Creating a Consistent & Meaningful Writing Life
Several months ago I began meditating as a way of trying to achieve a greater sense of overall vitality. I started out by listening to a 10 minute podcast from a program called Headspace, on my iPhone. Initially, it was challenging to carve out 10 minutes in my day for this purpose so I was meditating before bedtime, which meant I’d often fall asleep during the meditation. I rescheduled my meditation for earlier in the day and began to have more energy and found a greater sense of calm.
Every day I listen to a 20 minute podcast, which helps me reset my body and my mind. The podcasts are narrated by a clinical meditation consultant, Andy Puddicombe. I recently came across an article by Puddicombe entitled “Top 10 Tips for Establishing a Daily Meditation Practice.” I found the list to have many parallels to establishing a daily writing routine. Therefore, here’s my top ten list, which closely follows the ten headings in Puddicombe’s article, for tips about creating a writing life that is both consistent and meaningful.
1. Write first thing in the morning if you can.
Writing in the morning is a great way start the day. Don Murray said “Most writers write in the early morning before the world intrudes. They harvest the product of their subconscious.” Before I had a child, I found early mornings were the ideal time to write in my notebook. Refreshed from a good night’s sleep, I was able to write without distractions. No one e-mailed me at 5:45 a.m., nor did the telephone ring. I was able to just write.
2. If you choose to do it another time of day, prioritize it.
Now that I have a child, the early mornings are a race to get things done before she wakes up. Therefore, I write after I put her to sleep at night. When I changed the time of day I wrote, I initially had to schedule it. I treated the words “writing time” in my calendar like a medical appointment. Treating writing in this way meant I honored the time I set aside to do write.
Teacher Corbett Harrison has something called “Sacred Writing Time” for his students, which is designed to build their confidence, fluency, and provide them time for original thinking. Regardless of when you choose to write, make sure that time is sacred: free of interruptions and distractions.
3. Think “same time, same place.”
This simple motto, “same time, same place,” means you should create an environment that is conducive to writing. Whether you choose to write outdoors, in a café, on your couch, or at your desk, do it in the same location and at the same time of day, day after day, so it becomes a habit.
4. Some people find it useful to “attach” their writing to another daily activity to strengthen the habit.
When I wrote each morning, I used to get up, read The New York Times online, and then write. Now that my routine is different, I think “Put Isabelle to sleep, then write.” This helps me create a routine that leads from one activity into the next.
5. Be flexible, no matter what.
There will be days that don’t go as planned. Let’s say you initially set aside 10 minutes to write, which by the way is less than 1% of your day. Perhaps you get into a groove and you start writing 20 minutes a day. If there comes a day you cannot write for 20 minutes, don’t allow that to be a reason to skip a day of writing. Instead, write later in the day for a shorter amount of time… even if it’s only for five minutes. Chances are you’ll feel better after having written, even if it’s for a shorter amount of time than you’re used to writing.
6. Avoid judging your writing.
There are many days where I’m tempted to look at a piece of writing and say “this is good” or “this is bad.” I find when I criticize myself and tell myself I wrote badly, it hurts my ego and lessens my desire to write. Instead of judging my writing when it’s less than my best, I think about how I can revisit a given piece of writing to improve upon it in the future.
7. Always reflect on the benefits of writing at the end of the session.
Notice how you feel at the end of writing. Even if it was hard to put words on the page, try to think about what went well. If writing feels cathartic or fun, it will be easier to write habitually.
8. Keep an “excuse book” close at hand.
When it comes time for you to sit and write, if you choose not to do it for any reason, it’s your job to jot down why you are choosing not to write that day. Puddicombe asserts, with regard to meditation, that “when we see the excuse on paper, we realize that we really do have the time and that it really does matter.” Whenever I’m tempted to skip a day of meditation, I become troubled by the idea of having to write an excuse, which makes me take the time to meditate.
9. Write with a buddy or a community.
It helps to have someone else to motivate you to write and to share your writing with. I highly recommend a writing buddy, which is kind of like a workout buddy. Even if you don’t write in the same room together daily, having a friend who is also a writer, who you can talk with about writing, will keep both of you committed to writing daily.
You might wish to become part of a writing group. Perhaps you and a few other like-minded colleagues could gather to share your writing weekly.
Furthermore, if you haven’t already done so, join an online writing community, such as Teachers Write, Poetry Friday, or our own Slice of Life Story Challenge. Each of these online communities will give you the fuel and support you need to write.
10.Be realistic in your expectations.
If you’ve struggled with writing in the past, realize you won’t become Lois Lowry or Walter Dean Myers in a few weeks. Sure, teaching writing might become more enjoyable once you start writing daily, but remember it takes awhile to get really good at something. Take each writing session one day at a time. And remember, as Lucy Calkins says, “It takes a lot of slow to grow.”
How do you make time to write daily?