There’s a lot of writing advice out there and some of it is amazing and some of it is bad, but the one piece that I’d like every single one of my writers to remember is this:
If you want to be a writer, you have to actually write.
You have to put pen to the page.
You have to put fingertips to the keyboard.
You have to put voice to the voicerecorder.
Joe Frassler has a great blog post on lithub that feeds towards his book where he talked to 150 authors about writing. And the very first tip/advice he has is this.
It starts with a simple fact: If you’re not making the time to write, no other advice can help you. Which is probably why so many of the writers I talk to seem preoccupied with time-management. “You probably have time to be a halfway decent parent and one other thing,” David Mitchell, the author of Cloud Atlas, told me. That can mean mustering the grit to let other responsibilities languish. As he put it in short: “Neglect everything else.”
Many authors need to put blinders on, finding ways to simplify their experience and reduce the number of potential distractions. That might mean consistently keeping a single two-hour window sacred, as Victor Lavalle does, morning time he safeguards against the demands of parenting and full-time teaching. For others, it means finding ways to ward off digital derailment. Mitchell does this by setting his homepage as the most boring thing he can think of: the Apple website.
Ultimately, the literary exercise is about finding ways to defend something fragile—the quiet mood in which the imagination flourishes. As Jonathan Franzen put it: “I need to make sure I still have a private self. Because the private self is where my writing comes from.”Frassler “I Talked to 150 Writers and Here’s the Best Advice They Had”
You don’t say you’re a doctor if you don’t practice medicine (or did at one point). The same thing goes for a lawyer or a guitarist.
For most of us, skill takes practice. Practice means that you have to devote a block of your time to doing the thing that you love. That might be writing. It might be art. It might be hiking. It might be baking.
And that means choice.
You have to actively choose to spend time writing or cooking or being a manatee groomer. Whatever it is, you have to choose to spend your time doing that rather than something else.
I often tell people that who they are and who their character is in their story isn’t defined by internal thought really. It’s defined by choices and action.
If you want to be a writer, you have to choose to write.
You have to make that choice over and over again. And you might have to neglect other things like David Mitchell said. That doesn’t mean that by neglecting other things you get to be a butt face, but it does mean that you have to make that choice.
HOW DO YOU MAKE TIME TO WRITE?
- Allow yourself to write sucky first drafts. Don’t let your desire to be perfect keep you from writing your story. People ask me all the time how I can write so quickly. It’s because I don’t have writing filters. At all. I know that I’ll have tons of errors in my first draft. I even share first drafts on my Patreon so people can see that.
- Look for blocks of time that you can write. You only have ten minutes? That’s okay! You can get a lot done in ten minutes. I used to write in the car when I was waiting to pick my daughter up from school or gymnastics or soccer or rehearsal. I got a lot done that way.
- Try not to distract yourself with email, texts, Twitter, TikTok. Set aside time for that too.
- Look at the very beginning and very end of your day. Can you get up a half hour earlier or go to sleep a half hour later? Or how about lunch? Can you take 15 minutes then?
- Don’t blow it off. When I start running again (every time), I get performance anxiety and try to think of ways to not run. Then I miss a day. When I miss a day, it’s so much harder to run that next day. Writing is like that too. We can get out of the habit so quickly, but if we truly want to be a writer (or a runner), we have to face that page or road and go all Nike ad and “just do it.”
- Do other things more quickly. This is honestly my biggest tip. I wrote my first book (thirteenth published) when I was a newspaper editor, coach, shuttling my super overachieving daughter everywhere. It was because I did everything else as quickly as I could. Washing dishes. Making dinner. Cleaning. Writing news stories. Taking photos. Uploading things. It was all about making the time to write that story. It all adds up. You can do this.
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