Understanding, and getting comfortable with your writing practice (also known as process) is the key to becoming a better (and happier) writer. But how do you find these elusive magic ingredients?
I spent most of the first five years of my writing career lurching between elation and despair. Elation when inspiration hit, and the words poured out. But terrible despair when the blank page glared up at me while my inner critic screamed in my ear. Fun, right?
This rollercoaster of highs and lows was not a great way to build a career – not to mention being utterly exhausting – so it was a great relief when a seasoned writer took me aside one evening, handed me a stiff drink (gin and tonic if anyone’s shouting), and set about explaining the concept of process.
Writing is a muscle we need to strengthen
That hour-long conversation completely changed my career and in a lot of ways my approach to life. This career-saving writer let’s call her Annie – because that’s her name – patiently explained to me that writing is no different to playing a sport… we have to treat ourselves like athletes.
A marathon runner doesn’t pound the pavement for 50 kilometres on their first day in the sport, they take their time, train regularly, and surround themselves with coaches, fuel, and equipment. A swimmer doesn’t splash around in the shallow end of the pool for a couple of days before they sign up for their first race – they prepare, swimming lap after lap until muscle memory kicks in and they can glide through the water with ease. It’s no different with writing.
How can you become a writing athlete?
No matter what kind of writing you do, you can begin to hone your craft and tone up your writing muscle, by considering seven simple things.
1. What will help you to write?
What kind of equipment do you need? A computer? Notebooks? A beautiful pen? Have you got a dedicated space or a favourite café? Do you need noise-cancelling headphones, or prefer the ambient sounds of the world around you? We all have a preference – while a baseballer has a favourite glove, us writers have a favourite pen or writing nook.
Also, avoid writers’ posture and look after your back – invest in a good chair or even a stand-up desk.
Consider all the things in your environment that you can surround yourself with that make you feel comfortable and focused.
2. When do you write?
Some of us are early birds, others night owls. Knowing when you’re most switched on can make a big difference to your productivity. If mornings are your thing, then block out time first thing to draft up the words and keep your admin, research tasks for the afternoon/evening. If you switch on later in the day, plan to get these tasks out of the way in the morning so you can dive into the writing when you’re at your peak.
Plan your day around the times when you’re at your most focused.
3. How do you write?
Do you need to plan everything out in minute detail before you put pen to paper or are you someone who prefers to discover the thread as you go? There’s no right or wrong way – just the way that works for you. If detail and planning are important to you then using a job board like Trello might be helpful so you can plot and plan everything out. If you’re more intuitive then use creative prompts like music, inspiration boards or a mind map to help you focus and generate ideas.
Work to your strengths.
4. Make friends with your Bob
Deep within our brain is the amygdala, a walnut-sized tricky beast that is responsible for our fight/flight/freeze mechanism. It hasn’t really evolved since we first crawled out of the primordial ooze – and as a result it isn’t able to tell the difference between a woolly mammoth and a blank sheet of paper.
This of course makes us anxious and when you’re apprehensive, the good old inner critic starts yabbering on, blocking you from getting the work done. The more you fight it, the louder it gets. A quick way to get it to shut up is to make friends with it. Give it a name and a hobby – mine is called Bob and he plays golf. Every time I sit down to write, and he starts telling me the work is no good, I thank him and send him off to play a round. Problem solved.
Your inner critic is not in charge – you are!
5. Stay curious
Curiosity may have killed the cat, but for a writer, curiosity is an essential element. Ask questions. Do your research. Stay curious about everything.
Step out of your comfort zone to seek out new stories.
Writing can be lonely at times. Collaborating with other writers can be a beneficial part of your process. Sharing ideas, encouraging each other and having a fresh set of eyes can help you to discover new things about your writing.
Find other writers to share your work and ideas with.
7. The 80/20 rule
To speed up your writing apply the 80/20 rule. This helpful little rule states that you should spend most of your time on the parts of the writing process that matter the most, like editing and refining your ideas.
Zoom through a first draft then devote most of your writing time in rewriting and editing.
Getting to know your process doesn’t have to be scary and I promise, once you discover it everything gets easier. Spend a little bit of time exploring the ideas above and then the fun can really begin. Good luck on your next writing adventure!
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