When people ask about my writing habits and hear that I write every day, they sometimes say, “Oh, I could never do that.” They say this like it’s a choice, but really it’s something that I have come to rely on.
Writing, for me, is something I must do. It’s funny because there are other things, like going to the gym or even taking the time to cook dinner (carry-out is a writer’s best resource), that I will often just brush off.
But writing – that’s something that I ALWAYS make time for. Otherwise, I just don’t feel like myself. This wasn’t always the case. I wasn’t born with pencil in hand, scribbling stories on a notebook before I could barely speak. It’s something that formed over years and years and it really didn’t manifest itself until my college years.
Like anything, writing is a habit. But now, years after that first time of forcing myself to sit down at my desk and write, the discipline of attacking the blank page feels a little less intimidating. I think it’s like anything you work at over time – a confidence begins to emerge after constant repetition.
All habits are this way. You can’t play a musical instrument the first down you sit down with it, music requires time. It’s that first time that is the always the most difficult. But each subsequent experience becomes easier and easier. The effort it takes to begin decreases as your muscle memory takes over. It starts to feel natural, soon, even effortless.
But why should you even care in the first place about whether you need to write every day or not? Does anyone really care? Does the world need one more blog post and more Facebook notification? Maybe not. But contrary to what “the world” may believe, I still rely on this habit of writing daily.
Writing every day doesn’t just make you a better writer. It makes you a better person. Here’s why and how it works.
Daily writing builds your discipline and your confidence.
I played golf back in high school. Every day in the spring, rain or shine – or snow, we had to get out there and practice. Believe me when I tell you, most of those days sucked. Almost every week I thought about how great it would be to quit and go home early with the rest of my friends.
Yet over those four years I got better and better. I became less afraid of taking chances or needing to hit certain shots around difficult holes. Even the most menial things, like doing putting drills over and over on the practice green until it got to dark to see – those things made a difference.
My point is – it isn’t always glamourous. Nothing comes to anyone without effort and drive and writing is no different than hitting golf balls, or singing, or even cooking. It requires practice.
And without practice, you won’t have discipline.
But we misunderstand this idea of discipline, thinking it’s something you have before you do the work. Not true. Discipline is a byproduct of practice, not a prerequisite for it.
If you want to lose weight and tone your body, you don’t start by rushing to the most difficult exercises. You get stronger by lifting small weights now and bigger ones later. The same goes for writing or any creative muscle. Writing for just a few minutes every day can build your discipline, just like running or reading or any daily practice can. So start now. Discipline comes with practice.
Daily writing makes you smarter (especially when you write by hand).
Writing makes you think. Any writing; emails, texts, grocery lists, thank notes – all these things require you to focus.
Some studies even show that writing by hand increases cognitive activity and can actually make you more intelligent—as long as you put the keyboard aside and write by hand. As Dr. William Klemm says in this Psychology Today article:
There is a spill-over benefit for thinking skills used in reading and writing. To write legibly, fine motor control is needed over the fingers. You have to pay attention and think about what and how you are doing it. You have to practice. Brain imaging studies show that cursive activates areas of the brain that do not participate in keyboarding.
J.K. Rowling did this for Harry Potter, writing down ideas and stories on little scraps of paper that she collected and carried around with her. There’s something to this process of writing, especially handwriting, that makes your brain work better. Within the last couple of years, and after listening to author Austin Kleon describe his process, I’ve come to realize that my work is better and more well-rounded when I start all my ideas with just a pencil and paper.
When you don’t know what to write, you get introspective. Even writing in short little sprints (less than 300 words) takes a great deal of brain concentration. By sitting down every day to write, you are exercising your brain in ways that it doesn’t always get.
Daily writing gives you a sense of accomplishment.
We all want to feel like we aren’t wasting our time. In today’s modern world – wasting time has become very easy, and even a bit addictive. Every day I find myself struggling not to just sit in front of the television or zone out on social media. And every day it’s important to remind myself that those times are limiting me and who I want to one day become.’
Writing for just a few minutes every day — in a journal, on a blog, or even for a book — gives me that. Every day something is written, it’s something that didn’t exist the day before – and that means something to me.
If nothing else, I have something to show for my day. And that makes me happy. I read that that’s how it worked for Stephen King, who wrote the following in his popular memoir, On Writing:
I’ve written because it fulfilled me. Maybe it paid off the mortgage on the house and got the kids through college, but those things were on the side–I did it for the buzz. I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for joy, you can do it forever.
Those are just a few reasons why you should write every day. They’re the reasons I keep daily writing practice. That’s the power of a good habit. It takes you to places you could never dream of going. So where will writing every day take you?
So Now What?
Where do you begin? What is it that I need to be doing right now. Well, start by taking Anne Lamott’s advice from Bird by Bird:
“But how?” my students ask. “How do you actually do it?”
You sit down, I say. You try to sit down at approximately the same time every day. This is how you train your unconscious to kick in for you creatively. So you sit down at, say, nine every morning, or ten every night. You put a piece of paper in the typewriter, or you turn on the computer and bring up the right file, and then you stare at it for an hour or so. You begin rocking, just a little at first, and then like a huge autistic child. You look at the ceiling, and over at the clock, yawn, and stare at the paper again. Then, with your fingers poised on the keyboard, you squint at an image that is forming in your mind — a scene, a locale, a character, whatever — and you try to quiet your mind so you can hear what that landscape or character has to say above the other voices in your mind.
Tell me – What are some of the ways you use to keep your writing routine?