A Daily Writing Habit: Do You Need to Write Every Day?

The idea of a daily writing habit prompts frequent discussion in writerly circles. Do you need to write every day to become a good writer? The short answer is no, of course not. Many successful writers do not write every day, for whatever reason. Their day jobs make it impossible, they prefer to write for long blocks of time on the weekend, etc. If writing daily rubs you the wrong way, or simply is not feasible, do not panic. But if you can manage a daily writing habit, I encourage you to try, because writing daily has its advantages.

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What Can Writing Daily Do for You?

  • Creativity is like a muscle; the more you work it, the stronger it becomes. A daily writing habit helps you train your brain. When you sit down at your computer or pick up your notebook on a very regular basis, your brain understands it’s time to create. If you write every day, even just for a little while, you will see a change in how ideas flow. Everyone knows that feeling of being “rusty” from not writing for a while. The opposite is true, as well. Writing daily helps prime the pump and keeps your creative mind nimble.
  • A daily writing habit helps you fight a tendency to procrastinate. If you plan to write three days per week, it is easier to put off that day’s writing. Whereas, if you write every day, you don’t have to decide whether to fit a writing session into your schedule. There is no questioning “Is this a writing day?” because the answer is always yes.
  • Writing daily can also help lessen the pressure of deadlines. It’s no guarantee that you won’t need an all-nighter or two to finish a manuscript, but it certainly makes it less likely than if you’ve been procrastinating for weeks.

No rule of writing says that you must write every day. Even writers who do write daily will take time off here and there. Writers are human beings, and all human beings need to take breaks from their work, no matter how much they love it. Nor is writing daily a cure-all for every writing issue. Everyone faces a block now and then. But if you’re serious about writing, or trying to improve, or looking to build up new habits for the new year, give writing daily a try. Join my December Writing Challenge, or just promise yourself to write every day. You might find that writing daily works for you.

 

December Writing Challenge Kickoff

It’s the December Writing Challenge Kickoff!

Writers, start your engines!

Writing-Challenge-Fireworks

The truth is, this is a low-key challenge. No huge word counts or goals for the month. Just write every day. For full rules, you can check yesterday’s post. Today I’m here for the official writing challenge kickoff, and to provide you with a few more tips to keep you writing through December.

Life goes a little crazy in December. Writers who crave quiet can find it difficult to carve out time to work on their current projects. Thoughts turn to lists of gifts to buy and plans to make. Everyone wants your attention, your time, your participation. Your boss needs something done before the holiday break. Your kids want you to take them to see Santa. Hanukkah starts on the early side. Your in-laws plan to visit. Suddenly your sister’s turned vegetarian, throwing a spanner in your holiday dinner menu. And you love it all, because the holidays are a wonderful time of year. But… you also love to write.

Tips for Getting to Your Desk

Make yourself a priority. The key to writing regularly is telling yourself, and everyone else, that writing is just as important as any other vital thing on your to-do list. Commit to your writing, and to yourself.

  • Schedule your writing time on your calendar. Write it in like a doctor’s appointment. Set an alert to remind yourself when your writing window begins.
  • Make writing dates with your local writer friends. Agree to meet and do a writing sprint or two at your local coffee shop. No treats or talk until you’ve put in your half hour minimum for the day.
  • Tell your family what you’re doing. Explain that yes, you still plan to do all the normal holiday activities, but writing can’t take a holiday this year and you need to write every day.
  • Set up a signal to let family know it’s your writing time. Whether that’s a sign on your door, a place you sit that’s “writing only,” or a writing sweater you put on, make it clear. When you’re writing, they need to leave you alone unless there’s a blood-or-fire emergency.
  • Don’t limit yourself to your desk/computer. Grab a pen and a notebook and find somewhere to hide. Dust off a corner of your attic, pick a favorite spot in your local library, go to the café that has no wifi and write your heart out for a while.

Writing should not be something you steal time to do. You do not write at the expense of other things. If it matters to you, it’s earned its own space. Assign it time, and honor that commitment. And remember, all the words count, and it all adds up.

Happy writing! Don’t forget to check out the #DecWritingChallenge tag on Twitter to see who else has joined the challenge and for ongoing cheerleading. Plus, spread the word about today’s writing challenge kickoff! I’ll be back here later today with this week’s Friday Links.

2017 December Writing Challenge

2017-December-Writing-Challenge

The 2017 December Writing Challenge kicks off tomorrow. Every year I issue this challenge to help writers get some words down during what’s arguably the busiest month of the year. Between holidays, family obligations, a slew of events, travel, and year-end expectations at work, many writers find their days completely packed. For those writers finishing a month of intense creativity for NaNoWriMo, taking December off from writing can seem particularly appealing. Hence this challenge.

If January is the month for resolutions, December is the month for distractions. But if you plan to set yourself some writing goals for 2018, you don’t want to lose your writing momentum now. No writing in December makes it hard to ramp up again once the new year starts. So I challenge you to write this coming month. Make yourself, and your writing, a priority.

2017 December Writing Challenge: The Rules

Because December can be crazy, this writing challenge is simple. I challenge you to write every day during the month of December. Unlike with NaNo, you aren’t aiming for a specific word count. Write as much or as little as you wish. But every day over the course of the month, sit down with your notebook or in front of your computer and do the work.

Write whatever you want. Work on your current novel. Get some editing done — including new words, not just deleting them. Try your hand at a new format, such as flash fiction or a personal essay. Focus on one project or have several going. Keep your eyes on an upcoming deadline. This challenge is for you, so you decide what to write.

As a nod to the true insanity of some people’s Decembers, I allow you up to two days off. Aim to write every day, but if you need to skip it once or twice, you have those two free days to use. Maybe you want to take a break for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Perhaps your New Year’s Eve plans require a nap instead of a writing session earlier in the day. Or you need a full day to clean in prep for your relatives coming to visit. Again, your choice.

A Few Tips

  • Even on your busiest days, try to squeeze in a bit of writing. Even 15 minutes will do, though I encourage you to aim for at least 30 minutes.
  • If you’re having a hard time finding sufficient time to write, try breaking it up into two smaller chunks over the day.
  • Do have a backup project or two at hand, so if your writing stalls on one thing, you can still work on something else.
  • Do commit to yourself and to the challenge, but don’t beat yourself up if you end up missing a few days more than planned. The point is to write enough that you don’t lose your momentum. Aim for every day, but regardless, just do your best.

I’ll be back tomorrow and periodically throughout the month with more tips and pep talks for inspiration. Also, keep an eye out on Twitter (@NepheleTempest) for additional cheering throughout the month under the #DecWritingChallenge tag. The 2017 December Writing Challenge starts tomorrow, so I hope you’ll be joining in. Happy writing!

The Return to Slow, Steady Writing: A NaNo Wrap Up

After NaNoWriMo, it can be difficult to remember that slow, steady writing should be the norm. NaNo provides participants with a fun month of frantic output, a crazy goal that might seem less crazy by month’s end. But most people cannot sustain that writing pace. Even a full-time writer, with an output goal of 2,000 words per day, won’t generally keep that up every day, month after month. Writers need to take days off. If they maintain a daily writing habit, they still build in a “day of rest” or breaks between projects. Everyone finds themselves working overtime to hit a deadline on occasion, but it’s important to limit those situations.

If you’ve been participating in NaNoWriMo, you might be nearing the finish line: 50,000 words. Or, you may not. Plenty of writers fail to hit that goal, but still find they’ve achieved a lot of words in a month. Other writers never intended to hit 50k, but used NaNo to motivate their work. However you approached the challenge, the key takeaway now that the end is near should be that words add up. Whether you write for an hour a day or five, the words you craft in that time build, day in, day out. There will be days you only write a little bit, days you rewrite and end up with fewer words than when you began. But over time, words add up. Writers write, words add up, and yes, you can do this.

slow-steady-writing

Many of you already know how this works. A good number of you even follow the idea up with action. Plenty of people refuse to join NaNoWriMo each year because they have no wish to push themselves to write fast. They prefer to show up every day and put their words on paper or pixel, until they get where they’re going. But whatever your feelings about NaNo, there is a great deal to be said for the momentum it helps develop. While the challenge emphasizes output, it encourages work ethic.

In a few days, I’ll kick off my annual December Writing Challenge here on the blog. I’ll post the complete details later in the week, but the basic thrust of the challenge is to write every day in December. Keep going with that NaNo novel. Start a short story. Work on your next contracted project. Play around with a few different things. You don’t have to write for a set time, although at least 30 minutes a day makes a great goal. There’s no minimum word count involved, just slow, steady writing. So as you wind up your NaNo projects, or just continue your typical writing routine, mark your calendars for Friday. You’re going to write your way steadily into the new year.

Friday Links: Holiday Writing Inspiration

Everyone can use some holiday writing inspiration, and this marks the start of my annual pep talks for the season. We’re heading into Thanksgiving here in the U.S., and from there it’s one occasion after another until New Year’s. I run a December Writing Challenge each year, but I encourage you to schedule your writing all through the holidays.

Check out this week’s links for industry information, ideas on characterization, and ways to drum up that holiday writing inspiration. And keep an eye on this space for more writing challenge information coming soon. Enjoy, and happy writing!

This Week’s Links:

It Is Okay to Change Paths. – Bestselling author Tess Gerritsen talks about changing her career from doctor to writer.

Paper is a wonderful technology. – Austin Kleon shares how an exhibit at the Ransom Center inspired him to embrace his paper notebook.

Ilana Masad on the Shrinking of the Industry, Literary Social Media, and Hidden Criticism. – The writer and podcast host discusses how social media has changed literary criticism, and other shifts in the industry from a reviewer’s point of view.

50 Noteable Works of Fiction in 2017. – The Washington Post weighs in on some of the best titles of the year.

Inside the Dystopian Visions of Margaret Atwood and Louise Erdrich. – At a time when Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale serves as a sort of feminist dystopian bible, Erdrich adds her own take on the idea of reproductive slavery.

Marvel’s Black Panther Rules. Literally. – A wonderful interview with actor Chadwick Boseman, with excellent thoughts regarding how characters build from the setting and politics of a fictional nation in this installment in the MCU.

Tor.com Reviewers’ Choice: The Best Books of 2017. – Another best-of list, with some great titles for your own TBR or gift-buying lists.

A Night at the National Book Awards. – A look into what may by the shiniest event in the U.S. publishing world.

 

Friday Links: Weekend Writing Inspiration

Are you looking for weekend writing inspiration? The end of the year brings so many challenges for writers. Holidays loom, making you plan and shop and rush to finish projects by December 31st. But you still have that writing project that calls to you. Maybe you’re participating in NaNoWriMo or up against a deadline. Or you simply started a new novel and you’re twitching to work on it. Set aside some time this weekend to write. Fight the start of the holiday chaos, and remember to make your writing a priority. I hope the links below will help give you a bit of a kick in the right direction.

This Week’s Links:

Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. – Strapped for time? Try to write a super short story and enter this Writer’s Digest contest. Or look through finished or drafted projects to see what might work.

13 Tips for Actually Getting Some Writing Accomplished. – Author Gretchen Rubin offers some great tips for pushing past your busy calendar and getting words on paper.

Austin Kleon: Pencil vs Computer. – The writer and artist discusses his own process and how different mediums set the mood for stages of his work.

How YA Literature Is Leading the Queer, Disabled Media Revolution. – Looking for ways to be inclusive in your work? Get your weekend writing inspiration from some of these fabulous YA titles.

10 Novels Agents Have Already Seen a Billion Times. – You might want to steer clear of these ideas, or if you have to write one of them, find a great way to turn them on their ear.

Cove Park Literature Residencies: Applications Close 11 December. – Shake up your writing by finding a new place to work, and apply for a writing residency.

Interview with Janet Fitch. – The author discusses research, writing process, and her latest book, The Revolution of Marina M.

Ready, Set, Write: Turning Off Your Internal Editor

Ready, set, write. It sounds incredibly easy to do. You sit down at your keyboard or a notebook, and get to work. But most writers hear the nagging voice of their internal editor from the first sentence. That voice says you’ve started at the wrong spot. Or it insists your opening sentence is boring. Maybe you should start with a different scene. Are you sure that’s the correct point of view? Your internal editor pokes and whines and insinuates as you write, growing louder with every paragraph. It makes you doubt yourself, and slows your progress.

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Silencing Your Internal Editor

Writers everywhere have their own methods for silencing the nagging voice in their heads. The one that tells them they’re doing it all wrong. Here are a few things to keep in mind when working on your first draft. Post your favorites over your desk or tape them to the edge of your monitor. Maybe create a mantra or two.

  • It’s just a shitty first draft. No one writes a beautiful or perfect first draft. It’s supposed to be a brain dump. Plenty of time to make it pretty when you start to revise.
  • I’m figuring out who the characters are. First drafts help you flesh out your protagonist and the rest of your cast. Get to know them, determine what they want, and how they’re likely to behave while getting it.
  • Only reread the previous day’s output. When you sit down to write, don’t allow yourself to read anything older than what you wrote in your previous session. Out of sight, out of mind. And again, you have plenty of time to revise once you’re done with draft #1.
  • I don’t have to know everything yet. First drafts are for fleshing out the plot just as much as the characters. If you don’t know what happens next, skip ahead to where you do have an idea. Put brackets and come back later to fill in the details.
  • Everything is relative. Remember that the things you write start to build on each other. You may reach a juncture at page 50 or 150 or 250 that gives you wonderful ideas for shoring up earlier scenes. Sometimes you need to build the castle before the foundation.
  • You cannot edit a blank page. There’s no point in trying to perfect what you haven’t written. Write first, edit later. By this I mean the entire book. Editing a single sentence in a void is almost as bad as trying to write one perfect sentence from the start.

If your internal editor becomes particularly persistent, try some other ways of distracting yourself. Put on instrumental music to fill your head with some other sound. Scroll down the page so your screen is blank (or turn to the next page in your notebook), then take a short break to walk around; when you come back, start writing without looking at what you’d been picking over before you left. Change the font color of the last section to white so it’s invisible, then keep writing. Go for a run or hit the gym to get your blood flowing — you’ll feel more creatively inspired.

Every writer must face their internal editor, but only you can determine how much power you’ll give to your nagging voice. Whether you’re piling up words for NaNoWriMo or fighting to meet a contract deadline, there will be days when reaching your writing goal feels impossible. Remember that the internal editor is you — you at your most critical and insecure. Remind yourself that you are not alone in your efforts, and the only way to reach the end is to keep pushing through. Good luck, and happy writing.

Prepare for NaNoWriMo: Get Ready to Write

With just two weeks left in October, it’s time to prepare for NaNoWriMo, otherwise knows as National Novel Writing Month. Every November, thousands and thousands of writers around the world attempt to write a novel in 30 days. No prize awaits them. There’s no guarantee of publication. But writers still churn out hundreds of words each day, hoping to hit the goal of 50,000 by November 30th.

Why do people challenge themselves to write so much in a short period? Some do it for fun. NaNoWriMo has become something of a party over the years. Writers gather with other local participants to write in coffee shops or bookstores. Online forums provide a way to reach out and chat about your work-in-progress. Others use the energy of the event to force themselves to finish a first draft. Professional writers often join in, working on current projects or starting new ones. Writers with thoughts of publication know that 50,000 runs a bit short for a traditional novel, but NaNoWriMo still offers great motivation to get to work.

prepare for NaNoWriMo

Are you a plotter or pantser?

Plenty of writers just open up a new Word doc on November 1st and start typing at random. It can be entertaining to see where your imagination takes you. But if you prefer to plot, or you want to make sure the words flow daily, it’s a good idea to prep for NaNoWriMo. If you have at least some idea of where you’d like your story to go, it will help you build your word count and avoid facing a nasty bout of writer’s block.

How to Prepare for NaNoWriMo

Technically, you’re not supposed to start writing until November 1st, but you can still put together some notes.

  • Determine your major characters. Figure out who your protagonist is and what they want. Name some people. Give them jobs and relationships.
  • Do you at least have an idea for your book? If you do, dream up a few scenes you’re really looking forward to writing and sketch out a few short notes about them. (Not the scenes themselves, of course. That would be cheating.)
  • Get some research done. If you have to do some leg work or reading about your setting, the time period, characters’ careers, etc., now is the time to do it. Plus all that wonderful detail and vocabulary you dig up will help you increase your word count.

There’s nothing wrong with deciding to use NaNoWriMo as a time to play. But if you plan to use it to work, just a little bit of prep will help you make the most of your experience. And don’t forget: the manuscript you finish on November 30th will be a first draft. So don’t waste time editing while you write. Plenty of time for that later.

Good luck to everyone participating this year!

Friday Links: Finding the Best Way to Frame Your Story

Happy Friday, all! I hope you’ve had a wonderful week with some productive writing time and maybe a good book on your nightstand. Heading into the weekend, I’ve some lovely links for you all, and in particular I’d like you to consider how you frame your stories. I don’t just mean the ones you’re writing, but the ones you tell about yourself, your life, your experiences, your daily frustrations.

While not everyone is a writer, we’re all storytellers, so that’s something to think about when you look at the things that might be getting you down. The story is yours to tell, yours to sell, and that includes what you’re telling yourself. A series of rejection letters can be terribly disheartening, but you can also consider them a countdown to an eventual sale.

Without further ado, here are this week’s Friday Links. Enjoy, and happy writing!

How Writing Let Me Take Control of My Own Story – One writer’s disconnect between her writing and her life.

This Is Going to Be about Heroes – Author Maggie Stiefvater on heroism and finding the right way to tell a story.

When Reading Isn’t Enough: Book-Adjacent Hobbies – For book fanatics who love all the bookish things.

The Book-Lovers Guide to Publishing, Part 1: Publishing Ephemera – The first in a series of publishing-related blog posts from Penguin Books.

So You’ve Decided to Write: The Best Way to Deal with Rejection – Some tips on how to move past ‘No’.

My Own Kind of Beautiful: How Geography Affects the Writing Process – One writer’s take on how travel affects his work and what it means to be ready to write about a place.

$5,000 Grants for Writers and Artists with Children: Applications Open until 31 August – 20 grants are available this year for writers and artists with children, to be used for child care, new equipment, or any other number of things.

Friday Links: The Writing Goals Review Edition

Six months down, six months to go. We’re officially halfway through 2017. Have you checked in with your writing goals lately? As we head into the weekend, it’s the perfect time to set aside an hour or so and review the goals you made earlier this year. Figure out if you’re on track, if you’ve veered way off the path, if some of your goals need to be revised because your aspirations have shifted or circumstances make it necessary.

It’s important to have a plan, to know where you want to go with your career. Yes, there’s always room for new ideas and for spontaneous shifts when great opportunities come up, but overall, you should know what you’re aiming to achieve, and the steps you need to take to do so. So look back and see what you’ve done well, and where you’ve fallen down on the job. More than anything, be honest with yourself; don’t beat yourself up for failures, but also acknowledge when you might have worked harder, said no to a few more nights out when you should have been writing, or allowed a shiny idea to lure you away from a work in progress.

Then look forward. Where do you want to be at the end of December? Do you have smaller goals you can finish by summer’s end? By late September? Before the holidays hit? Stagger your self-imposed deadlines and make sure you have some more managable tasks that you can check off your goal list on the road to your more major accomplishments.

As for this week’s links, I like to think everything I dig up has the potential to help you along your path to goal fulfillment. You knw the steps you need to take: read, write, revise, and educate yourself about the writing business. So on the cusp of this long Independence Day weekend here in the U.S., I wish you all the inspiration and motivation you need to meet your goals head-on. Enjoy, and happy writing!

The American Experience in 737 Novels – This resource feels appropriate as we commemorate the birth of our nation.

22 of Your Favorite Writers on What to Read This Summer – Recommendations from some amazing authors.

Deal or No Deal: Why Being a Literary Agent Doesn’t Make it Easier to Write a Book – Some advice from the other side of the desk.

20 Magical Tattoos for 20 Years of Harry Potter – Some fun body art in honor of the Boy Who Lived’s anniversary.

25 Books for Teens Written by Black Women Writers to Rock Your 2017 – A great list to help round out your TBR pile.

M.L. Rio’s 5 Best Novels Inspired by Shakespeare – So many great books take their cues from classics. Here Rio shares some of her favorites based on the works of the Bard.

How to Keep Writing (Even if You Have a Day Job): 5 Tips from Novelist Jennifer Close – Some useful advice to keep the words flowing.