You don’t need a writing habit.
I’m rather new to writing on Medium, but I’ve been coming here for a while now to read about writing. I love reading about how others overcome some of the most basic challenges related to motivation and creativity. It makes the whole thing seem a little bit less impossible.
Having read so much writing advice here, I wanted to toss a token back to this community and share some of my own.
Conventional writing advice argues that a daily writing habit is essential and that if you aren’t able to carve out a slice of time to write every single day, then you will not ever achieve success/gain an audience/get any better at writing. If you have a family or a job or other commitments that take most of your time and energy, then you must either get up early or stay up late in order to write. It doesn’t matter if your writing is any good or whether you feel inspired while you do it; it only matters that you do it. Religiously.
My writing advice is a little different. It has nothing to do with committing yourself to writing a certain number of words per day or any other form of habitual discipline.
I’ve never been able to adhere to the conventional advice. When I was younger, I flat out rejected it. I indignantly insisted that I would not reduce my writing to a mechanical act to be performed on a schedule. I would not pollute the world with exhausted drivel that I wrote for no reason other than the fact that it was 4:00 am and my alarm went off, which meant that it was time to write. The world would certainly not want to see the thoughts I would produce under such circumstances, and I would not want to immortalize them by putting them into words.
Instead, I vowed that I would write only when I had something to say, which to me is the same as “when multiple thoughts occur as full sentences and appear to all be related to the same topic.” Unfortunately, that’s not something that I can block off on the calendar or pencil into my daily schedule. It happens unpredictably and usually inconveniently. If there is any discipline to be found in my approach to writing, it is only a dogged devotion to attending to those moments when they arise, even if it means I have to interrupt something else for a little while. Right now, for example, I am totally ignoring my 4-year-old daughter, who is diligently feeding applesauce by the spoonful to her stuffed unicorn on the sofa.
Sometimes I experience these moments of clear thought multiple times a day; sometimes I’ll go a few weeks with nothing. Sometimes I squeeze 50 words out of these moments, sometimes a few thousand. I receive them with gratitude every time, even if it means I have to get out of the shower and open my laptop before I’ve rinsed the shampoo out of my hair, or I have to pull over to the side of the road on the way to work and thumb-type notes into my phone. I don’t have a commitment to writing every day at a certain time; instead, I am committed to listening to my own thoughts and promptly taking dictation any time they get interesting.
And so. My writing advice is the following:
Until you have something to say, you will find it very difficult to write. If you are having a hard time writing, go out and live. Expose yourself to as much of the weirdness in the world that you possibly can. It is a fact that the world’s intricacies and nuances vastly exceed your ability to imagine them. You need to see as much of it as possible first-hand. Immersion in the world that exists outside your own head will ease the immense burden on your imagination that any serious writing attempt is sure to create.
Stop bludgeoning yourself for your lack of discipline and your uncertainty about what to write. Stop fretting about writing habits and productivity. Embrace the words when they come, and consider the rest “research.”
That’s it. Go out, look around, and be prepared to pounce on the words when they begin to peek out from the shadows.