Since it’s one month until NaNoWriMo, and Inktober has just started, I thought I would talk about a concept that has really helped me improve my productivity as an artist: create every day.
There is a lot of advice on the subject everywhere, and they all seem to conflict. Today, I am going to talk about my personal experience as a writer, hoping it will help some of you.
So… do you really write every day?
No, I don’t. But I write most days, and the days where I don’t write, I try to do something that is related to it (sometimes as little as a tweet). There are two main reasons for it:
I didn’t always write most days. In the past, when I was writing fanfictions, I used to write only when I had a lot of time, only at weekends, only when I felt like it,… The result? Eight years to finish my longest fanfiction (220K words). So since 2015 I switched to writing less words in one go, but more regularly.
At first, it seemed like it was not working. Writing 500 words per day (for example) made me feel like I was not progressing in my writing. However, I quickly started tracking my progress thanks to the first NaNoWriMo I participated in, and I saw that the consistent small amount of words added to quite a lot much faster than I thought. 500 words every day for a month (let’s assume 30 days, it’s easier!) will get you to 15,000 words! It you do 1000 per day it’s 30,000. If you choose the NaNoWriMo rhythm, that will bring you to 50,000 words in just a month. It’s quite a lot!
Sometimes, I need to remind myself that the words that I’m writing that day count towards my big goal. I’m a very visual person, so I use a tracker to visualise my progress and prove to myself that I can write a lot. I like the design of the NaNoWriMo tracker, so I’ve started using it outside of November. It’s simple and you can do it too if you have an account on their website! You set up your goal and the amount of time, and you update it every time you write.
Slow but steady progress works in other types of art than writing. When I look at the people who are currently taking part in Inktober, I can see the immense progress that such a challenge can bring.
2. Reducing anxiety and self-doubt:
This is the real reason why I try to create every day. I am a self-doubter and a terribly anxious writer. The longer I stay away from my current project, the more I doubt it. I have spent weeks paralysed by a project simply because I didn’t dare to go back to it. It was completely soul crushing! It feels like every day I have to convince my brain, or more accurately my “saboteur”, that this project is worth it, that it is good enough. When I don’t write, my brain takes it as a clue that I’m never going to make it. It might sound silly from the outside, but I know a lot of people in the same situation.
Building a habit of going back to the creativity every day helped in a sense that I didn’t let all these doubts accumulate for days or weeks, and made it much easier to fight them. To me, anxiety and doubts pile up like soil. One or two days, it’s just a mole hill, easy to climb. Leave it for weeks and it suddenly turns into a mountain, and I’m so overwhelmed that I don’t even start climbing it. Creating every day helps me never let this hill grow to the point where I can’t climb it.
It also helps when the outside world is depressing. When I have personal issues or issues at work. I often say “today was horrible but at least I wrote XXX words”. That’s the balance I have found as a writer with a full time job, and it has helped me with my mental health.
How do you find time to write most days?
It takes a lot of scheduling and trials/errors. The first thing I did was to buy a weekly planner that has a sheet for each week. Something like this:
I started by adding to the planner the activities that are fixed in my schedule: work, commute, sleep, appointments,… Then I added the chores: cleaning, washing, cooking,… Next, I added the “pleasure” things: time with friends and family, relaxing time, shopping,… Finally, I looked at what’s left blank on the planner. If there was nothing left, that meant I had to shuffle things around and reduce the time spent on some activities. From that, I found what amounted to about an hour per day of free time to write.
The next step was to see if it felt natural for me to write during this free time. I think this is the most important step. Let’s say, for example: you are a morning person. You will probably not be able to write in the evening, no matter how much time you free then. I am not a morning person and I have an evening job, so the most natural for me was to write in the late morning / early afternoon. It was therefore important for me to free that particular time of the day.
Next, I tested this system for several weeks. I refined it, knowing exactly how much time some activities would take me. I grouped some stuff to be more efficient, and allowed myself to be more relaxed when I have a big day at work (I sometimes do double shifts, on these days I don’t plan to write).
Finally, once it started to become a habit, I reversed the process. I still added to the planner the fixed activities first, but then I added the writing time next, and cramped everything else around it. “What you focus on expands”: I managed to expand my writing time for several days in a week, with all the chores and family time still there. Just probably less procrastination!
A note on this: I am very lucky that I don’t have any other obligations than my job and my family/friends. It might not be the case for you, and you might not be able to free a hour or two every day. Don’t put yourself down because of it! Even fifteen minutes can help (I certainly have weeks where it’s all I can free!). The important part is to find some time, and stick to it.
How do you motivate yourself to write most days?
People think falsely that motivation is the key to creating a lot. From my own experience, I don’t think it is. Motivation helps you start a project, that’s true, but once the muddy middle is in sight, motivation usually scarpers away. Motivation alone cannot help you finish a book, a composition or a painting, and it can’t help you go back to it every day. No matter how much you love your current project, there will be days where Netflix is more appealing than your art.
So instead of trying to stay motivated for a project all along (which didn’t work), I built the writing into a habit. That’s why it was so important to schedule it and stick to it. The key part of building a habit is to do it regularly enough that you remove the choice in the first place. You don’t “choose” to create that day at that time, you just “do” it because that’s what you do every day at the same time. I’m not going to lie, it took several trial and weeks of practice, but now it has become so automatic that I don’t question it. It takes more efforts NOT to write. It feels “wrong” to not do it.
If you are interested in this, there are several excellent books on building a habit. I recommend The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg. It explains clearly how our brains build good and bad habits, the concept of willpower and how we can rewire ourselves to get things done. I found it useful because I like to understand how things work (I guess that’s the ex-Physicist in me!). You can find it on Amazon:
(The links shown above are affiliate links, as I am part of Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. More information here.)
This is not the easiest thing to achieve, but creating almost every day has been a way for me to take my writing to the next level. I would not have finished my novel Healers otherwise, and I would certainly not be brave enough to write this blog, or my upcoming non-fiction book The Part-Time Artist.
Give it a try, even if you can only do it for a very short period of time at first. And let me know how you get on!