I spend so much of my time writing that it can be easy to fall into some bad habits without really noticing, like anything else. And one of my resolutions this year is to really cultivate good writing habits, the better to support myself as I try to write at least five books between now and next New Year’s Eve.
But what are good writing habits?
Good writing habits grow over time, according to each writer’s individual needs. There is no prescription. There’s no one way. The only way to tell that your writing habits are “good” are the pages you produce. If you aren’t producing anything, chances are, you have some bad habits. If you’re doing things that others may think are crazy but you’re writing a lot and you’re proud of it? That’s probably good. When I talk about “good,” I’m talking about being productive—but when I’m talking about being productive, I don’t mean at the expense of your sanity, your life, your relationships, or your health. As we know, that can be a pretty fine line sometimes!
Some authors sit in their chairs every day from 9-5 (at least) and treat their writing like a very serious day job. Other authors write a line here, a line there, as the mood strikes. Still other authors squeeze their writing in around the other things that demand their attention—a day job, their kids, the complexities of their particular respnsibilties.
We all have to do what we can do, and try to make space in our lives for our writing as best we can. We have to honor our deadlines and our commitments, no matter who is waiting for us to deliver that book—ourselves or our publisher. Because the easiest thing in the world is to talk about writing. The hardest thing in the world is to do it.
We can do it. It just takes those good habits I mentioned.
Here are my thoughts on how to cultivate good writing habits:
- The best thing you can do for your writing is to read. Read widely. Read everything you can get your hands on in your favorite genre, and then read beyond it. Read for pleasure, for escape, for inspiration. It’s often more useful to read a book you hate and fume about it, react to it, write something to counter it, than it is to read a book you love and just want to sigh happily about. Pay attention to your passions, your obsessions, as you read and as you live. All of these things inform your writing.
- At certain points you should indulge the muse. Make self-indulgent mixes of songs that speak to your characters’ issues. Lounge around and day dream. Take long walks. Think. Dream. Wait for that shimmering almost-idea to crystallize into something clear: a line, a thought, a character. Think some more. Dream some more. Let your mind go wherever it likes. Observe. Imagine.
- At other points you should be a disciplinarian. You have to force yourself to sit down in your chair and write. Set goals for yourself, like a certain amount of words or hours of writing per day. Don’t get up until you finish. Hold yourself to your own promises. Be a fierce advocate for your own dreams.
- The best writing habit for you is your personal mixture of all of the above. Learn how to trust yourself and your instincts, about words, about stories, about how your time is best spent, and you will grow as a writer. (And possibly also as a person! Win/win!)
The more you write, the more you read, the more you will find your way. I promise.
I’m hoping that my way this year involves more balance, more books, and more overall satisfaction. Your way will probably be different, and that’s okay. I can’t wait to read what you write!
Megan Crane is the author of more than twenty novels, most of which she managed to write while wallowing in what can only be described as truly terrible if not embarrassing habits. She has great dreams of changing this, becoming self-actualized and serene, capable of writing whole books while garbed in flowing white caftans, etc. Hope springs eternal. She also teaches writing in places like UCLA Extension's Writers' Program. You can find out more about her at www.megancrane.com.