At this time of year, people make resolutions. What about resolutions for your writing life?
Writing Tip for Today: What are some ways to build good writing habits?
Keep ‘Em Separated
The most basic suggestion I give writers is to draft with wild abandon, and later on, edit with precise determination. New writers often get stuck in their writing due to their ideals of excellence. I’ve known student writers who futz over their opening sentence for years, while the rest of the work lies unwritten.
Yes, you want your opening to hook and wow readers. But the way most writers work is to keep the drafting and revising separate. That is, when you create, don’t edit yourself. You’ll get much higher word count on your Work In Progress if you slosh through your entire draft as if it’s NaNoWriMo. Don’t worry that it’s not good enough! The point is to create without any constraints.
After you’ve got a very messy draft (remember, you’ve given yourself permission to write a s***y first draft), let the draft rest for a time. Then, when you start to rewrite, you should feel farther away from it and more objective. This type of editing allows you to “kill your darlings” (passages that you thought were the best things ever written) and correct other flaws with a more critical eye.
Just Show Up
Another way you can improve your writing habits is to resolve to show up to a schedule. Pro writers don’t write when the inspiration hits them. Instead, they cultivate a habit of sitting down to write on a regular basis. Kids, work and life can try to stunt your plans, but if you promise yourself you’ll show up say, for an hour a day or whatever you can spare, you’ll have more writing to show for it.
When you set a schedule, be reasonable. If you have four kids and a day job like I once did, get creative. I used nap time to dash off words on a yellow legal pad, and I got up early on weekends to sneak in more writing before kids awoke. Better to set a schedule you can meet than to set unrealistic goals that you’ll ignore like your exercise bike that serves as a clothes hanger.
A set schedule doesn’t mean you have to ignore inspiration. Reserve a beach cabin or another getaway and write your heart out for days. Take a notepad with you everywhere. But it’s that day on day, week on week Butt in Chair (BIC) that will help you cultivate good habits.
Good writers become perpetual noticers.
Practice and Persistence
Read all the writing books. Workshop with critique partners. You may even decide to hire an editor. All these things will help you build your writing skill set. Yet the best writers always claim the same routine: practice and persistence. You may think an author is an overnight success, but chances are, that writer had to learn and practice, be rejected and practice some more.
Practice can feel brutal—especially if you’re getting rejections or negative feedback. But that BIC and showing up will help you master your craft. As you practice, don’t limit your writing to one novel or other book. Collect ideas for shorter pieces by learning to notice in greater detail. The world around us is full of curious and wondrous things—find topics which interest you and write about them. Good writers are in the habit of perpetual noticing.
Persistence is also a key writing habit. Wherever you stop is all you get. We all get discouraged by rejection or biting feedback. And it’s possible to get tied up by trying to take too many pieces of writing advice. Yet if you keep at it, you have a much better chance of succeeding. Keep drafting and editing separated, resolve to show up with your BIC, practice and don’t give up. These resolutions help writers develop good habits and bring you closer to your writing goals.