I wanted to write a fun little blog post about my own personal “Writing Tips” or “Helpful Writing Hints” or “Ways to Write Well” or something nice like that, detailing some tricks I’ve learned over the years and dissecting my writing routine to share what helps me when I decide it’s time to write. But then I realized I didn’t really have a solid, conscious grasp on my own writing rituals, and so I think I’m going to use this post to really delve into what I do to produce my best work.
And, for an extra sprinkle of fun, I’m going to do it in a listicle format. Why? No idea, I just really like listicles.
1. Find your place.
I’ve always believed that writing is a craft that can be honed and sharpened to perfection. So, like other crafts, you need a designated workstation in which to do it. You wouldn’t build a cedar canoe in your kitchen, would you? (Weird example, but I hope it’s getting the point across.) No. If you wanted to build a canoe, you’d build it in like a woodshop or along a river or something. I don’t know, really. I don’t build canoes.
Point is, you should write where you write best. For me, that’s my living room couch. I’ve gotten into a bad habit of using my desk for everything except writing—emails, social media, Netflix, online shopping, watching end-of-the-year music mash-up YouTube videos—so if I sit down there to write, my short attention span decides to pivot and I end up spending an hour zoning out to the same Vine compilations over and over again. Instead, when I take my laptop out to the living room, curl up on the couch, and open a Word doc, I know it’s time to write.
So find your place! Any place! It doesn’t matter where, as long as you can get stuff done!
1 ½. In your place, be free of distractions.
To go along with this, what I’ve found most helpful is to work in a place where I don’t have access to my phone. Studies have shown that people who work near their phone are less productive than those who were working in a separate room from their phone, even if they weren’t actively using it. It was like an actual study that I read somewhere but I can’t find the link to the article (just Googling “phone productivity study” will turn up a bunch of links about it, though) It is true, though. I do it often, and it works for me. Try it sometime!
2. Set achievable goals and pace yourself.
Goals come in two forms: short-term and long-term. Whenever I’m working on a project, I give myself a due date. Depending on the size, that date can range anywhere from within twenty-four hours to within a couple months. That due date, that end goal, is the long-term goal I set for myself. It’s when I know the project is going to be done.
My short-term goals are whatever I decide for myself within that time span. Maybe after a half hour of working nonstop, I’ll give myself five to ten minutes of snack time or time to scroll through Twitter. Maybe I want to be done with a chapter by the end of the day. Maybe I’ll work for two hours with quick breaks interspersed throughout, and then I’ll watch an episode of Parks and Recreation before getting back to the writing. My attention span is short, so these quick bursts of writing fit my routine well, but they may not for you. Reflect on how you work best and make goals that fit those quirks!
3. Stay hydrated.
I always have a full glass of water with me whenever I’m writing. This isn’t really a writing tip so much as it’s a thing I do for some reason or whatever that probably isn’t as applicable as I think it might be, but it does help my writing! I’ve found that when you drink lots of water, you don’t stay seated for a long time. You have to get up to pee, you have to get up to refill your cup, you have to get up and get your blood pumping and move every once in a while so your brain doesn’t get stale. It works for me. Maybe it’ll work for you.
4. Music is a sometimes thing.
I’ve found that sometimes music helps, and sometimes it doesn’t. When I’m writing, I don’t necessarily like it to be silent, but quiet does help the creative juices flow. (Creative juices? That’s a weird phrase, but definitely one I’m going to keep using.) If I’m sitting in silence and nothing is happening on the page, sometimes I’ll put on some instrumental music—piano, soft electronic, acoustic. It helps me focus and usually isn’t too distracting.
When I’m editing something, however, I don’t mind other music. My mind doesn’t actively have to be creative while editing, so I can listen to the radio, listen to one of my Spotify playlists, listen to songs with lyrics. Some people can listen to this stuff while writing too, and I wish I was one of those people, but it just doesn’t work for me that way. If you find you create your best writing while listening to today’s top hits, I envy you.
5. Computers are convenient, paper is creative.
If I want to start a new story, specifically short stories, I try to start it in a notebook. Personally, I have more notebooks than I will ever truly use, but I do keep one strictly for ideas for new stories. Some ideas are vague and don’t have much going for them (“A story from the point of view of a chicken nugget”) and some may be interesting and worth pursuing as more than just a thought (“Alec Baldwin has a mid-life crisis where he becomes a rock climber and is filled with an unending desire to climb Big Ben”). Regardless, I do a short little story start on paper, not knowing where it will go, and when I think I’ve had enough, I transfer it over to my computer to work out the kinks.
For larger projects, though, I always start on the computer. If I’m creating an entire world for a novel or script or something, it’s easier for me to keep track of it all in its own organized folder than it is throughout the pages of a notebook. There’s also almost always outlining involved, too. Outlining is important.
Where I start a project just depends on the project itself, I guess. I try to follow these little generalizations, but really when an idea hits, it hits, and you’ve got to get it down with whatever you have, wherever you are.
6. Keep it fun.
If you don’t like what you’re writing, why are you writing it? If you’re writing a short story that you don’t think is going anywhere, stop writing and come up with something you like better! If you’re working on a novel and you have no idea what it’s about, take a break and work out all of your story elements (characters, plot, setting, voice, et cetera). If you’re writing a listicle on your own writing routines but you think it’s a little too preachy and boring, add pictures of baby goats to each item even though they have nothing to do with the content whatsoever!
The content doesn’t have to be fun, but the process should be. Writing can sometimes feel like a chore, but it shouldn’t! Writing can be fun, you just have to figure out what works best for you. If something’s not working, make a change. And after really thinking through my own writing routines now, I think that’s exactly what I’m going to do.