If you’ve been serious about your writing for any amount of time, you’ve stumbled upon an important truth:
Writing isn’t enough.
Sure, you know you need writing chops, marketing skills, time-management skills, and a thick skin, but if you want to be successful, to find fulfillment, to continue building momentum in this arena, you need to make some hard choices.
If you want anyone to take you seriously, you’re going to have to meet them half way, by taking yourself seriously first.
You need to develop a series of habits, a lifestyle that can support and nurture your writing. You also need to develop a positive relationship with yourself, a means for honoring your truth and your creative goals.
And this process doesn’t need to be difficult, disruptive, or debilitating.
It should be liberating.
The moment you decide to prioritize yourself, a profound shift occurs, a shift that empowers and feeds your daily craft.
You know you deserve it, and you’ve come too far to turn back now.
You’re a writer, and it’s time to honor your content, your craft, and your creative self.
How to Honor the Content You Write
Record and safeguard your stories, articles, drafts, and outlines
“Save, and save often.”
I know. It’s face-palm-stupid advice, but I’ll bet you’ve rolled the dice a time or two. I know I have.
We take risks every day, but we fail to appreciate the danger until it’s too late. We can’t predict power failures, hard drive crashes, or the sudden appearance of corrupted files.
The best defense is always a strong offense.
Back up your work, and back up your backup. You’ll gain peace of mind and a never-ending supply of material you can return to later for revision, editing, and publishing.
So stop what you’re doing right now. I’m serious.
Bookmark this article, and take a few seconds to back up your writing. Decide now to purchase a few inexpensive flash drives after work. If you’re interested in cloud storage, check out PC Magazine’s Best Online Backup Services .
Record and safeguard all of your ideas
When was the last time you found yourself with a brilliant idea and no means to write it down?
I keep notebooks in my work briefcase, my drawers at home, and the glove compartment of my car. I try to carry a tiny notepad in my shirt pocket when I’m out for the day. Some of my best ideas began as scribbled notes on a bar coaster or a restaurant napkin.
Magic frequently happens when we walk away from the page, when we give ourselves permission to relax.
While we’re on the subject of honoring ideas, consider taking the practice a step further by scheduling an idea dump for the same time each day or week. Commit your ideas to a file on your computer. Make it a ritual. Enter your new items, and review your previous ones.
You never know when timing and opportunity will intersect, when an old idea will become ripe for picking. Schedule the magic.
If you’re ready to take note taking and ideation to the next level, check out Evernote, a digital workspace for your ideas, notes, clips, and bookmarks.
Copyright your writing
Yes, it’s technically true that your work is copyrighted the moment you write it down; however, think about how you’re going to prove it, especially when someone with more money, connections, and notoriety steals it from under your nose.
How much have you put aside into an emergency fund to protect your work from thieves?
If you’ve invested considerable time and energy into a writing project, you may want to invest in a registered copyright. As a single author in the U.S., you can electronically register your work with the Library of Congress for $35.00.
I’m not suggesting that you copyright every blog post you’ve ever written, but you may want to look into legal protection for longer pieces, works you might later depend on for income like special reports, advertising copy, short stories, and full-length books.
Invest in a plagiarism-detection service or software
In tip number three, we briefly discussed blog posts. While you probably won’t want to legally register a copyright for each post, you should become familiar with plagiarism-detection services. When your blog reaches a certain level of notoriety, content thieves will take notice.
Get into the habit of checking the web for content theft, for unscrupulous publishers stealing and republishing your content. Content theft is common, and no one has your back. It’s up to you to police the web.
In addition to crooked publishers profiting from your hard work, duplicate content could be undermining your search engine rankings, rendering your work invisible to potential readers.
Check out Copyscape Premium. The service offers a batch search feature, allowing you to check up to 10,000 of your site pages with a one-click search.
Learn the rules of plagiarism, fair use, and copyright
While we’re discussing plagiarism, let’s flip the equation and address the growing elephant in the room:
Exactly how much do YOU know about fair use and plagiarism?
Because you’re a writer, you’d never intentionally plagiarize anyone’s work. Right? Of course you wouldn’t, but intention doesn’t really matter in this discussion.
As a college professor, I encounter it frequently. Students paraphrase the work of other writers. They think they’re in the clear if they toss a citation or two into the mix. They often try to hide behind ambiguity, placing a citation at the end of a long paragraph (containing little more than the other author’s ideas).
Plagiarism involves using someone else’s ideas, arguments, or even their outline/organization/presentation of ideas without clear attribution. This definition, however, is inadequate. You can get yourself into trouble by using too much of someone else’s work.
Learn how to avoid plagiarism by conducting a little research. If you want to write and publish your work, spend some time on the subject. You owe it to yourself and your colleagues.
Here’s an informative article about Copyright and Plagiarism from Penn State University.
Here’s another quality article by Joan Friedman. She discusses Fair Use and When to Secure Permission to use other people’s copyrighted work. After reading, check out the bottom of her page for additional links and information.
How to Honor Your Writing Craft
Write every day, even if it’s 100 words
I always cringe when I come across a quote from a famous author recommending 3000 words a day or some other arbitrary number. Worse, these authoritarian types try to guilt you into feeling inadequate by adding something like this:
“Professional” or “serious” writers always ______ (fill in the blank).
Discipline is one thing, but artists don’t need to suffer daily for their art. Dumping the number saved my sanity. Some days I write thousands of words. Other days I barely manage a few hundred.
Develop a productive, positive, daily writing habit. That’s the only goal. Don’t beat yourself up over the number. Show up every day at the same time, and write. Don’t obsess over it. Don’t worry about editing or revising yesterday’s work until you’ve completed a draft. If you want to fix something, don’t allow it to interfere with your writing time.
Everyone writes a word at a time, so dump the pressure; it isn’t helping.
Pick up a copy of The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson. It’s the best book I’ve read about cultivating success from small daily habits. It’s worth every penny.
Keep a journal
Keeping a journal will enhance your other writing projects. Recording your days and thoughts helps you process information. It’s a great way to relax and gain perspective on important issues. If you want to quickly understand how you really feel about a subject, start writing down your thoughts about it.
You’ll be surprised by the things that come up during a journaling session.
My journal lives in my laptop. I have several memoirs of material sitting in a folder full of odd files. Perhaps the odd file names will become chapters. Besides adding to my daily writing practice, my journal helps me stay on course. I record ideas, questions, big and small thoughts. I like to look back and evaluate my progress.
I’m often intrigued by the way answers and solutions emerge after a little time and space.
If you’re intimidate by an official journal, start with a daily gratitude list. Each night before sleeping, come up with five things that you’re thankful for. In short time, you’ll find your mood improving each time you complete your list.
Buy a few style and grammar guides
Writers never cease to amaze and surprise me.
On the internet I encounter writers every day, writers who devote enormous time and energy to crafting stories, building social media platforms, and marketing themselves. Many of these same writers publish without regard for style, spelling, and grammatical errors.
They’ve convinced themselves that they’re above the constraints of their writing peers.
A text riddled with grammatical errors hurts an author’s credibility. Style and grammar count. How can a reader take an author seriously when the author has such disregard for craft? In today’s saturated self-publishing market, the easiest way to stand out is to deliver clean, clear prose.
Take a class
When I’m offline, I teach college composition (that required course everyone loves to hate). I believe in the power of education. I’d do something else if I didn’t believe in it. Every day I witness students improving their writing.
The students who fail take shortcuts, or they cheat.
If you have aptitude, desire, and the willingness to complete the work, you can benefit from a writing class. You get what you put into it. Check out your local community college or an online resource.
Choose your course and instructor carefully. Read reviews, and ask previous students for recommendations.
There’s no substitute for assignments, grades, and deadlines. You need to challenge yourself in order to grow. If you can’t afford a class right now, start with a free book from your local library. Bookmark a few websites devoted to writing.
Brian Kitely’s The 3 AM Epiphany (eBook for writing fiction)
Creative Nonfiction Writing Exercises (website)
Find a support group
As a writer, you may find yourself without support, especially when your friends and family don’t understand your calling.
You’re going to need a band of allies to keep you energized and focused.
The moment I finished grad school, I knew I’d miss the writing community the most. I’d learned to trust the instincts of a handful of writers. We shared every draft and revision with each other, looking for flaws in our stories, flaws in our characters, mistakes in our logic or use of language.
It wasn’t always pleasant, but we helped each other grow. When someone reads and “gets” your work, the process becomes worthwhile. Every struggle dissolves into knowledge, into new pathways for problem solving, into strategies to advance the story.
Solutions become tools for your expanding toolbox.
Seek out quality writing communities. Join a few, and reach out to the members. When you find a trusted inner circle, invite them into a private community where you can share drafts, ideas, and resources with each other.
Read something inspiring every day
Writing is hard work. A few hours of writing can feel like an eight-hour shift of hard labor. It’s easy to drain yourself, pouring every ounce of energy onto the page.
Commit yourself to inspiration, even if it’s only a few minutes each day. You’re going to need it to recharge.
Read success stories. Surround yourself with inspirational quotes. Cultivate a daily habit of positive reading. Place a few “you can do it” books on your writing desk and your bedroom night stand. Start and end each day on a positive note.
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
T Harv Eker’s Secrets of the Millionaire Mind
Schedule alone time to write
Your family and friends may not understand it, but you have to prioritize your writing time. If it isn’t scheduled and honored, it will likely fail.
This is your sacred time. It’s as important as anything else in your daily schedule. Make it a priority, and don’t give in to compromise.
Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed or distracted. When I can’t find true quiet, I type with headphones on, listening to classical music or white noise.
I find nature soundtracks or instrumental music works best. Songs with lyrics pull my attention away from my writing task.
Alone time is key. Don’t let common distractions or multitasking habits sabotage your progress.
Finish what you start
This single tip could transform your writing and your life.
Think about it. How many projects have you started and abandoned? How do you know which projects to finish or prioritize?
With every writing project you begin, decide on a minimum viable format.
Make each project achievable. Without finishing, you’ll never reap the rewards of success (or learn the important lessons that only come from failure).
When you don’t complete your work, you cheat yourself out of results as well as opportunities for transformation, and you never get to realize your true potential. When you finish your projects, you become someone different at the finish line, someone with new wisdom and experience.
You’ll be less likely to repeat mistakes or to take a longer route when a shorter path will suffice.
Don’t deny yourself this gift. Finish.
Separate your activities to increase your writing productivity
Everyone tells you, “write without editing,” and it’s great advice.
However, if you’re anything like me, you probably assume you have this covered. And you’d be wrong, just like me.
Think about it. How often do you suffer over word choice, over choosing the perfect tense, over finding the perfect adjective?
If so, you’re writing in tandem with your inner editor, critic, and crazy-maker.
It takes discipline and continued vigilance to outrun this tyrant.
Try setting a timer, writing as fast as you can, or writing out of sequence. Over time, you’ll find a method that works for you.
Pay attention when you find yourself veering off course.
Why is this important?
Have you ever hosted a dinner party alone, without prior preparation, trying to entertain your guests while assembling, timing, and serving dinner, drinks, and dessert? How well did it go?
Did you enjoy yourself, or did you find it draining and unsatisfying?
When it comes to writing, we’re not well-suited for multitasking. Writing places a heavy demand on the human hard drive, maxing out available space for memory, imagination, spatial awareness, linguistic issues, etc..
Writing requires deep concentration. You can’t compare it to washing dishes or emptying the trash.
It demands your full attention, and each part of the process requires a unique combinations of brain regions.
In order to make the best use of your limited time and resources, it’s best to focus on one task per session, or to tackle multiple like-minded tasks in a session:
- Research sessions
- Brainstorming/Ideation sessions
- Outlining sessions
- Drafting sessions
- Revision sessions
- Editing sessions
Trying to do everything simultaneously slows your progress, and it kills your motivation.
Invest in plotting templates for your chapters and scenes
I’m a firm believer in outlines and templates. Anything that keeps the mind on task is invaluable when you’re drafting.
With indie publishing exploding in the last five years, it’s easier than ever to find writing resources. Here are some popular options:
- Take Off Your Pants! Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing by Libbie Hawker
- How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson
- Structuring Your Novel by K.M. Weiland
- Rock Your Plot: A Simple System for Plotting Your Novel by Cathy Yardley
- The Story Template: Conquer Writer’s Block Using the Universal Structure of Story by Amy Deardon
Perhaps, you’ve developed your own templates for plotting scenes and chapters. Dedicate some time to writing them down. Ask your writer friends for suggestions.
When you’re feeling uninspired or blocked, a template can keep you focused. You’ll know exactly where you’re heading at every turn.
Templates keep you writing instead of questioning, evaluating, or trying to intuit the next step.
Practice in other genres (poetry, short stories, song lyrics)
Practice is practice.
Changing genres can provide you with a needed boost. When I’m feeling fatigued or stuck, I turn to poetry or song lyrics. Sometimes reading other people’s work is enough to recharge the batteries.
Poetry helps me focus on rhythm, on images, on syntax. Song lyrics help me realize the power of individual phrases.
Short stories help me focus on the big picture without spending too much time away from my own text.
Zooming in or stepping back helps reorient your thinking, helping you solve problems when you return to your own work.
Stephen King said it best: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”Stephen King said it best: “If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that. Click To Tweet
Reading provides the perfect fuel for writing. The trick is having the texts available within reach, without having to disconnect from the process to go digging for them.
Place a stack of preselected texts in your writing space. Prioritize your favorite authors, those who offer the types of prose you’d like to emulate.
Read something new every day, even if it’s only a chapter. You’ll find your creative wheels turning in no time.
Court the muse
As a writer, you probably spend an enormous amount of energy chasing the muse, but once you catch up with him or her, how can you stay in the flow?
You can build a lifestyle around creative pursuits.
Extend the flow by preparing your own meals, by taking walks, by closely watching strangers interact. If you condition your unconscious by making mundane things important, you’ll stumble upon extraordinary ideas while going through your daily routines.
Indulge in a brainstorming session each morning or evening. Prime your mind with a question before changing activities, before going to sleep.
Ask, receive, validate, and repeat.
Originality is overrated.
In fact, almost anything “original” represents a new combination of old, common elements.
The concept for the Bernstein, Sondheim, and Laurents musical West Side Story was taken from Romeo and Juliet. But this wouldn’t likely bother William Shakespeare because he stole the idea from Tristan and Isolde, a popular 12th century folktale.
Turn your friends, enemies, siblings, or favorite movie characters into characters for your book project. Use whatever you have available.
Add, subtract, and adapt existing elements into something original. You’ll be surprised by how easy and liberating the process can be.
Go ahead and steal!
How to Honor Yourself
Commit to a news fast
Within minutes of waking, we’re bombarded with world news. Much of it is heartbreaking.
To make matters worse, we’re conditioned to believe that good citizenship requires an immersion in community and world events.
We wonder how we can make a positive contribution without keeping up with the latest injustice or tragedy.
We rarely stop and consider the drain on our energy, on our positivity. How can we create when we’re bogged down with worries, with difficult issues impinging on us from every direction?
Try disconnecting from news outlets for an entire day. And don’t worry, if something’s truly important, you’ll hear about it from someone.
When you’ve completed a day, try a block of days or a week. Notice how much time and energy you free up for positive activities.
I started by canceling the local newspaper. I later gave up on local news channels. I still get plenty of news, but I’m selective about how and when I consume it.
Commit to a news diet, and pay attention to the results.
Crush the inner critic
Nothing robs us of our energy like the inner critic, that nagging voice that tells us we’re unworthy, unskilled, or unlovable.
It warns us when we’re overreaching. It scolds us when we’re underperforming. It’s debilitating.
So how do we work around this insane little dictator?
For fun and a little clarity, spend a single day recording everything that it says. Write the thoughts down. At the end of the day, look at the mess in front of you. In no time, you’ll realize how it contradicts itself, providing you with little more than warnings not to try.
This critic wants to keep you frozen in the space between who you are and who you’d like to become.
It holds you back, nothing more. And it has no wisdom, no special powers to save or protect you.
When you see this in print, you’ll find it easier to ignore it and proceed.
Look for patterns
As creative people, we’re tuned into novelty, into surprise, into recognizing the next big thing. We become hyper-focused on what’s new, and we forget to notice the subtle patterns in our lives.
These patterns or common denominators can lead us into greater productivity, into creative and personal breakthroughs.
Patterns reveal what works for us and what holds us back. When we notice our patterns, we’re given opportunities for transformation.
I’ve discovered that I’m most creative and productive between 11 AM and 4 PM. If I give away this time block to friends, family, or other responsibilities, my output suffers. If I shift my writing time to 8 PM, I’m utterly worthless.
When you become conscious of patterns, unexpected truths emerge. You may notice personal blind spots like allowing others to infringe on your time or your generosity. When you spot a negative pattern, you can alter your approach and disconnect from its source.
As creative people, we often attracting people and situations that can rob us of our energy.
Evaluate the patterns in your life, and take action.
Writing is hard work.
Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, you’ll need to recharge after frequent periods of writing. For some of you, this will mean alone time– away from the page.
For extroverts, this might translate into a night out at a restaurant or a party.
Even though you’re sitting in a comfortable chair most of the time, your brain gets a workout, and you’re going to need to replenish your energy.
Like your sacred writing time, consider scheduling your recharging time.
Schedule a movie night, a game night, or an afternoon in the park. Make sure you can put some distance between your activity and the page.
And don’t wait for the weekend to unwind. Before you know it, you’ll be waking up Sunday with a list of neglected chores and responsibilities.
At some point in your career, your work will be scrutinized and rejected.
It’s part of the process, and it provides four important benefits:
- Rejection proves that you’re pushing your boundaries, that you’re showing up, finishing your work, and putting it out there for consumption. Without risking rejection, success would be impossible.
- Rejection teaches resilience, and it proves that you can endure, that your work is important enough to keep going, day after day.
- Rejection provides opportunities for learning and improvement. If ten publishers hate your protagonist or your ending, you now have clear areas for revision.
- Rejection provides perspective, reminding you that people and tastes differ, that there’s no official standard of quality.
Publishers rejected J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter several times before someone took a chance on it. Stephen King’s Carrie was rejected thirty times before publication.
If you’re not getting rejected, you may want to put yourself out there more often.
Support other writers
Even you! 😉
It’s easy to forget we’ve chosen a difficult path, that we’ve committed ourselves to hours, months, and years of practice without any guarantees.
We’re compelled by some force to write, to create, to share what’s important to us.
Our parents won’t understand us. Our spouses, siblings, and friends will worry about our sanity.
So we need friends: writer friends. We need to make friends with other writers.
We need people who know what it feels like to face rejection every day, what it feels like to put in a day’s work only to return to the prior word count.
We need friends who can open doors, friends who can offer encouragement, friends who will listen quietly until we’ve sounded off. And we need to be that type of friend to others.
The Internet’s full of quality communities for writers.
Follow writers on Twitter. Join a Facebook group, seek out opportunities to connect, to share resources, excerpts, and critiques.
Step out of your comfort zone (in life and on paper)
Routines are important, but they can bog us down. Look through your refrigerator and your bookshelf. Take a mental inventory of your house or apartment.
How much is familiar? How much is too familiar?
While putting yourself out there and courting rejection, commit to expanding your comfort zone (in life and on paper).
Travel whenever you can. Take notes on the sights, sounds, and smells of a new city or town. Sample the food, the nightlife, the local hot spots.
When you return to the page, flesh out those impossibly-complex characters. Assemble them in your imagination, and get them talking to each other. Take risks with their personalities, their motives, their flaws.
Give your protagonist a stutter, an evil streak, a complicated mistress.
Consider your usual limits and expand them. Break a few rules.
Nothing sparks creativity like challenging your boundaries.
Be grateful for your gift
Cultivate an attitude of gratitude.
Be thankful for your unique talents and interests. There’s no other person like you. You have innumerable gifts to share. Nurture them.
Words can change the world.
They can inform, entertain, inspire, and heal. You have powerful forces at your disposal. You’re one of the lucky few people who can entertain yourself for hours, building entire worlds out of thin air.
You can disappear into your work, emerging stronger, wiser, better than before.
Take a few moments each day to count your blessings, to give thanks for your life’s work.
Check out John Kralik’s personal story of transformation: A Simple Act of Gratitude.
Trust yourself and the process
Trust is hard, especially for creatives. Each new project looks like an obstacle course, and you can rarely see beyond the next curve.
Remember that you’re enough, that you already possess what you need. You have a mind, a heart, and your words.
If you ever come up short, you can and will find your way.
The process is all that matters.
Show up each day, and fill the page. Repeat.
When you put in the work, the work gets done. You can return each day to revise and strengthen. Have faith in yourself and the work. It’s worthy of your attention.
Let yourself off the hook
Be kind to yourself.
When was the last time you forgave yourself for failing to achieve perfection?
When was the last time you accepted yourself in your current state?
Take off your superhero cape, and toss it into the laundry basket.
Today, embrace your humanness, your brokenness, those qualities that enable you to write with passion, courage, and empathy.
A good writer knows that bumps, scratches, and grit make people interesting.
Celebrate your favorite new character: the impossibly-complicated you.
Enjoy the struggles, delights, and wonders of the path
Try as we may, good writing never follows a straight line.
Like our beloved fictional characters, we fall down, and we fall apart. We get back up and start over.
It’s this up-down, back and forth movement that makes the writing life compelling. Face it. If we woke up every morning to sunny skies and adoring fans, we’d be miserable.
We need challenges to feel alive, to help us appreciate the good times. We need to write crappy first drafts to appreciate the breakthroughs.
Novelist and non-fiction writer Anne Lamott coined the term “Shitty First Drafts.” If you haven’t had the pleasure, check out her “12 Truths I’ve Learned from Life and Writing.”
Remember, we need darkness to appreciate light.
We often wish it weren’t so, but it’s true.
Take everything you encounter, and use it as fuel for the journey: the wins, the losses, the mind-numbing in-betweens.
Celebrate every achievement
This last item is key.
I mean it.
EVERY. F#@&!^%. THING.
Every word on the page is a miracle.
You’re putting in the time. You’re paying your dues, and you’re winning.
Every intro, chapter, and word-count star on the fridge moves you closer to success. And every morning, get up and do it all over again.
Celebrate your latest win in the comments section below. I wanna’ hear about it!