Whether or not you believe in New Year’s resolutions, there’s something about the idea of a fresh year to, well, do things differently and start something new.
Which makes it the perfect time to avoid grandiose statements like “this year I will write my novel” and, instead, concentrate on creating a writing HABIT.
The word “habit” often has negative connotations, but when it comes to getting to The End of a manuscript, it’s the writing equivalent of compound interest – and finance gurus agree that compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe.
To help you, here are our top five tips for creating a writing habit that works. Follow them, and before you know it, you’ll have written that novel – and it might not even take you the whole year.
Even choosing one might be enough to give you the momentum you need.
1. Pull out your diary
Whether you use a paper diary or a digital one, get it out and give it a long hard look. If you want to write a novel this year, you need to make it a priority and that means making time for it in your week. Make regular appointments with yourself, in whatever windows you can find, to sit down and write.
Tip: Don’t go overboard to begin with. You are not going to write three times a day for an hour, or even for one whole day. Trust us on this. Start by blocking out 30 minute windows, much as you would for a haircut or a quick lunch.
2. Write with the time you have
If you don’t start, you simply… don’t. Too many people are waiting for the right time in their lives to fulfil that dream of writing a novel or memoir or bestselling non-fiction book. That moment when an expansive oasis of time will open up and draw us in.
It won’t happen.
The key to building a writing habit – and actually getting the book written – is to use the time you have, not the time you wish you had. So now you’ve put your appointments in place, look for the rest. The gaps in your day. The cracks. Write during your commute, or while you’re watching kid’s sport, or while everyone else is watching Masterchef. This is the time you have.
Tip: When you start to look, you’ll find your writing time – but it may not be in one block. So make sure you can access your Work In Progress (WIP) whenever and wherever you need to. Whether this is by carrying a notebook and pen around with you, or using technology – it could be as basic as a Google Doc on your phone or iPad – making your book accessible will help you to get it written.
3. Give yourself permission to write
This sounds like a no-brainer, but, for many of us, it’s more complicated than we might think. Writing, by its nature, requires a lot of time by yourself, and a book, no matter what type it may be, is by its very nature a lengthy project.
Commit to the process and have the conversations you need to have to make the time. If it means getting up early or staying up late so you don’t feel guilty, factor that in. You’ll do your best writing when you’re not trying to hide it from those closest to you.
Tip: Explaining the obsessive and all-consuming nature of writing to a non-writer is not always easy, and neither is dealing with well-meaning if repetitive “how’s the novel going?” queries. Agree with your loved ones that you’ll offer progress reports at a frequency you’re happy with – accountability, after all, is a great driver of word counts. Outside of that time, cups of tea are always welcome but helpful “tips” are not.
4. Show up – even if the Muse deserts you
The keys to a writing habit are consistency, routine and discipline – not particularly glamorous concepts, but highly effective. Writers write. They show up to move their stories forward even when the writing is slow and painful and they feel like the least creative person in the world.
Showing up means writing 10, 20 or 100 words a day if that’s all you can manage. Ten words a day gives you a paragraph a week. One hundred words a day brings you 36,500 words a year. Every single word counts, but if you don’t show up there’s no progress at all.
Tip: If you’ve lost your story thread or your mojo or you feel as though the Muse has deserted you altogether, start by reading over what you’ve written – it might be that you need to go back a few pages, to the last decision your character made, to go forward. If that doesn’t do it, get to know your character better – have a conversation with them about the weather, or their favourite toy as a child, or take them grocery shopping. Anything that might open up a new story thread to tug. If you have a plan in place, ask yourself whether what you’ve plotted serves the writer or the story best.
5. Don’t start with a blank page
A blinking cursor on a blank page can be the most accusing and off-putting sight in the world. Avoid it by ending before you’re finished – and giving yourself an easy place to begin each day. Rather than pushing on until the creative well is dry, leave a bit in the tank. Write some notes about where you want to go next and then come back and write forward the next day.
Tip: Graham Greene wrote 500 words every day, finishing mid-sentence as soon as he hit that word count. When he came back the following day, he simply picked up from that point on. Give it a try – and if 500 words feels like too many, aim for 200. Writing 200 words a day equals 73,000 words a year and that’s an extremely creditable first draft for any novel.
Lastly, a bonus tip. No matter what day of the year you’re reading this article, today is the best day to begin building your writing habit. Not January 1, not the start of next month, not when the kids are back at school. Start today – you’ll be glad you did.
Allison Tait is the author of nine middle-grade novels, including series The Mapmaker Chronicles, The Ateban Cipher and the Maven & Reeve Mysteries, and stand-alone novel The First Summer of Callie McGee. A presenter at AWC and former co-host of the So You Want To Be A Writer podcast, Al is very glad she didn’t wait for her kids to grow up to begin writing. Find out more about her at allisontait.com.