How to Start (and Finish) Any Writing Project
I have a friend who frequently tells me she wants to run with me. I respond by rhyming off the days and times I'm available that week or the next. Yet when I do this she says she's busy at the times I suggest, though doesn't suggest other times that might be better for her. The conversation usually ends there, until the next time she tells me she wants to run with me.
There are people out there who talk about writing in exactly the same way. As though it's a nice-to-have, such as a new sofa, or a trip to Morocco, all-expenses-paid.
Well, yes that would be really nice, but if you really want to write, you can't treat it as a thing out there. As a nice-to-have. You need to bring it closer to home. Make it practical and concrete like dressing in the morning or brushing your teeth. Have you ever gone more than a day (unless you were stranded in the woods or sick as a dog in bed with the flu) without doing these two things? I didn't think so.
I was one of those people who talked and thought a lot about writing for many years. Even though I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was seven years old, it took me until I was almost 30 before I took myself seriously enough to finish something. Oh, I'd scribble pages of teen and 20-something angst. And I'd dress the part, a Gauloise casually balanced between my lips. Though I wasn't really a writer back then, I'd say I was more of a dabbler.
And that friend of mine who says she wants to run with me but then we never do, is much like my younger self who, by the way, still visits me ever so often. In my mind, of course. The difference is that now I've go my, er, her number!
Here are 7 habits that have helped me to start, stick to, and finish writing projects
1) Eliminate shoulds, coulds, and musts from your vocabulary. Replace these with WILLs, CANs and DOs. It's amazing how the language we use can discourage us from actually doing what we--in our heart of hearts--really want to do. If you hear yourself saying these first words, don't worry about it. Gradually you'll begin to shift your vocabulary as you become more aware you're doing it. Be patient as this takes time.
2) Show up. Woody Allen said 80 per cent of life is showing up and Steven Pressfield wrote in The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles, “The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.” Even when I feel tired, uncreative and just plain frustrated by life in general, when I sit down and begin to write, the fog usually clears and I see things in a different light.
3) Daydream. There's lots of talk about mindfulness and being present, although a recent article about constructive daydreaming or getting lost in your thoughts shows that these times of supposed zoning out can actually be opportunities for rehearsing future planning. I know that when I'm working on a writing project and take time to gaze out the window or walk to the corner store, I usually come up with more fodder for my writing, or even a solution to a challenge one of my characters is faced with.
4) Give yourself short- and long-term goals that you try with every cell of your being to meet. I use the SMART goal setting approach which stands for Specific (Writing down exactly what your goal is, who is involved, where it will take place, what is the time frame it will take place in, what are your requirements and why are you doing this.); Measureable (How will you attain the goal, measure your progress to stay on track and reach your targets.); Attainable (When you begin to set writing goals you gradually change your habits and attitudes to achieve these goals, you become more confident and expand your idea of what you thought was possible.); Realistic (Set a goal that you're willing and able to work for. Just because a goal is high doesn't mean it's not realistic. Often when we set high goals we achieve them because we're passionate about the end result); and Time based (If you don't set a time frame for when you want to finish your writing project, then the chances of you achieving your goal are next to none. Set a reasonable target date for when you want to have completed your project.)
5) Set a timer and write. If you're like me then you might take to the pomodoro technique of time management. This technique sharpens your understanding of how much time you're actually spending on writing. The pomodoro is a cooking timer that you can use to time when you write in 25-minute increments. Alternatively you can use the timer on your phone and keep watch of how long you've been working on a specific activity, be it research, writing or editing. Also, this technique will help you to see how much time you spend on Facebook or on checking a recipe website for gluten-free vegan desserts when you're supposed to be writing.
6) Manage your downtime. You can also use the above technique to measure how you're managing your downtime. Are there things you could cut out to make room for writing? For instance, I'm down to 15-20 minutes a day with my social media posts and interactions, whereas a couple years ago I was all over the map, checking my phone, Facebook and Twitter at any time of the day or night. The fact that most of us are going full tilt pretty much all of the time, figuring out what to trim from an already packed schedule may seem impossible. I suggest you start with time wasters such as social media and TV. Then after you can tackle the more tricky activities, such as coffee with a friend. Or negotiating with your spouse who will put the kids to bed.
7) Exercise your neurons. Vigorous daily exercise keeps you clear-headed and not only keeps your neurons firing, but scientists now know that it also helps to grow more new neurons. Taking time to exercise isn't time away from your writing, it's time well spent to better focus on your work and on the goals you set out for yourself. Again, this comes back to time management and setting priorities for yourself, while also letting your family know these things are important to you.
If you're feeling stuck at any point in the process and need some guidance, you can contact me HERE.
Now get thee to a writing desk!