and How to Stick to It Until the End
by Pascale Potvin.
It’s New Year’s resolution time, and you know what that means: lots of people hamstering away on gym treadmills. That image of people working out with great determination on their faces has become a reflex association with the New Year. It’s well earned: widespread desires to get in shape and to lose weight still make for the most popular New Years resolutions (right before resolutions to save money and to ‘enjoy life’).
Writing, on the other hand, never seems to make the “Most Common New Year’s Resolutions” lists. Those who choose the “begin writing” or “write more” or “finish languishing novel” resolution often feel like they’re taking on a big challenge alone. As if the act of spending several hours alone every day to write weren’t isolating enough.
Worse is the lack of greater support. While you can find thousands of articles on how to sweat to the oldies, and bless those who honour their resolutions to go to the gym and make it happen (go, gym!), far fewer speak to helping the writer tell their story and share it with the world.
There is some good news, however: what if you found out that solid, salient advice for writers- from just beginning to professional but needing a bit of oomph- was under your nose this entire time?
Creating a writing routine is actually surprisingly similar to creating a workout routine. You’ve heard poetry and math are entwined? Well, so are writing and leg lifts. Many of the tips going around about fitness can be directly applied to the writing process.
Allow me to demonstrate. Here are six pieces of advice that apply to exercise and writing in equal amounts:
Accept that it’s going to be a challenge.
Your big ideas have been filling up your head for a while, so you might expect that when you finally do sit down at the computer, everything will just pour out of you like an unstoppered dam.
Don’t be discouraged if that’s not exactly the case. Your favourite writers might make the process seem effortless, which is how the image of them steadily and confidently typing up your favourite books got stuck in your head, but it’s not like that—not for anyone.
No matter how excited you may feel about the project you have in-waiting now, there will be times when you feel completely unmotivated or even totally blocked. But like any good worker person, giving up isn’t an option (imagine your accountant/gardener/housekeeper throwing up their hands and stalking off to the snacks cupboard saying, “I just can’t do this.”) Instead, you should resolve to, even on those particularly hard days, not even think about giving up.
Just like a workout routine, all that progress really takes is showing up to do the work. You’ll be surprised by what you can achieve if you push yourself to simply sit in the chair. It’ll also get easier as you go; a muscle that’s conditioned to flex can flex more easily than one that’s used to primarily hefting nothing but wishful thinking and hot air.
Embrace the challenge.
Now that you’ve accepted that this is going to be a little hard, and you’ve decided that you’re going to do it anyway, stop right there and re-examine. It’s important that you do this because it will be a challenge—not in spite of it being a challenge. Don’t just accept; embrace.
If you view your resolution as an attempt to “overcome” a challenge, you may still see your struggle as a kind of failure, which is a gateway feeling to defeat. Exercising works because it’s hard, and writing is nothing if not exercise of the brain, heart, and body. Embracing the challenge and the struggle allows you to see results all throughout the process. The key here is to keep not one, but two end goals in sight: a finished project, yes, of course… but also your growth as a writer in and of itself. Every time that you sit down to write, you’re growing. That’s a miracle, truly. Enjoy knowing that.
Set goals that are within your reach.
Articles about fitness all say the same thing: if it’s your first time taking part in a serious workout routine, expect to see results in a few months or longer, but not overnight (meaning you can’t expect to turn into Terry Crews by tomorrow) (if only). So, if this is, say, your first time writing a novel, you shouldn’t expect it to turn into a seven-part fantasy series. Not at first, at least. “Yeah, but J.K. Rowling did it!”, you may be thinking, but hold up again. J.K. Rowling’s success did not happen overnight. She works extremely hard—has for many years—and what happened to her is the equivalent of a starlet getting discovered at Schwab’s deli counter while sucking on an egg cream. It’s a freak occurrence, not the norm.
Do it every day.
The looser you are with your routine, the easier it will be to fall out of it. That’s the reason so few succeed in keeping their fitness resolutions; it’s easy for a weekend-long break to turn into a six-month hiatus. If you miss a day, your writing muscles will feel rusty the next, and that will likely affect your motivation.
But is writing six hours a day what makes a “real writer”? All that time spent wouldn’t hurt, certainly. But if you’re a normal person with a job, kids, school, and other sundry challenges requiring your attention and energy, then a realistic slot of time is going to work, for the long haul, far more than a lofty one. Even ten minutes of writing in a day will make a big difference.
Sometimes life really does get in the way in ways you can’t control, but you don’t have to quit if that happens. Do the most that you can, for your personal sake. A book may seem like a big goal when life rears up, but if you write for ten minutes every day, those pages will add up and be a constant in your ever-shifting personal landscape. And how gratifying it is to have something to show for yourself amidst the maelstrom of everything else.
Always warm up.
Before you get to your writing every day, complete some gentle warm-up exercises to get your words flowing. Make sure that they’re unrelated to your project; that way, you won’t feel committed to them or to the idea of anyone seeing them, and you won’t feel that pressure to write something “good”. You can find all kinds of great writing exercises and prompts online. Try flash fiction. Or write without lifting your pen in a journal.
At the very least, the exercises are warming you up and priming your mind. At the most, they may hit on something and take off running and become contenders on their own.
Make sure that it excites you.
The only way that you’re going to finish this project is if you hold on to the passion that pushed you to make this resolution in the first place. The key is not to write what you think will make you look intellectual, but to latch onto what actually stimulates you mentally. While it’s good to remember that you’re writing for others, you also have to care about the project. And while you may find yourself wanting to imitate classic authors, remember that this is a resolution for 2018, and some of those styles and themes—plus the entire idea of the Great American Novel—might be slightly out of date. Now may be the time to hunker down with your essential voice and the style of writing that feels good to you. Take some risks. After all, the writers whose names we know didn’t play it safe.
If you find yourself feeling bored by your writing, your readers definitely will, too. If that happens, take a step back and ask yourself: am I writing too much beautiful prose? Too much inner monologue? Is there enough conflict in this scene? Why are these characters invested- or if they’re not, how can I make them want something important to keep them moving through the scenes?
With that, I leave you with these six tips for starting- and fulfilling- your New Year’s resolution of writing more, writing well, and writing to share your ideas with the world.
Please share your progress in the comments below, or if you’re a member of The Community at One Lit Place, let us know how you’re doing, ask for help, or share some insights with the others in our Member Area. After all, we’re all in this together and benefit from one another’s voices and experiences.
Want a terrific push of motivation?
We have several upcoming courses starting in the new year that will help you further your process and development as a writer—plus really plump out your portfolio with new work. From “Getting Started: Craft, Creativity and Process for the Beginning Writer” for the emerging writer to “Big Finish” for the novelist who is almost there, we have what you need to make your writing happen.
Happy New Year!