How to Find Your Best Practices as a Writer

Like many writers, I am always looking for advice on how to boost my word count. I consult magazines, blogs and websites to learn the answers to the ever-popular questions:

How often should I write?

How many words do I need to write every day?

What time of day do successful authors write?

What room of my house should I be sitting in?

Should I be drinking tea or coffee?

Or wine?

ray bradbury
This post is part of the DIY MFA Street Team Question of the Day series. For more information about DIY MFA, visit http://www.DIYMFA.com.

A problem many of us have is that we constantly turn to others to make our routines for us. We want to emulate what other people are doing every day to become successful, but in reality, doesn’t it make sense that the production of our routines has to come from the awareness of our own natural tendencies?

Stephen King preaches in his memoir, On Writing, to write 2,000 words every single day. He does this every day of the year, including holidays, birthdays and vacations. Clearly, it works for him.

Does that mean it works for you, too?

I tried this practice last year while writing the first draft of my novel. I showed up at my desk every day and wrote my 2,000 words for a little over a month. Sure, I could do it, but when I looked back at my work, I had a prodigious amount of nonsense. In setting a lofty daily word count goal, my brain worked in a way that told me I just had to get it done. I sped through my words, not taking the time to ensure that I had content worth reading.

Natalie Goldberg preaches to write morning pages, scribbling your thoughts onto three pages, long hand, before doing anything else in your day. I do this pretty often, but I do it on my own standards. If I’m going to be seriously working on a piece that day, I’ll spend my waking moments spilling thoughts onto paper. I find that this both clears my head to better focus when I come back to the project later and it allows me to see the scope of ideas I have the project. An added bonus with writing morning pages is that some of the hard work is done for me when I come back around to it.

Many leaders preach to us to journal every day, which is fairly similar to the morning pages. Jeff Goins says to write 500 words every day. In previous posts, I’ve mentioned writing habits of successful authors Karen Abbott, Christina Baker Kline and Jacqueline Mitchard. All of these practices have great value to them and are worth giving a shot, but ultimately, you know yourself best. Just because someone else had success doing one thing does not mean that you will too.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself to figure out your best practices:

  • At what time of day do I focus best? This is different for everyone. I know that I am a morning person and always schedule my writing time for about 7 a.m. I leave technical things to be dealt with at the end of the day, when I can still function but don’t necessarily have to be my most creative. You may function best at night or even late afternoon. Be honest with yourself and set your writing for that time.
  • How much time can I devote to writing on a daily basis? This will help you set your word count goal. If you know you only have 30 minutes, set a goal for 250 or 500 words. The amount has to be something you can stick with. Being realistic about how much time you can devote to writing on a daily basis allows you to set a doable word count goal.
  • What physical conditions help me be the most productive? Think about the last time you felt proud of your writing time, whether it was because you hit a high word count or you felt your writing was strong. Where were you? Did you have music on? What type of music? What were you wearing? Was anyone around you? If you keep these physical factors consistent, your mind will become more attuned to your writing routine. When you hear a certain song, your brain is able to sync up with the idea that it is time to write.
  • What area of my writing do I need to improve on? While hitting a word count or a length of time is a good goal to have, it is also important to devote time to improving your craft. Think about a skill or area you want to improve on and ask yourself how you can best implement study time toward that. I like to start my writing sessions with a practice from Barbara Baig’s Spellbinding Sentences. This helps me focus on a specific element, like imagery or use of adjectives in my writing that day.

I love reading up on the writing habits of other writers and giving them a try, but ultimately, you have to know yourself and what routine you can stick with. For me, that means locking myself away in my office for an hour in the morning, starting with a few minutes of free writing, and ending with a few pieces of chocolate…because hey, we writers need to reward ourselves!

What is your writing routine like? Let me know in the comments section!


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