It’s that time of year again — the time when everyone starts making promises to themselves to eat better, exercise more and get back to that hobby they’ve been neglecting since god knows when. If you’re anything like I was, chances are that writing is that hobby for you: the one you’ve been guiltily letting slip to the back-burner with promises to get back to it later, when you have more time/ideas/motivation/[insert procrastination excuse here]. To be honest, I’ve never really bothered with New Years Resolutions as such, but there is one thing I commit to at the beginning of each year without fail, and have done for a while now: namely, to write more.
The whole “write more” resolution is probably pretty obvious — you know, I’m a writer, we write, it’s a thing— and up until around 2010 or so that was all I ever committed to: just write more. You’ve probably heard the saying that a writer’s apprenticeship is their first million words, right? Well, I was pretty much on track for reaching that point eventually, but most of my writing took place during the summer or the between-semester university break, so it only ever happened within a set time frame and tended to evaporate when Real Life (TM) set in. Eventually I kind of felt like I was fulfilling the letter of my resolution but not really living up to the spirit of it. I was only writing when I had the leisure and the interest, which meant I wasn’t really spending much time at the keyboard and I seldom managed to finish any work – I wasn’t really taking my writing seriously.
The thing I came to realise was, when I said I wanted to “write more” I also meant that I wanted to “write better,” and to do that I needed to make a more sustained effort, not just occasional months of random scribbling. So I decided to take the advice of pretty much every professional author ever and write every day for a year to see whether that would produce any results. To tell the truth, I wasn’t expecting much.
It’s such trite advice these days, and it seems so unrealistic. Who has the time to churn out several thousand words a day, when everyday life is just so busy and exhausting? And what about inspiration? Sitting down to a blank page day after day, or worse, a page with writing already on it that you are now expected to continue with prose of similar or better quality, can be a terribly daunting prospect. It’s all very well for the established writers to casually explain their writing habits (regular) and their rate of output (prolific) during interviews, but when you’re sitting there on Jan 1 trying to come up with enough words to fulfill your quota so you don’t fail your resolution on the very first day, it suddenly seems like writing is the most impossible task ever, and you’re better off giving up and going back to something simple, like rocket science.
Nevertheless, despite how daunting it may seem, writing a little every day is achievable, and in my case I think it helped my writing a great deal. When I started off in 2010 I was totally ignorant of how busy the year would turn out to be, so I decided to start out writing 1000 words a day – approximately 1000 times as much as I’d ever written before. And it was hard. Really hard. That quote about sitting down to a typewriter and opening a vein has never seemed more apt. But as I kept going, I discovered that it became easier as time went on, and that although I still produced some dreck (okay, quite a lot of dreck) the quality of my writing started to improve as well. I made it to Dec 31st with over 525,000 new words written, and a few years later my first piece of published prose came from a short story I’d written in 2010 as one of my daily writing exercises. I’ve been writing almost every day ever since.
As it turns out, setting a daily writing goal is really good discipline and excellent practice for the aspiring novelist. So if writing more, and writing better, is on your To Do list for 2016, here are a few tips to help you make it through the year with your resolution intact:
1. Have a clear goal in mind. I recommend having a daily word count goal rather than a set amount of time to write for, because I tend to be an expert at Wasting Time and if I tried to write for half an hour a day I would never get anything done. That being said, go with whichever works best for you. It might also help to start out small, with only 50w a day in January, then increase that to 100w in February, and so on, until you really get into the swing of things.
2. Lay out the ground rules from the beginning. This includes not just how much you’re going to write per day but also what to do on those days when you’re just too overwhelmed or have total writers block, what it means when you skip a day, and so on. Because I’m a night owl and tend to write in the evenings, one of my rules is that anything started before midnight counts for that day, even if I start at 11:59 and don’t finish it until 1am. Other rules might involve writing only on a particular project, or having to finish what you start before you can move on to something new, or having to start a new work every day. I also find that having a target word count goal and a secondary word count goal works really well. For example, I’m aiming to write 500w a day now that I’m back at uni, with the option of writing only 250w on those days when I’m particularly busy, sick, or otherwise overrun. Be flexible — these are more like guidelines than rules, after all — but try to make them things you can stick to as much as possible.
3. Not wanting to write, or having no inspiration, is not an excuse not to write that day. Nor is the sinking feeling that you’ve been writing total crap (because believe me, some days you will write total crap: it’s inevitable). Your main goal is to get some words (any words) down, so give yourself permission to suck. The editing and improving part can only happen when you have something to work with, after all.
4. Plan for writers block. Because, again, you will get writers block. One of the most important skills I’ve learned from writing every day is how to break through that blank-page, I’ve-forgotten-how-to-verb feeling that used to stop me from even getting started, and write even when I’m not feeling inspired at all. One of my favourite tools for these moments is this Random Word Generator. I set it to produce three random words, and keep refreshing until I find a set of words that sparks my imagination. Then I build a short story around them. You can also try free-writing, switching to a “comic relief” project that you’re happy to screw up and/or start over, fanfiction, journalling, or Brain Gym. Just make sure you have something in your arsenal to help you over the hump, because chances are once you get started you’ll find your way to inspiration anyway.
5. Have fun. Sure, writing is serious business, and if you want to turn it into a profession it can be a long, hard slog, but at the end of the day if you’re not enjoying yourself (at least some of the time), why are you doing this in the first place?! Make your writing time a bit like a daily meditation, time you set aside to enjoy the things your own imagination can come up with. Or challenge yourself to see how many words you can get done in between other responsibilities and requirements, and reward yourself when you beat your personal best. Writing every day can sometimes seem like a chore, but it really doesn’t have to be.
Other than these things, the main thing you need to stick to your resolution is just that: resolve. If you really want to write something every day, then even if you have to write in the strangest of places and at the strangest of hours, you will find a way to meet that goal. Ready to get started? Then here’s to many more words in the coming year!