When you love writing more than anything else, it’s all you think about. Or, at least, that’s how my brain works. From the moment I wake up in the morning to the moment I fall asleep at night, I’m either writing (which I’m lucky enough to do for a living in a marketing capacity) or stirring a rich stew of story ideas, sometimes at a simmer and others at a vigorous boil.
In short, writing is part of my DNA.
But, even though I’d be writing for the majority of my seven-hour workdays, I wasn’t able to get my hands on the keys outside of that commitment and make meaningful progress on my side projects. I’d turn ideas for characters or scenes or even entire plots over and over in my head, only to squirt out an insignificant amount of prose into one of my many in-progress documents. I began to get frustrated to the point that I considered myself a failure.
Why wasn’t I able to sit down and write the novel, screenplay, blog post, or another piece that’d been percolating for an eternity?
And why, at a time when I and everyone else was strongly discouraged, if not outright banned, from seeing each other in public, was I unable to get these ideas out of my system? Lack of social interactions with friends and family aside (which I did and still do miss dearly), this much is true: The amount of time I could’ve devoted to writing was substantial.
So, this year, I promised myself I’d change all that and, if nothing else, hold myself accountable by writing 300,000 words in 2021 — roughly six times the length of The Great Gatsby.
To make things even more interesting, I decided the total wouldn’t include anything written or edited as part of my day job. It’s a word count that’s reserved for personal projects or freelance contract work only and, in essence, a direct reflection of how serious I was about pursuing the craft I hold in such high esteem and, ultimately, becoming a better writer long-term.
Well, after one month (and, yes, I know it’s early), but the result are encouraging. I’m on track to meet my quarterly goal of 75,000 words, all without staying up until (or, even worse, waking up at) four in the morning. I’ve even taken a handful of days off during those first 31 days and, for the first time in a while, I’m happy with my writing output.
The best part? It’s all due to one simple habit that, with practice, any writer can adopt and improve their skill set almost overnight.
The secret can be summed up in one word: consistency.
It’s the easiest piece of advice to give and the hardest one to put into practice, but it really is true what they say — you must write every single day.
Now, if you just read those last two sentences and felt yourself getting defensive, saying to yourself (or to me) that there’s no way in hell you can make that kind of commitment, I can confirm that mentality is exactly what’s holding you back. For every hour or two-hour stretch I carve out to write now, I consider how easily I could’ve pulled that off before this year. I just didn’t. It was a choice and, even though it’s tough to come to grips with, every time I didn’t write, I chose to let myself down. Simple as that.
Everyone has a unique set of responsibilities and obligations and phone calls they have to make and social media feeds to scroll through. I get it. Life is busy and, for a lot of people, it’s never been more stressful than it is right now. That said, as I’ve done with writing, it’s crucial to make the time for the things you love to do in life. And, when you break it down and look purely at the numbers, there’s always at least a little of bit of time you can devote to whatever you’re passionate about.
It doesn’t take much either. Some days, thirty minutes is all I need to reach my daily word count goal and then I go on my merry way, usually to the fridge to see what snack options are available. Other days, it can take anywhere between one hour and an entire afternoon. The process of writing, which amounts to sculpting compelling stories steeped in palpable imagery out of thin air, isn’t easy.
With that in mind, I can also safely say that there is no perfect science, except the part about sitting in the chair and typing in (mostly) coherent sentences. That’s the only ammunition you need to become a better writer.
To paraphrase the well-known Wayne Gretzky Michael Scott quote: You miss 100 percent of the writing opportunities you don’t take.
I’m not foolish enough to claim that anything I’ve written in this first month of a year-long commitment is any good. In fact, there’s a strong likelihood that I’ll open up a half-baked blog post or read the first few chapters of a book that will never published back to myself and cringe. It won’t have aged well, but that’s the point. If my writing from six months ago or six years wasn’t awful compared to what I’m able to do now, I’d retch all over this keyboard and be forced to bring a puke-stained MacBook to the Genius Bar.
Good luck explaining that one, especially if you didn’t shell out for Apple Care.
In the end, I wouldn’t dream of giving anyone more specific writing advice, mostly because there are far better scribes out there who can impart much better wisdom on the masses than I can. However, if you or anyone you know is having trouble getting started or putting one foot in front of the other, I’m telling you it’s possible.
Actually, it’s more than possible — it’s the best feeling in the world when you, as a writer, can look back at your calendar and know that you made the time to do what you love.