Over the last couple years of writing, I have been able to use and experiment with many different tips, habits, and practices that I have found beneficial regarding my creative writing. Not all are mine, they have been the ones refined through my own experience, drawn from the insights and suggestions from others wiser and more experienced than I am. Some of these come from other writers, while some are lessons I learned from college professors, coaches, and mentors. These tips are not meant to be a roadmap for being successful as a writer, as I can only consider myself a novice. This is from a beginner who has found means of consistent and effective writing practices, and perhaps by passing these along I might be another bearer of useful and beneficial advice to others looking to write and create.
- Write What You Know
Start with what you know, especially when first starting your writing. Build on the things you know; your world, your life, your experiences. The things you know are the foundation for your creativity, because those are the things you have experienced. If you can make that the heart of your work, even if it isn’t the focus, then expanding and creating out of that become much easier and much more believable. People relate and recognize when something is real and sincere, it doesn’t have to be wildly fantastical in order to be significant, so find ways to make the ordinary world interesting and captivating.
Even if the thing you want to write about might not have any discernible connection to your life, look harder and continue to break it down into smaller and smaller pieces, and before long I’m sure you will find that thread that connects the two. Whatever that thread might be, take that as the heart of your work, know it intimately, and build from there.
- Write Every Day
In order to properly build a habit, there has to be consistency. Once the allure of a new project fades, when the spark of inspiration ends, the hard part really begins. Maintaining the writing or any sort of progress on the project requires discipline, and I have found that establishing a habit or routine is the best way to do that.
The best way I found to build consistency was to write every single day. With that, I discovered having a specific goal or target was invaluable, as it helped me mark my progress and consistency. Recording my progress was helpful in the routine of doing it and then marking it down. Regardless of whether writing was easy or not on any given day, it always got done. It was also surprisingly rewarding to look back over months of writing to see the progress I had made. Oftentimes small improvements made over time go unnoticed, but being able to take a step back and see both where I started and where I had come, it was a really positive and important shift in perspective that would have otherwise been missed.
The second part of having a daily goal is to make that goal or target attainable. Whether it is to write for a certain amount of time or to hit a certain word count, make it something that is relatively easy to reach, especially if you are writing every day. If you set a goal that you miss more often than you reach, it becomes remarkably discouraging. By making your goal easy to attain, you get more positive feedback that helps reinforce the new habit. Then if you find you are consistently exceeding your goal, you can adjust it further down then road. But beginning with an attainable goal, even a seemingly small or insignificant one, can pay dividends when maintained over time.
When I started I gave myself the goal of writing 300 words a day, and this is something I still maintain when I’m writing. I made this my target because I knew it would be easily reachable, and could be done without needing to dedicate a large amount of time to writing each day. On days when writing came slowly and laboriously, I could still buckle down and hit that target in a reasonable amount of time and still feel like I was making progress. Then on the days when writing came naturally and the flow was there, exceeding my target was just that extra boost. I never felt bad for barely reaching my word count target, and even some days I couldn’t even reach 300 words. Regardless of how I felt, I reinforced the habit of sitting down and writing something each day with the goal of reaching that 300 word mark.
- Write for Creativity
This is something I do not do, but I feel should be included as an alternate option for the previous tip. Writing for enjoyment and not forcing creativity is something that should be understood, especially if you are writing as a pastime or hobby, and writing for the joy and allure of writing and storytelling. Obviously, this is less useful if you are writing for a job or career, when you have to maintain consistent progress or reach a deadline, arbitrary or otherwise.
If you are writing for you, if you are writing for enjoyment, then don’t waste your time trying to force your work and creativity when your heart isn’t in it. You don’t have to treat it like a job or a side hustle if that’s not what it’s intended to be. You don’t have to make it into a thing. There is an intense pressure within society (at least Western society) to always be hustling, always making and producing something, and unless that is what your goal for your writing is, don’t get caught in that cycle. If you write for the joy of writing, do it when you love it, do it when you feel inspired, do it when the story seems like it almost wants to burst out of your body. And then when you find the point where writing becomes stressful, when that light has faded, take a break and walk away. If it’s your passion, that spark will return.
- Use a Timer
Returning to practical tips, this is a great one for increasing productivity, especially if you find yourself easily distracted like me. This is useful for any type of productivity, but especially for making the most of your time. I found that using a 20:10 or a 30:10 format was both really productive and relatively easy to use.
Essentially, I set a timer for 20 or 30 minutes and during that time, I am singularly working on one thing, namely writing. No matter what, during those 20 or 30 minutes I am writing. Then when the timer goes off, set it again for 10 minutes. During that time I can check social media, respond to texts or emails, or engage in whatever distractions might have been clawing for my attention. Then rinse and repeat. I was shocked at how productive I could be when I first tried this.
One secondary tip I found to keep from being distracted while writing was to keep a piece of paper next to me where I could write notes. That way if I had a thought, remembered something I needed to do, or even had something relevant to my writing I needed to check, I would write it down and immediately return to writing. Then I could reference those notes when I got to my break. It all sounds extremely mundane and simple, but using the timer and keeping notes did wonders for my productivity.
- Keep Notes Throughout the Day
Sometimes a little thing will spark a remarkable idea or concept in your mind. Ordinary aspects of daily life can bring the seeds of great ideas. I always recommend keeping a physical notebook with you, or making use of a notepad app on your phone. Resources are everywhere, I have kept a dedicated Note in my phone for years, as well as a small notebook I used to carry with me while at work. If an idea or concept came to me, I’d quickly jot down my flashes of inspiration, then return to it later to expand and explore it in more detail. There is nothing worse than having a brilliant idea and then forgetting it, so finding a way to record them is key, no matter what method you use.
- Listen to Others, but Make Your Own Choices
This is ironic to include in a list of tips I’m writing to others, but it’s a valuable reminder I give myself from time to time. There are no shortages of people that will tell you the “correct” way to write. Of course there are tried and tested methods, there are definite dos and don’ts, but never forget that it is your writing, your story, that you are telling.
The debate for “show don’t tell” is a classic example. Lots of writers would say that it’s better to show something in writing than to simply tell the reader. And yet, you have a great storyteller like Neil Gaiman who says that there can be times when you can tell instead of show, and that it doesn’t make your writing bad or wrong. So remember that a lot of those “rules” aren’t actually rules. Some of us like to think of them as more guidelines.
In short, do what is best for what you are doing. It’s your work, and unless you’re writing it entirely for someone else, you probably have some control over what you are creating and why. Your work should reflect that sentiment and your own uniqueness. There is a lot of wisdom to be gleaned from others, but no one can really help you find your own style and voice.
- Make a Plan and Maybe an Outline
Making a plan, and in my case an outline as well, gives direction and purpose towards an end goal or destination. The extent of a plan or outline is up to the writer, as it’s really a personal preference whether a detailed outline is more useful than a more vague one. I have found that having at least some framework when I start writing a story is important, to know where I’m starting and where I’m ending, and occasionally what has to happen in between. Then as I go, pieces get added and fleshed out, others are cut, and changes can be made. Over time the framework expands to fit the story, or it builds out as the story finds its form.
Whatever habits or practices work for you and your writing are the correct ones. Finding mine took time and input from several trusted people. Some of the advice I got came from practices very different from writing that worked really well, and some writers have given me advice that was clearly not going to work for me. These tips are a few that have worked well for me and my writing, and there are others that have not worked as well, and those can only be discovered through trial and error. My only hope is that some of these might offer some benefit to you and your work, creative or professional, in the pursuit of better writing and productivity.