How to Establish a Regular Writing Practice

I love headlines and titles that promise me they are going to teach me something basic, like a few years ago when a book came out titled, How to Think.  Now that's basic.  So I was going to title this How to Practice but then I thought perhaps that was too vague, because one can practice a lot of things besides writing.  Like the ukelele, or meditation, or making perfect. Practice-makes-perfect-concept-23764447  

So here we go with some advice on how to establish a regular writing practice.

The impetus for this is an article by Antonya Nelson about her tips rules for writing that a friend sent. The rule I keep pondering is this one, #8:

Be tolerant of dry spells. Understand that being a writer is not illustrated solely by the act of typing. Mulling, reading, meditating, lollygagging, cooking, joking, traveling, watching television—all activity, as pursued by a writing sensibility, is potentially the stuff of writing.

I am the first to acknowledge that creativity comes in cycles, and sometimes you just have to wait it out until it comes back again.  But I also know, and have observed in myself and others, that "being tolerant of dry spells" too often turns into Not Writing.  Period.  And that those dry spells you are so happily tolerating can stretch for months and then years and then a lifetime and then there you are–you've become that person who put her unfinished novel in the drawer and there it sits for your children to find after you are dead.

So that's why I think that a regular writing practice is a good idea.  You don't have to be writing brilliant words on your potential bestseller of a novel regularly.  You can write in a journal, or just free-write on prompts, or scrawl a one-stanza poem every day, or nearly every day.  In my humble experience, writing, no matter what kind, leads to more writing.  And if you're a writer, as you and I are, you are not truly happy unless you are writing something.

So, write already.  Here's help for how:

1.  Follow your natural rhythms.  I'm a morning writer.  I love getting up at 5:30 and heading straight to the page.  By evening all I want to do is down sip a glass of wine and watch TV or read.  My brain is not alive enough for writing.  But you may be the opposite–I know plenty of people are. Go with what works best for you.  I know, simple advice, but I myself have spent years trying to twist myself into what others think best and I suspect you have, too.  Because that's what we humans do, crazily enough.

2.  Define what regular means.  Maybe regular to you is not once a day, but two or three times a week.  Or once a week.  Whatever.  My whole life and my coaching are built around encouraging people to discover what's best for them and then do more of it.  But here is where I step away from that platform and remind you that in defining regular, you need to commit to more than once a year. Or even once a month.  Because practice means "the actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method as opposed to theories about such application or use." (I got that from consulting the Google.)

3.  Set a reasonable goal.  I know, I hate the G word, too.  I really do.  I start squirming in discomfort when I read books written by logical, left-brained business types about accountability and all that.  And sometimes I rebel against my own goals.  But I still think they are useful.  Set yourself a word count or page goal and have at it.

4.  Lower your standards.  You don't have to write the whole novel in one week, nor should you. Books get written one word at a time, so all you have to do is get yourself to the page and write a few of those words.  Julia Cameron talks about how three pages a day doesn't seem like much–but at the end of the month you've got 90 pages, which is one-third of a novel.  I read a book last summer (forgive me, the name of it has escaped into the ether) in which the author recommended a writing practice of a few hundred words a day.  That, my friends, is achievable by anyone.

5. If all else fails, give up.  Walk away from it.  Throw up your hands and say forget it.  Release your dream of being a writer.  Because here's what I think: you really do want to be a writer.  And writers write.  So if you give it all up and are able to stay away from it and not write, then you're not really a writer.  But if you really are a writer–and I'm certain you are–you will not be able to stay away.  And you'll figure out a way to make it a regular practice in your life.

What are you best strategies for making writing a regular practice?  Please share in the comments!

Another Helpful Practice for Writers

Buddha_religion_philosophy_223679_lYeah, sometimes I have a one-track mind.

Last week I wrote about some slightly different regular writing practices (beyond the usual round-ups of meditating and all the other things we try to do regularly and fail at).    And now here I am again, with the word practice in the title of the post.

At the moment, I'm obsessed with the concept of practicing because I'm working hard to do it myself–as in practicing writing regularly (to the tune of 1,000 words a day on my WIP).  And when one is trying to maintain a creative practice, having some other practices that you do as a baseline is helpful indeed.

I'm not sure if this will be helpful to you, or if that matter if it will be helpful to me over the long haul, as I only just discovered it yesterday, in church.  (When you're a writer, everything is grist for the mill. I get some of my best ideas in church.  I often take notes during the messages and my little carry-around journal is a mishmash of ideas I want to remember from the sermon and thoughts on my current WIP or other projects.  And this does not mean I'm not paying attention.  It just means my mind is particularly open.  Or so I tell myself.)

A Practice For Feeling Whole

Anyway, Lisa, my minister, talked about a process for feeling whole, based on the work of neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, author of Hardwiring Happiness and other books.  He also writes a cool regular newsletter, from which the quotes I used of his are taken. The idea is to open your mind beyond that which it usually obsesses about (I'm stuck on knitting blogs at the moment) to take in the whole of your experience.  This has the delightful effect of getting you away from the critical voice of the ego who likes to scream hateful things at you.

Why It Might Be Helpful

Two Reasons:

1. Because it could help your writing. If your ego (you can also call it your inner critic if you like) is in the habit of screaming the aforementioned hateful things while you are writing, then you really want to practice this practice. (Hahaha, I couldn't resist.)   As Hanson says, "With moments of practice that add up over time, you will feel more like a whole person, less fragmented and partial, less yanked this way and that by competing desires in your head."  (Such as, write, no, I'm terrible at writing, I must stop, no, I yearn to express myself, write, oh who am I keeping I must stop, no I must write….and so on.)

2. Because it could help your ability to see.  You're a writer, and you've got to have something to write about, as in, you need ideas.  But when you're stuck in your critical mind, worrying about one thing or another, like your relative worth in the world, it is difficult to be open and receptive to that which is going on around you.   And you really need to be paying attention to the world, because that is where ideas come from.

How to Do It

1.  Practice for 12 seconds at a time or longer.  (I give you permission to estimate.)

2. Become aware of all the sounds around you.  As Hanson says, "Disengage from inner verbal commentary abou them; stay with the experience of sounds as a whole."  In other words, don't judge, just listen.  

3.  Become aware of all the sights around you.  If you look toward the horizon, this activates "neural networks that process sights in a more global, I'm-integrated-with-the-whole-world-way."

4. And then become aware of your breathing, all of it, the sensations of it in your entire body.

My minister thought this feeling whole process was a dandy way to become more aware of God, and of being in a whole universe.  I agree.  And, I think this process is a marvelous way to become more centered in your creative self, without your inner harpy screaming at you.  Try this process before your next writing session and let me know how it goes, won't you?

While you're at it, I'd love to hear about any processes or practices you use to enhance your writing.

 Photo by fresh-m.

8 Different Creative Practices

Californie_angel_california_82523_hSince I haven't been able to write blog posts this week, I've been spending more time on my other writing—like my beloved novel and short stories.   And this, in turn, has made me think more about the value of establishing good creative practices.  And recently, I've come across some different kinds of practices I thought you might be interested in.   Here are my suggestions:

Write 1K Words a Day. Yeah, I know this is not necessarily anything new. But a consistent writing practice is the basis of everything else you do. I see you picking up things to throw at me. This is far and away the hardest practice to establish—and the most rewarding. It makes you feel like a writer, it piles up the pages of a project, it keeps your WIP in your brain all the time. If 1,000 words seems a bit much, start smaller—start with 10 if that's what works for you! But do try it.

Create a Log Book. I recently read Austin Kleon's book, Steal Like an Artist, and because he told me to, I'm stealing this idea. Anyway, I love it and have started doing it myself. Rather than worry about a journal entry, just do a list of things that happened each day. (He includes cute drawings, but I'm not much of an artist so I don't.) As he explains, its important to be able to look back at where you've been and what you've accomplished—and it's a lot of fun. Try making this your first-thing-in-the-morning-practice, and list the events of the day before.

Use a Bullet Journal. This little baby has been life changing for me. No, I'm not exaggerating. It corrals all my thoughts, ideas, plans, and to-dos all in one place in a way that makes sense and so that I can access them easily. It's an analog journal you create yourself—and you can find out everything you need to know to make one here. 

Doodle a Day. I'm an inveterate doodler. In meetings, on the phone, chatting with friends, it's likely I have a pen in hand and am using it to make spirals and other shapes on the page. I know it helps me focus, but I've always felt vaguely guilty about it. And then I read in Kleon's book that doodling is a good thing. Why? Because its part of the process of getting your work out into the world. So try creating a more intentional doodle to loosen yourself up before you start writing.

Be Happy. Yes, you can make the decision to be happy rather than full of angst. And, no, you don't have to be tortured to be an artist. It's a damaging myth that you have to unhappy to write. Quite the opposite is true actually. Because if you're upset about something, isn't it nearly impossible to focus on your writing? So, yeah, make it a creative practice to be happy.

Be Boring. I stole this one from Kleon's book, too. And I've often thought the same thing about my life—when I'm writing regularly I'm happy as I can be, but I'm also boring. People ask me what's going on and I answer, "I wrote 1,000 words every day this week." Um, not so fascinating. But fantastic for productivity. I'm much more interesting when things are falling apart—and much less productive.

Fall in Love. When I'm writing regularly, I'm in love with my writing and I'm in love with my life, too—even when it is boring. And I've learned that it is entirely possible to fall in love with my writing even when I think I'm not. Hint: one way this happens is when you commit to working on it regularly. You how when you're in love with someone you want to see them all the time? Same thing with writing. So cultivate an attitude of love for your writing and it will lead to more writing.

Keep it Simple. I was reading a novel awhile ago and I realized what a simple story it was. I liked the story a lot—and this was when I learned that a story doesn't have to be complicated to be good. Just like life. Keep it simple.

And yeah, if you thought you detected a theme here, you would be correct—and that would be a theme of simplicity. The older I get, the more I realize that we humans like to complicate things, just because we can. So look for ways to simplify wherever you can—it will improve your writing. 

Do you have a regular creative practice that you cultivate?  Please share!