As writers, we have an ideal when it comes to our writing practice. Maybe it’s a bustling coffee shop with the afternoon sun pouring through, an hour of silence in the early morning, or a personal writing shed that we wonder to in our backyard.
We all have an ideal, but the problem comes when that ideal doesn’t fit our lives. When coffee shops are closed or we can’t afford childcare, when there’s rarely a silent or private hour in our home and a writing shed is a far off pipe dream.
More often than not it’s there we find our writing practice hit and miss, because the picture we painted for our ideal writing circumstance is not met.
How do we build a writing practice then?
There’s no sure fire way, no one and done, no one size fits everyone when it comes to forming a writing practice, but when we look at our lives–as they are right now, adjust our expectations, and notice the patterns in our work and lives I believe we can build a writing practice right where we are.
The season of life you’re in, the emotional toil of whatever you’re facing, nursing babies or pregnant all of that will affect your attempts at building a writing practice…or any intentional practice. And, yes, there’s generally a kid who wakes up as soon as they hear your feet on the ground.
It’s hard. Give yourself grace, but also consider where a writing practice could fit into the life you have. Some things might have to be tweaked, expectations lowered, or built gradually.
Just know, it’ll probably change along the way. That’s okay.
In the past my writing has been very hit and miss. I had years where I wrote regularly for a few months, then nothing other than an occasional blog post (back when I was focused on my Montessori homeschooling blog), Instagram posts, or writing for church.
After my first NaNoWriMo in 2018, I didn’t write or touch my WIP for 6 months. It wasn’t until the fall of 2019 that I really began to take notice of where I was saying “I can’t” or “It won’t work so why bother” or “I don’t have the time.”
In fall 2019, I started swimming at the gym in the morning and realized I could have a morning routine if I got up early enough. I tried writing on my off days. Then when gyms shut down because of quarantine I went, “Okay, I’m going to use this time for writing. I’m already use to getting up at 5am/6am, why not?”
And that stuck for me.
There is an aspect of the saying, “If you want something, you’ll find a way” that is true. It’s not always a helpful saying and can be shaming. But I do believe if we want to build a writing practice, we can.
It may not look like our ideal and it may be gradual, but it is possible.
Tips for Building a Writing Practice
1. Start somewhere. Start small.
One of the things I wish I had worked into my life was maintaining a regular writing routine earlier. Even if it couldn’t happen for two hours a day or 30 minutes every day, I wish that I had developed some kind of practice.
I believe where I’ve been is what has led me to who I am today as a writer, but I know even a small writing practice would’ve helped…even if it was only to help me believe in myself and the value of the work.
Even if it’s small, it matters. You’re investing in yourself, in your craft. 100 words a day, or 15-20 minutes of focused writing (or even reading about writing) adds up.
Examine: What pockets of your day or days of the week coud you carve a little writing time? Maybe it’s getting up an hour earlier or scheduling with your spouse or housemates an evening devoted to writing. Perhaps it’s spending less time on social media or watching TV.
We can’t expand our hours in the day, but we can reframe how we spend our time.
2. Notice patterns in your work.
Once I established a writing practice, one thing that helped me to continue was recognizing patterns in my work. Noticing the patterns within my work has helped to adjust my expectations to what I can actually accomplish in a week or a morning session.
Patterns I’ve noticed in my writing:
- Monday – Wednesday I feel the best. More energy, more focused, generally more productive writing.
- By Thursday and Friday, I’m tired and depleted. I don’t get as much done. So now, rather than feel guilty about not being more productive, I use those days for blog work or other non-heavy work like research, playing with plot, reading a helpful writing craft book, or even take the morning off.
- Twice a week, if my schedule allows I work on writing projects Monday and Wednesday afternoon when my kids are often playing outside. However, I don’t do work that requires my full focus then, but something I can be interrupted and come back to. Because there are always interruptions.
- I take the weekends off. I need that time to rest and refuel my creativity in other ways. Sometimes if I’m really trying to figure something out or have momentum going, I’ll write on a Saturday. But otherwise weekends are for family and refueling. #writelikeitsyourjob
Finding what works when I do write has helped me to build a consistent writing practice. Knowing what works for me helps me to notice the rhythms and patterns that are already present in my life.
Examine: What patterns do you notice in your work? What time of the day are you most alert? When in your week do you feel consistently creative? When have you forced yourself to write and just don’t feel it? When has the writing come easier? See if you can notice patterns in the day of the week, time of the day, or even how much sleep you’re getting in relation to your creativity.
When do you get emotional about writing? When do you begin to feel regret or shame? Those things can help us see either when we’ve waited too long and our creative cup needs filling or point out the pain of neglecting ourself. It needs to be said, your work as a writer–even as an unpublished, still drafting writer–is valuable and deserving of its own time.
How can you build a consistent writing practice with those things in mind?
3. Consider your year.
Another thing to take into consideration as you build your writing practice is your year, especially as it pertains to projects you hope to accomplish.
If you’re a teacher or a homeschooler, August/September may not be the best time to draft a novel or do heavy editing.
If you know you experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD) in the winter, then that may be a time to focus on hibernating–fueling your cup, getting good rest, and dabbling in writing for fun–rather than declaring you’re going to accomplish a rewrite.
If you know there’s a lot of travel coming up or if you have a month of birthdays in your family, adjust your expectations of what you can get done.
Maybe you know you feel most creative in spring and fall, so that’s when you’ll tackle drafting or revisions.
For me, this looks like no drafting during the summer so I can spend that time with my kids on day trips and time hiking or at the river. Just research work and a little outlining. During December, I have no major projects. When we head back to school no drafting or major deadlines. Hitching my two big drafting projects to Camp NaNo and NaNoWriMo, so that I can ride that community momentum. Basically, I’m looking at my year and planning writing projects when I know the emotional toil of other responsibilites in my life will be less.
Examine: Look at what is built into your year, rhythms of rest that you need as well as family or work commitments and try plotting out your projects. Even if you’re excited about something now, but know you don’t have the time or capacity, it’s helpfu to see it has its alloted space on the calendar and you can look forward to it.
4. Grow gradually.
It’s unrealistic to go from having little to no writing practice to writing 2-3 hours a day five to six days a week. Or say you’re going to write a novel in a month. I mean, unless it’s NaNoWriMo and you’re jumping on that community energy and momentum, that’s a hard goal to keep up. Pace yourself.
Know your goals. Analyze your goals. Then break them down into managable parts. Assigning a task a week or a month.
Give yourself space to grow and don’t despise slow work.
Examine: What expectations do you have when it comes to your writing practice? Make a list. Then, make a list of your daily and weekly (even monthly) schedule, include things from chores, errands, work or community commitments, etc.
Reflect on that list and your life as it is today, are those writing expectations realistic? Are they giving life to your and your writing practice? Or do they make it feel heavier?
Ask yourself, why do I have these expectations? What do I think these expectations will give me if fulfilled? There may be good and not so good. We can be motivated by joy and guilt (or shame, insecurity, regret, etc), but it’s helpful to weed those things out of our expectations.
Now, look at your life–your list of expectations along with your daily/weekly schedule and commitments–where do you have time to write? Where are there pockets you can shift to meet your adjusted expectations?
My Writing Practice
I get the bulk of my writing done when my kids are still sleeping. I get up at 5am. From 5-5:30am I do my morning pages/journaling, from 5:30-6am I read my Bible, then from 6-8am I work on writing. That could be drafting, editing, outlining, reading research books, making notes on query letters, etc. Whatever writing work needs to be done, with wherever I’m at in a project I work on that in the mornings.
It works for me because we homeschool. My husband is still working from home so 7-8 the kids know to go to dad. I’m teaching my kids that my work is valuable and so is this time. If I get the bulk of my writing work done in the morning, then we have more time together after school or whatnot. I have two kids that are early risers and my youngest even made a sign for the office door, “Do not come in!” to remind themselves Mommy is working.
Monday – Friday I aim to write between 6-8am. It doesn’t always happen, but that’s my goal. The more I am consistent with it, the easier it is and the more I wake up ready to write. However, such an early morning does mean I’m out between 9:30-10:30pm. I use to be quite the night owl and I do miss those hours. But writing is a priority and, now that I’ve realized the importance of sleep to my emotional well being, so is sleep.