If you’ve ever tried to be a writer, at some point you will no doubt have come across the sagely advice that to become a good writer, you must write every single day. There is certainly truth to this: writing is a skill, and like any skill, the more you do it, the better you will become. However, unless you live in total isolation and are completely self-sufficient, how can you possibly write every day? Surely, this is an unachievable ideal; a brass ring to reach for that forever remains beyond you grasp. Who but an already well-established professional author has the freedom to be able to write every day?
I have to admit, that’s how I used to think. I thought being able to write every day was a fantasy, a dream, a form of motivation, at best, but not something that could actually be achieved. Not with the demands of my life. For me, finding time to write was a luxury, and one that I seldom had opportunity to indulge in. I wrote when I could, and those times could be few and far between. Writing every day was an impossibility at best, and I dismissed those who claimed to write every day as either being in unique positions in their life where they had minimal other commitments, or engaged in spreading falsehoods.
Then, through my muse, I found reason to try it for myself. Without even realising the significance of what I was doing, I wrote every day. Just a little bit, more often than not, but consistently, every day, for about three weeks. By the end of it I had about 14,000 words on-screen. The most I’ve ever written for a single piece.
It was, in many ways, a revelation. There was no denying it. No way to rationalise my past ‘inability’ to be able to do it. I’d just written every day and produced my largest piece of work to date. Not only that; I’d done it with relative ease. How? Well, when I thought about I found four key things that made this possible for me:
1. Give Yourself a Big Purpose
You would think that wanting to write a novel, or even a short story, would be purpose enough. My motivation to write, apart from the enjoyment I get from the process itself, is to be read. I want people to read and enjoy my writing. That is a great purpose, however, until now it obviously hasn’t been enough to spur me into writing on a daily basis. Perhaps because the desire to write competed with my belief I could not do it every day? Who knows?
When I undertook the task of writing every day, the ‘every day’ part was not my main motivation, at least not directly. My main motivation was to try to help someone, to try to give them something to look forward at a time when they really needed it. My purpose was bigger than story writing – it was about creating something positive in someone’s life, and that was big enough to drive me beyond my self-imposed limitations.
Your purpose does not need to be as profound as mine. However, it needs to be big enough that it will not just motivate, but drive you towards your goals. It needs to be important enough to become a high priority for you. Writing a short story or novel might be all the purpose you need. If not, you might need a bigger purpose. Perhaps you want to make a loved one proud, or be an example to your children, or maybe what you’ve got to share is time critical – it needs to be out there right now.You don’t need to become obsessive about it – it just needs to be desirable enough that you find yourself not just wanting, but needing, to pursue it.
2. Set Realistic Goals
On reflection, I think one of the things that has subconsciously demotivated my desire to write every day is seeing other writers boast about being able to write two-, three-, even four-thousand or more words a day. On my best day it still takes me a considerable amount of time to be able to get to those sorts of levels. And at this stage of my life, there’s no way that can be achieved on a daily basis.
What I realised, though, is that there’s no rule that says to write every day you must meet a minimum word count. You could write a hundred words a day – say, a medium to large paragraph – and in three to six weeks you’ll have a decent length short story. When you are writing regularly, how much you write in a sitting becomes irrelevant. What matters is that you are writing regularly – that is what will get you from start to finish.
Having said that, having some sort of goal is a great motivator, and ensures you will make a minimum amount of progress with each sitting. The key is to make your goal realistic, and achievable – you should be able to hit your goal every time. For example, for my last piece of writing, I set myself a goal of a minimum of 421 words every time I sat down to write. I chose this number for two reasons: first, because on a personal level it has significance to me, and second, because I knew that I could hit this number every time I sat down to write. In practice, I often wrote more than that, sometimes significantly more, which was great. But as long as I wrote at least 421 words, I was satisfied that I’d achieved my goal for that sitting.
And therein lies the reason for setting a realistic and achievable goal: success. Success can be its own motivation. The more you succeed at achieving your goal, the more you will be motivated to achieve them again and again. Had I set my goal at, say, a thousand words, I would have struggled to achieve this, and the times I didn’t would have been demoralising, which is highly counter-productive. Having a realistic goal ensured positive feedback and continuous motivation to keep achieving.
3, Don’t Commit to Writing Every Day
Sounds like I just contradicted myself, doesn’t it? How can you possibly write every day if you don’t commit to writing every day? Believe me, it does work, and it follows the above tip on setting realistic goals.
When I set out to write regularly, I knew it was pointless trying to commit to writing every day. I knew that because, inevitably, something would likely come up that would prevent me from writing every single day. So instead of committing to writing every day, I committed to planning to write every day, with the caveat that if for whatever reason I could not, that was okay. It was not the end of the world – I could just pick it up again when the next opportunity presented itself.
In committing to a plan to write every day, but allowing for the possibility that I may not be able to, and the flexibility to work around that, I removed the pressure that trying to meet a commitment to write every day would have imposed. I removed the guilt and the sense of defeat associated with not being able to meet a commitment of writing every day. I removed the sense of urgency and frustration that goes with trying to find the time to write everyday. As a result, a strange thing happened: I wrote every day.
This is where the irony comes in. By having the desire, but not the commitment, to write every day, I actually found more opportunities – or perhaps, created more opportunities would be more accurate – to write on a daily basis. In this plan, I could only succeed. If I managed to write every day, that was fantastic. If not, that was just fine as well. There was no down side, and I believe because of that, because the whole process was positive, it motivated me at a higher level, consistently, than I have previously achieved. Writing became something I wanted to do, rather than something I had to do, and for me, that is a critical distinction.
4. Share Your Progress
In my experience, success is much more rewarding when you can share it with others. The support and inspiration that comes with shared success can boost your motivation and drive significantly, particularly when it comes from those whose opinions or approval mean something to you. I was fortunate enough to have almost daily feedback on my successes, and every time I did it fired me up and made me want to achieve even more. It has since inspired me to seek out feedback for larger projects. For example, I have introduced a meter to indicate my progress towards writing my first novel on my writing website, as a means of showing fans and followers my progress, and seeking their support and encouragement. If you’re achieving your goals, you have every reason to celebrate that, and sharing that experience with others will help give your motivation a huge boost.
This is what worked for me. What’s worked for you? What ways have you found to help you work towards your writing goals? Still looking for some? Try my tips and let all of us know how the helped you. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.