How to Adopt the Top Trait of a Successful Writer
Funny how we humans sometimes make assumptions (meaning me!) about how things are based on very little information. Take for instance the allure of the writer. There's this idea that writers lead intensely fascinating lives, when really most of the time they're slogging away at an overheated word processor.
As a young writer I wanted to be like French author Marguerite Duras who wrote The Lover. I thought that if I bought some Gauloises (I actually have no idea what brand of cigarettes she smoked) and wore my hair like she did, then I would be able to write like her. Of course those were just fantasies of a girl who thought she knew what writing was all about.
African-American writer James Baldwin, author of Notes of a Native Son, wrote in longhand on a standard legal pad because (he said), “you achieve shorter declarative sentences.” Japanese writer Haruki Murakami runs every day between writing as he believes that "physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity."
While there are certain quirks that writers possess that are uniquely their own, when it comes down to it, these aren't what make them successful. Having studied the routines of writers over several years, I can tell you that the one thing connecting them is CONSISTENCY.
Take these writers as examples...
Raymond Chandler sat down every single day and concentrated. Even if he ended up not writing a single word, he did this.
Khaled Housseni echoes a similar idea about writing when he says, "To be a writer—this may seem trite, I realize—you have to actually write. You have to write every day, and you have to write whether you feel like it or not."
Short story writer and novelist Nathan Englander recognizes the dangers of being plugged in to maintaining consistency, and cautions writers to do the following: "Turn off your cell phone. Honestly, if you want to get work done, you’ve got to learn to unplug. No texting, no email, no Facebook, no Instagram. Whatever it is you’re doing, it needs to stop while you write. A lot of the time (and this is fully goofy to admit), I’ll write with earplugs in—even if it’s dead silent at home."
Whenever I complain about not having enough time to write, I force myself to wake up a half hour earlier than normal, or check out of social media and write later at night when the house is quiet. Believe me, there are no magic formulas. If there were then I'd be doing them. Being a writer or completing a book project may seem glamorous, yet really it's about showing up regularly.
Remember the story of the Tortoise and the Hare. Well, do you remember who won? That's right: Small, incremental steps forward every day yield greater success than sporadic sprints once in a blue moon.
Here are some things you can do to maintain that consistency:
1) Cut your cable or video game time. I don't have a TV, however I know that when I'm at someone's house who does, I tend to stick by it as a moth to a flame. Not having a TV and also unsubscribing to Netflix has meant more time BINGE writing and less time watching.
2) Learn to say NO. It's amazing how many times we say yes to people and outings because we think we should. When you begin saying no you'll find it liberating and you may not want to stop. Try it! It's actually kind of addictive.
3) Carve out a time each day (preferably at the same time) to write--your memoir, novel, blog, web copy. Put it in your calendar. Do it EVERY DAY. Lock yourself in the bathroom if you have to.
4) Tell others what you're working on. You don't need to tell them exactly what it is if you're not ready to, though the more you mention it, the more real it will seem. Telling others in your peer group is often a great motivator for getting stuff done because you don't want to have to tell them you didn't do what you said you would.
5) Schedule your time with emails and social media. I've done this many times and then fallen off the wagon, only to have gotten back on again. And again. That's because it's hard to form new habits, especially when it concerns something that you can access from anywhere and at anytime. I make a point of not looking at email when I wake up, and instead sitting at my desk to write. With social media I strive to spend no more than 30 minutes per day.
6) Organize writing weekends or retreats with other writers or entrepreneurs. It's a known fact that a supportive community helps you achieve your goals. I just got back from a four-day writing retreat and am super excited about my current project. It really works!
7) Delegate. As much as you may try, you really can't do everything yourself. If you have a little money to spare, hire someone to clean, take your calls, or complete tasks associated with your business that aren't the most exciting for you. Hiring people (or scheduling family members) to attack your to-do list, will free up space in your head for writing and give you more time to devote to writing as well.
8) Move. It's amazing how physical activity can motivate you to write. If I miss my runs then my writing suffers. Engage in a physical activity such as yoga, weight training or Tai Chi and you'll be amazed at how it feeds your creative writing time.
9) Create a work plan. I talked earlier about carving out a set time to write. Well, one step closer to your goal of finishing would be to create a work plan that maps out when you'll work on your project and when you plan to finish.
10) Reward yourself. When I have a particularly good writing week, I pat myself on the back by getting a massage, going for a hike in nature, or going out for dinner with friends. When you work hard and accomplish your goals, it's important to recognize this through some nourishing self-lovin'!