Over the last few weeks, several of my author friends have posted or shared blogs and articles about writing and productivity (I posted one on Facebook). There are myriad lists of to-dos and not-to-dos, but almost always, the advice boils down to one thing: you must make time for your art.
I’m an author, so I’ll specifically be talking about writing, but you can substitute any creative pursuit for the word “write” from here on out. Whether you draw, paint, sew, crochet, compose, sing, play an instrument, or sculpt tiny cat figures wearing superhero costumes, this advice applies to you. Whatever your art is, you need to carve out time for it in your life.
The most prolific and dedicated authors write every day. It doesn’t have to be a long period, either – there are writers who only write a half hour a day on their lunch breaks. But they do the thing, every day. Another way to think of it is the “butt in the chair” mentality. You’ve got to put your butt in your writing chair every day and type until something worthwhile comes out.
There are very good reasons to write every day. I think of it like exercise. If I take a day off from cardio, the next time I go to run or bike, I feel terrible. Writing is a skill that needs to be practiced, and when you don’t practice, you not only don’t get better, you lose some of the things you once had.
Writing every day also forces you to engage with the excuses we try to give ourselves not to write. So you can’t find a two-hour block every day? Make yourself write in fifteen-minute chunks, and revise on the days when you can manage more time. Most of the things you tell yourself you “need” for writing are not really necessary – including inspiration. Some days, the only muse I have is my own willpower to sit down and write.
Other things you don’t really need in order to write:
- a perfect writing nook/clean desk
- a window/cafe/bar/some other thing to look at
- your preferred soundscape (if background noise distracts you, put on headphones with white noise or your book soundtrack; if you like background noise, there are apps for that!)
- a clean house/all the chores done (Really. I have lots of writer friends who procrastinate by housecleaning).
There are also many things that suck up time you could spend writing. I used to keep up with more than a half-dozen TV shows per season. Now, I only watch two (Agents of SHIELD and Outlander), and I watch those during times when I can’t be writing- usually when I’m on the exercise bike or treadmill, or even in the shower.
I do miss TV. But I’m not willing to compromise my writing time, or my reading (because I think that reading is as important as writing), and I can’t give up being a mom and having to do basic chores like feed my kids. So something had to go.
I manage to stick to “write every day” about 95% of the time. I do take days off, particularly if I’ve just written several thousand words running up to a deadline, as I did yesterday. But I don’t go completely “dark” on my days off. Today is a day off, and I’m here, writing this blog. I also read a book today, which, as I mentioned, is the flip-side of writing. (At some point, I’ll write a blog post about how important reading is to being a good writer). I will also have days where my writing output consists of a five or ten page outline rather than manuscript pages, and I still consider those writing days.
Write Every Day works for me.
There are also authors who can’t keep up an every day schedule, and that’s OK, too. Sometimes personal commitments prevent it, or a writer is legitimately burned-out.
So I’m here to tell you – as long as you’re writing regularly, you are still doing fine. When writing is a habit, it doesn’t matter if you do it Monday, Wednesday and Friday, or you fit your writing into the weekends.
If you are actively creating time for your art, and not making excuses why you can’t do the thing you love, then you’re succeeding. And you’ll know you’re succeeding because it’s going to feel great. It’s also going to be a heck of a lot of work, but when you see what you can accomplish, you’ll know that the things you gave up, and the effort you expended, was entirely worth the result.
I’ll see you in the trenches!