As a writer, I might be a little prejudiced here, but putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard regularly is a wickedly awesome weapon for anyone who wants to get ahead. Doing it regularly has the power to
- Get your concepts and vision out to more people
- Let you mentor from afar
- Reduce your stress
- Improve your ability to communicate face to face
- Streamline personal and professional productivity due to improved clarity
- Give you an edge for memory retention and learning
But how can you make it a solid habit? After writing hundreds of articles for Inc. and independent clients, I've learned that these are the top best practices you should steal.
1. Have your supplies at the ready.
When I was little, I was so enamored with writing that I went everywhere with a teeny notebook on a string around my neck. Today, that translates to Word always being open, Post-Its an arm's reach away (plus sticky note apps), brain dump Google Docs and Trello tabs as a default, my journal permanently positioned on my night table, and a notepad tucked into the console of my car. Some tools might call to you and make you want to write more than others, but the gist is, if you have your tools, then there's really no excuse not to take 15 seconds to jot a thought down. Don't assume you'll get back to it later. Generally, you won't.
2. Accept that small is OK.
Maybe it's because we're told to digest whole books and are used to reports that eat lots of pages, but you might not want to write unless you feel like you can get a lot of quantity out. Murder this idea without mercy. It's the quality that matters.
As a mom, I don't always have the opportunity for long writing sessions, so I often turn to sprints instead. Even one line can be incredibly profound or finally crystalize a concept in your head. You even can write a phrase rather than a sentence. But you have to start somewhere, and a little at a time adds up. For inspiration, read Ernest Hemingway, who was a master at keeping things tight.
3. Make an appointment.
I will always, always recommend being willing to write whenever and wherever you can, as thoughts strike you. But if you want to guarantee you get something on paper, you have to treat it as a priority and actually give it a precious slot on your daily calendar. This doesn't have to be a long appointment--even five minutes is fine. But treat it as concrete rather than optional, a must-do in your routine, just like getting dressed or having lunch. I write as I'm able through the whole day, but my day always starts with a two-and-a-half-hour block. If your schedule truly is unpredictable, then make a situational appointment, such as always pulling out your notebook as you wait for a meeting to start. Find a time and length that works for you, and commit to it.
4. Give up the judgment.
Just like we have biases about the length of what we should write, we usually have biases about the quality, too. Those biases can inspire you not to settle for crap, which is good, but they also can cripple you. You can get so worried about getting it "right" that you end up not writing anything at all. Or in some cases, the bias is on the timeline--because Joe Schmoe and twenty others turned out their books in a month, you should be able to, too, right? But judgment happens after you write as part of the editorial process, not during the writing, which takes as long as it takes. Just keep your fingers moving for however long your appointment is--no cross-outs of any kind allowed. And don't compare yourself or your methods to anybody else.
5. Set up a framework.
I don't believe you have to outline everything, especially if you're just jotting down one point or are spewing emotion into a diary. But if you have something that's complicated to write or that's just a mess, build the frame first. Don't describe. Don't give details. But get your points in order. Then you won't get held up or need to backtrack, because you know exactly where to go with the real writing, and all you really have to do is expand the thoughts you've already pinned down. You won't waste time writing paragraph upon paragraph that doesn't really fit, either.
6. Find a buddy, join a group or get online.
You know the studies that show having a buddy improves diet and exercise results, right? The same can be true for writing. If you know someone is there to encourage you and give you feedback and hold you accountable, it's pretty tough to slack. If you can't find a buddy, find friendly workshops so you have something to work for (check your library!), or find places online to post. Even Twitter can be motivating--after all, keeping and gaining followers depends on consistent, relevant tweets, and there are always threads that can spark the desire to comment.
The rationale here is simple. The more you read, the more information you have--and the more exposure you have to different techniques and voices. Devour whatever texts you can so you have something to draw on and can do so with less effort. The content also can generate a massive number of writing prompts for you, and you can take five minutes after reading something to jot down your initial reactions so you remember more.