Though I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, it took years for me to call myself a writer. Insecurity, low productivity, a lack of the “right” publishing opportunities and more kept me from claiming the label. But not calling myself a writer also kept me from feeling secure about my calling, from committing my time and resources to the craft, and from pursuing more publishing opportunities. I found myself in a vicious cycle that all started with that one word: writer.
That’s why when my co-author Ann Kroeker and I first set out to develop a workshop curriculum that later became our book On Being a Writer, we started with a session called Identify. Whether you call yourself one or not, just asking yourself the question “what makes a writer?” is an important step toward a long and satisfying writing life.
Of course there are many other aspects to the writing life that also stand out. Ann and I cover 12 of them in our book, and there are probably dozens more we could have chosen. And it’s just the writing life we are talking about. We didn’t even tackle the nuts and bolts of writing itself.
While all 12 of the writing life habits we cover in On Being a Writer are important, as we begin a new year, I’ll highlight three that especially will help you move toward (or stay) productive and happy.
An important element of the writing life is setting aside time and space in your life to write. For many people this is a two-step process: first, you have to prioritize writing above other activities that normally consume your time. Of course writing often isn’t the most important thing you do, but is it more important to you than your hobbies, your clubs, your television watching, or your internet surfing? In other words, do you really want to write?
Assuming you do, the second step is to analyze your life to discover where writing fits. Physically, what space will you use to write? Do you have a home office? If so, great. Make a plan to clear off space at your desk so you can write. If you don’t have a home office, where will you write? Is there a desk in the living room or your bedroom? Could you load up a basket with your laptop and other writing supplies that can be tucked away when you aren’t using them but easy to grab for some work on the couch or at the dining room table?
Similarly, could you keep a backpack or messenger bag loaded with supplies that you can take with you to work at a coffee shop or other off-site location? That’s part of my arrange strategy. I have a home office where I do a lot of my work, but on days when our teenage sons are home from school or I just need a change of scenery, I grab my preloaded messenger bag and head for the coworking studio where I am a member.
Finding time in your schedule may take similar creativity. Where are chunks of time on your calendar that you can block off for writing? Early before work? Late morning after the kids are at school? Your lunch hour? Evening after the supper dishes are done? Could you spend every Saturday writing? Or maybe two nights a week? With writing as a priority, give yourself permission to jot down your scheduled writing times in pen on your calendar. If someone comes along with a better offer for that time, say no. You are a writer. Writers write.
Another essential aspect of the writing life is surrounding yourself with the people, books, experiences, and more that will inspire you and give life to your writing. If you are interested in writing about a specific topic like parenting or antique cars, then subscribing to magazines or Facebook groups, attending conferences and online webinars, and reading books and blog posts about your topic will help you stay up on trends and hear what others are saying.
Along the way, you might find sources for research or people to interview. If you are writing an historical novel, then watching television shows, visiting museums, and reading other books set in that time period will provide material for your writing.
As well, generally surrounding yourself with music and art and playful activities that you enjoy and that energize you will feed your writing life. You don’t have to be researching “humor writing,” for instance, to enjoy a good stand-up comedy act or read a humorous essay. You might just enjoy a good laugh.
Finally, don’t be afraid to make big plans for your writing life. Of course those big plans should be broken down into little action points so it’s easier to show up at the time and place you’ve set aside for writing and know where to start. Especially if you have only small chunks for writing, a goal to write a book might feel impossible.
You can’t write a book in 30 minutes. You can, however, write a page or a paragraph. You can draft a character sketch, or outline your next article. You can do 30 minutes of online research, and the next day, you can incorporate it into your manuscript.
Planning your writing life might also incorporate some of the non-writing tasks writers do, things like emailing editors or submitting invoices or loading blog posts or connecting with readers on social media. Some of these non-writing tasks could easily consume all the time you’ve set aside for writing. Don’t let them. Determine a realistic ratio of writing-to-non-writing tasks, then divide up your time accordingly. I am still determining my own ratio, but generally, for every three hours I spend writing, I spend one hour doing non-writing tasks.
Whether you call yourself a writer or not, if you want to write, you can. But in order to do so, first you need to prioritize writing and arrange your life to reflect that priority. Next, you need to surround yourself with things that inspire you and help you generate ideas. Finally, plan. But don’t just plan, plan big! Breaking down your giant-sized dreams into action steps that will help you make progress each time you sit down to write.
You are a writer. Now write!
Originally published on the Authenticity Book House blog on January 14, 2016.