Not all of the advice offered in these postings may work for you – but this one will: Write every day. Write something. Every day.
Easier said than done? Here are some suggestions for making it happen.
(1) Commit to writing for at least 90 minutes every day. Why 90 minutes? Because 1½ hours is the maximum that most of us can endure mentally and physically before needing a break. Write for at least 90 minutes without getting up from your chair. Seriously. No breaks, no distractions, no getting everything else done first. And ESPECIALLY no e-mail and Facebook.
(2) Write every day for two weeks. For most of us, that is enough to make it a habit. I promise that if you do this, you’ll discover you are a much more productive writer. Try it.
(3) What to do when you have holidays to observe and celebrate? Or when you are too ill to write? Or when you can’t possibly find even 90 minutes in your day to write? That is when you must write even 15 minutes each day. No matter how tired or busy or sick you are, write 15 minutes each day. Here’s why this works:
* The hardest part of writing is getting started. We amateurs procrastinate minutes, hours, and days. (The pros – some of the best and most prolific writers – report procrastinating weeks and even years.) We delay because we’re afraid we won’t have anything to write. We’re afraid that what we write will be terrible. We’re afraid we’re not up to the real pain that good writing requires. For some of us, it’s only when the pain of what we would lose by not writing – fellowships, degree completion, book contracts, jobs – feels more real than the pain of actually writing that we even begin to write.
* If you make yourself write 15 minutes a day, you have overcome the biggest hurdle – getting started. I’ve never known anyone with the goal of writing 15 minutes a day actually limit writing to just 15 minutes. Once you start, I promise you won’t watch the clock. You’ll write for 30, 60, even 90 minutes before you realize it. (The trick is that you tell yourself you only have to write for 15 minutes and that you can endure anything for that long. Once you start to write, the anxiety will begin to disappear and you’ll write longer.)
* Writing everyday contributes to continuity of your thinking and generating the ideas you need to write. Your mind functions differently when you write every day. We all think about our writing every day. But the cognitive processes involved in writing are different from those involved in thinking. Your project moves forward when you write…even when you write a gosh-awful first draft. (The topic of our third posting is the necessity of writing a terrible first draft.)
(4) Schedule your 90 minutes for writing early in the day. You are more likely to write when you plan to do it early in the morning. If you find yourself with free time later in the day, write some more.
(5) Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird, 1994) suggests this: Place a 1-inch by 1-inch picture frame next to your computer. You must write enough each day to fill the picture frame. I promise you will finish your thesis or dissertation with this method. (You’ll finish faster with an 8 x 12 picture frame.) But you must write every day, and the picture frame reminds you to do so…at least enough each day to fill the frame.
(6) Don’t allow yourself to do something you enjoy until you’re written for 90 minutes (or more). Don’t eat. Don’t drink coffee. Don’t shower. Don’t allow yourself to brush your teeth until you’ve written something.
So commit to writing each and every day during the break. If you’re away and without a computer, then use pen and paper. But write every day. If you think the 15-minutes-a-day is Writing for Wimps, if you never have trouble getting started, if you never delay your writing until you’ve fallen days and weeks behind schedule (or fallen into despair), then commit to writing 90 minutes or more each day. If you haven’t written for at least 15 minutes today, start right now.