supportive community of writers who use it. Using this system really upped my game. Writing Going Through the Change took me one year. Compare that to my first novel (unpublished) which took me four years to write. Even just a page a day adds up quickly.
It’s amazing how motivating a chain can be. When you’ve written for 200 days in a row, it takes something major to make you ruin a streak. As I write this, I’ve written for more than 900 days in a row. You can bet it would take something HUGE to make me break that. No “not tonight I have a headache” or “I’m just not feeling it tonight.” I write *every* day, even the days when it’s hard.
A side benefit I quickly discovered is that when you write every day, you don’t waste as much time chasing the muse. If the last time you wrote was three months ago, you’ll need time to find the characters and the story again. They’re fuzzy and out of focus, like friends you used to know back in high school. I used to spend half of each writing session just remembering what I was trying to accomplish.
But now, it’s like picking up a conversation after a short interruption, like a phone call from the pharmacy. Sure, you need a moment to gather your thoughts, but only a moment, not a few hours. When I started writing Change of Life, I’d been writing daily for more than a year. Compared to the starts and stops of earlier projects, it was smooth sailing (except for a few walls I smashed into).
In fact, if I stop at a good point, where something exciting was about to happen or a juicy secret was about to be revealed, it’s even easier. I leave myself a note in all caps wherever I stopped, a method of “putting a pin in it” for next time. Sometimes it feels like life and the day job are the things that distract from the real world of my novel instead of the other way around. It stays that immediate in my mind.
Do What Works for You
Being an artist means knowing how you create. That’s highly individual. If you don’t know what works for you yet, then try some things. If they don’t work for you, throw them away and try something else. Maybe you need a dark room and silence,; maybe you need noise so you can focus hard to ignore it. Maybe you need to write daily (like me), maybe you need to write intensely for short periods, then completely ignore the work for a while. In this as in everything, your mileage may vary. Remember that you are the one driving the car. You get to decide where to go and how to get there.
Samantha Bryant is a middle school Spanish teacher by day, and a novelist by night, which makes her a superhero all the time. She’s the author of the Menopausal Superhero series. Book 2: Change of Life, just released April 21, 2016 (but you should read book 1 first). You can find her on Twitter , Facebook or on her website/blog.