How to write every day? Many of us — aspiring writers, bloggers, freelancers — ask this question every day.
I am going to share with you my journey as a writer so far, how I developed a daily writing habit, and a few tips that have worked for me to minimize distraction. That is all. I cannot — no one can — tell you what to do precisely to write every day as everyone’s system is different.
How did my writing journey start?
The love for literature was installed in me when I was a little girl. I loved reading. I wrote rhyming poems and my daily personal account in my diary. I thought of myself as artistic. But I was so good at science and mathematics that no one could ignore my science aptitude, not even me. I wrote the most challenging engineering entrance exam and cracked it. I studied to become a software engineer.
I worked with corporates and startups for years, intermittently traveling, quitting and shifting jobs and cities, working in restaurants, blogging, food blogging, writing. Never being at ease with the corporate part of my life, I quit my job and went to South America in 2016 to teach and travel. I had decided that I would write every day. So, I taught and wrote, daily.
From a software engineer to a writer, from an associate to an artist, from a coder to a fictional-world creator, from a white-collar business-suit woman to a no dress-code brightly-attired girl, from a pretentious investment banker to a work-from-home woman, from being the only female in a batch full of enthusiastic computer science boys to be the woman who left behind the science but kept what matters — the skyline of my journey is tall and bright.
None of it has been easy.
How did I master the habit of writing almost every day?
When I returned to India from South America in 2017, this is what I started doing every day — I woke up, went to the bathroom, did yoga with a friend in a yoga center, had breakfast with him at a typical South Indian restaurant Udupi, got back home, showered with hot water, dressed, painted my lips with my red lipstick, made a cup of ginger tea, filled my red glass water bottle, and settled at the glass-table-white-chair desk in my room that has to serve as my writing studio and my office for I don’t know how long.
I sit in the same chair every day, unaware of when I would get up, and open a new page document on my Mac. I think of what I want to write.
Some days, I struggle to put down words on paper. I stare at the screen. Drink water. Look at my phone. Go back to the empty white document. Drink some more water. Fidget with the broken skin around my fingernails. Rub my strained eyes. Press the home button on my phone to see new notifications. Open some old writings. Go through the list of topics that I wanted to write about. Add some more to them. Read what other people have been writing. Go back to stare at the blank document.
Some days, I pour myself out. I write non-stop for hours. I write thousands of words on different themes, only to break them into chunks the next time I scroll through the document.
Some days, I edit the previous writings. First drafts are like thought-dumps on paper. They don’t make any sense. Writing is not enough. Editing is essential.
Even if words played hide and seek, I decided to do one thing during this process — to not get up. To not give up. Even if it is 2 or 3 pm. Except for going to the bathroom frequently as I obsessively drink water. I even end up eating lunch at three because I could not leave a thought process.
I told myself that getting up and giving up isn’t an option. How can I not write? I have so much to say. I have so much to improve.
The key is to think that there is nothing else you are supposed to do right now.
The key is not to think if today is a public holiday and if your friends are free.
The key is to not believe in sickness or health.
It doesn’t matter if I am on my periods or I have a cold or I broke up or I am hungover — I sit down in the chair and stare at the screen. I use a heat belt to calm down the period pain if I have to. Most of the times, this pin-down-yourself-to-the-chair tactic works. I start scribbling on the paper, and after some shitty entree, the main course comes. Sometimes, even after trying for many hours, I have nothing meaningful; I blame myself.
I write from Monday to Friday. By Saturday, my mind longs to rest, but my heart hasn’t had enough. Sunday is free to play in the sun. If there were no sun, I would have written on Sundays too.
Writing is neither a task, nor a job, nor a career — it is your routine.
When you miss a routine, an anxiousness lingers. Do you skip going to the bathroom in the morning? If you do, you are restless. You go out, but you worry you might have to go anytime. You eat, but you feel heavy. I feel constipated when I do not allow myself to write. If you cannot skip the bathroom then how can you skip writing? And what do you mean it is not coming, push harder. Drink some more water. Walk. Concentrate. Focus. It would come. And it does. And then there is the relief. And pleasure.
A habit is a powerful tool. In this interview Haruki Murakami said, that the routine — the repetition — itself becomes the principal thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. He mesmerized himself to reach a deeper state of mind.
Stephen King said, “Fiction is the truth inside the lie.” Though writing is a holiday from the real world (you are in a world created by you), you never get a holiday from writing.
Writing is a lifestyle, a way of life. You cannot separate yourself from writing. You are always a writer. You never shut off. If you are honest with your writing — else you can never become a writer — you surf in the ocean of books and writing. Ocean decides to hit you with strong waves or with soft ones — and the only way to come out is to ride those waves. Else you would be smashed out on the shore.
You were fine yesterday. Today, you have been reading Nietzsche’s version of the meaning of life. First, he lets you think that everything is meaningless but then he explains the purpose of human life. You read Albert Camus’ essay The Myth of Sisyphus and agree that the world is absurd. You wonder why suicide isn’t an option? Words stutter in your meaninglessness.
Great writers first bury you down. Then they dig you from the dead. And you let them do that. Rather than ignoring or suppressing your emotions, you dissolve them into your writing and create meaning.
What about the darling editing process?
Initially, you don’t see the redundant words and the complex sentences and the garbage. Then, you do. You feel you suck every time you read your work. You edit. You take writing courses and workshops and let people tell you that you suck and why do you suck right in your face. And you have to be jolly about it. They tell you why it would take you many years. You accept.
They say that humiliation is good for you. The criticism makes you feel that you should give up. It would never happen for you. But you go on. You start understanding the importance of criticism. You tell yourself some truths. And then you lie.
The practice of scrutinizing each word, each sentence, each dialogue, each blink of an eye save your life.
And then you become one with the thunder of words.
Let me give you some tips that help me write every day —
1. Sleep well — Sleep is necessary to revitalize your brain. While deciding if the protagonist smokes or while wording a philosophical thought, a good night’s sleep supplies the energy your brain needs.
2. Chose a time when you are the most energetic — I am the most energetic in the mornings. Let us call this time your writing window.
- Meditate or listen to music — While showering, making my breakfast, and eating it, I listen to the same music every day. This Sufi music helps me collect my thoughts, and it places me in the right mood. Try being mindful with meditation or music.
4. Don’t check emails or messages right before and during your writing window — I do not check my emails till 2-3 pm. No distractions to the thought process and the creative flow.
5. Do not schedule any appointments right before and during the writing window — I only meet my workout partner in the morning. Again, no distractions.
6. No phone calls that might agitate you before the writing window — My parents want me to call in the morning. But our conversations are not always the most blossoming ones, so I never call in the morning to avoid any disruptions.
7. Switch off your cell phone — The world can wait.
8. No other work during the writing window — Only and only writing. For me, morning means writing. If I think of anything else, I feel as if I am committing a crime. Nail down in your head that you are not supposed to do anything else during this time.
9. Think of what you want to write the previous night (or day) — I know, I know. Your creative horses are not in your control. But give some thought to what you want to write the previous night. You would get some clarity. I always think of the articles I would like to work on the next day. And if my fingers are playing some other tune, I let them, for as long as they want to. And then I go back to the list of the articles. Some creative time and some controlled creative time. This management helps in reining the horses a little bit.
10. Write alone — I sit alone as sometimes I start reading out loud or make faces or stare at the wall or talk to myself or cry or laugh. I am the most comfortable alone. Don’t be shy to create your comfort zone. People around you would understand.
11. Read every day — Reading is writing’s twin sister. Without reading, I am a dry well.
12. Drink a lot of water — Okay you might be able to do without this one.
Maya Angelou booked a hotel room on a monthly basis and spent all her mornings writing in that hotel room.
J. K. Rowling wrote in cafes.
Paulo Coelho writes at home.
Ernest Hemingway wrote in his small apartment in Paris.
David Foster Wallace wrote in a garage which had one small window.
No hard and fast rules exist. How can something that works for someone else be the best for you and your body and mind? Some people write in the morning, some in the evening, and some after hours of engaging with social media. Some write for an hour and some for ten hours at a stretch. Do what suits you the best.
Building any habit takes times. Do not give up. Figure out what is wrong. Find what works for you and stick to it. Until then, keep experimenting. Be smart about it, not upset.
Ignore a hundred doubts and go on. You have to believe that you can do it.
Now when you read an article on writing, you understand why the author mentioned in the sentence “he sat on the couch” as Hemingwayesque. Because now you have read Hemingway with orgasmic attention. And your workshop coordinator says that your writing has improved and it shows that you have been reading. Your friends say your blog reads as professional writing.
Hard work and consistency pays off. Keep going.