Here’s some tips to establish the habit of daily writing, and attract all those wonderful inspirational muses to bolster your motivation.
Sticking to a writing routine is similar to making yourself go to the gym. It sucks for a while, and it takes a lot of work to establish the habit, but once you get in the groove, it will be hard not to keep doing it.
I write every single morning. As soon as my eyes open, my thoughts are already dwelling on what I’m going to write about in my journal. Journaling, the art of keeping a diary, a log, or whatever you want to call it, is probably the easiest way to establish a writing habit. And if you do it first thing in the morning, you not only get some words in for the day, but you can dump any of yesterday’s residual garbage. Also works well before bed, to help you sleep.
I used to wake up some days with stressful thoughts bouncing around my brain. There’s a funny thing that happens when you start a journal. You can download all of those potentially distracting thoughts to a notebook, and immediately, they don’t seem to have the same crippling grip on your mind, which frees you up to think about other stuff, like how you want the next part of your story to go.
I can’t recommend journaling enough. Think of it as writing practice. Even if you don’t have anything to write about, you can scribble in your notebook or diary for a few minutes. I also get in some calligraphy practice with mine, as I scroll my headline everyday in copperplate with my Noodler’s Ahab ink pen. My journal is a humble Foray leather cover I picked up at walmart, filled with eco-something refills from the office store. If you know of any cheap but decent refill packs, let me know in a comment. The office store journal refills cost as much as a new journal.
Pick a Daily Writing Time
This is a technique used by many authors and writers. Set aside a half-hour to an hour every morning and make that your sacred scribble time. Some people insist that they cannot write well early in the morning, but while reviewing the habits of many famous writers, morning writing time seems to be a consistent theme.
If the morning doesn’t work, it’s still important to reserve some time every day to write. And when you get to that time, spend as much of it as possible actually writing. Think about what you want to write the night before, while you are journaling, or through the day before the scheduled time. Even if you don’t have anything to write about, write anyway.
Add a couple lines to your novel project, even if they suck. If you are really stuck then you can open a new document and free-write for a while. Write another story that might be happening in your novel, or just jot down something silly.
Stuck? I don’t give a shit. Writing anyway is how you un-stick.
How does that work?
It works because by putting words down, you are scaring away the writer’s block monster, so that the muses can fly in. Muses are a reward for toughing it out. They don’t fly around randomly sprinkling motivation on people indiscriminately. Muses don’t come from luck. They come from forcing yourself to write when you don’t feel like you can.
Ever notice that the first paragraph is always the hardest? That’s because until you actually start putting words down, your brain is hanging up on scattered thoughts. It’s clouding itself up with a bunch of nonsense that you don’t need to be worried about. Just write.
Move the Story Forward
I talk about this a lot, but I want to give you an example as a treat for showing up today. I’ll pull an idea from my horror book, somewhere in the middle, my character was at a loss. He was frustrated, tired, and afraid to go to sleep. I knew that I had to get him to the next plot point, but I wasn’t sure how. Did I sit there in front of the computer until an idea came to me? Hell no. I had a story to write.
So this is what I did. I followed the main character. I started writing a bunch of prose (which was deleted in a follow-up edit) about his feelings. Every thought he was having. He was pretty obsessed with being unmotivated, but I couldn’t stop adding to the story. He loafed around the apartment until both of us got bored, then went down to the local café.
I followed him, painting the annoying misty rain that dampened his clothes without actually soaking him. I elaborated on the water pooling up on the sidewalks. A flash of headlights from a passing car. A random conversation happening on the patio, and when he got inside, a new character glaring at him from behind a laptop.
Boom. I had it. Scott started poking about his internal dialogue about who this asshole was that was staring him down. He grabbed his “tall cap” and took a seat, behind a wobbly table. I learned something cool about Scott, too: that he was so used to the coffee shop, he had a trick for steadying the tables up.
As for that asshole across the room from him, that went from being a fleeting idea to get my words flowing, into a full-fledged, fleshed out, minor character. The jerk in the coffee shop was just what Scott needed to quit being a wimp and do something about his situation, and he was ready to move on to the next plot point.
Sometimes, I’ll even write myself into the story, and I’ll personally chat it up with the MC in prose, just to feel out what they are doing, and how I can get them moving toward where they need to be.
“What the hell is your problem?” asked Marty.
“I’m tired, I’m broke, and this thing’s trying to kill me,” said Scott.
“That sucks. Why don’t you get out of town for a while?”
“I can’t, because… [here’s where you’ll find the good stuff]”
And Then the Muses Show Up
Once I get a couple of paragraphs in, doesn’t matter what I’m writing, they start to flow, and I’m reminded of a famous quote by Paul Graham:
Writing doesn’t just communicate ideas; it generates them.
When you start writing, the muses become alerted to your presence, and they drop by to see what you are working on. Then they smile and give you kisses. If you wait for inspiration, then they don’t have anything to cue their interest. The same goes for an artist staring at a block of clay or a blank canvas. It goes for a musician holding the guitar instead of strumming. It goes for a poet who is struggling to find a good title. It goes for you, when you are thinking about generating something perfect instead of creating something imperfect to refine later.
Stop trying to find the perfect words, and just write some words. When words are flowing, so are ideas, and the more words you write, the more ideas you will generate. And if you need an added kick in the butt, check out my new e-book. It releases at the end of the month. Grab a copy today.