The world is full of habits of highly effective people, cleaners, professionals, cats, and plants. Sometimes I read posts about these things (a misguided attempt to feel like I’m not procrastinating) and I finish feeling empty and betrayed. It turns out habits of effective anythings are mostly obvious and not super easy.
I think habits of effective writers aren’t always that obvious but you can find them littered across the internet in the hands of great writers on Twitter and other places writers hangout. They might not always say ‘HEY LISTEN UP DUDES, HERE’S A TIP THAT WILL SEE YOU RIGHT” (sometimes, sometimes, they do actually do this and when they do it is our duty to set down our tea, put down the gummyworms, and pay attention) but they are there, quietly showing us all the way and things we can try. Here are some things I’ve picked up during my time on the internet. I like to think this are both easy and not immediately obvious but I could be wrong.
1 That reading habit
Look around you and you’ll see a similar vein that runs through all writers: we’re all avid readers. You don’t have to look far to see that this is true. I have over 300 books in my flat (last official count was somewhere in 2015) and I probably read at least a book a week on my slow weeks. Reading is my life, and it does more than just entertain me. I like to think we’re all sponges for great writing, and we can read a good book and appreciate the craft and absorb its power somehow (NB: I’ve just checked with somebody and apparently this is called learning).
There’s also another skill to learn when it comes to reading and writing, and that’s knowing when to stop. For me, I have to stop reading books of a similar nature (maybe within the same sub genre par exemplar) when I’m writing a first draft. I can read lots before, I often do, but once the green flag is dropped I have to focus. Other people have other methods. It’s important you find your own.
2 Getting on top of time management
The biggest and worst kept secret in life is that we — none of us — have enough time to do all the things we want to do. It hurts. It’s not going to be painless. But working out some kind of time management system (maybe even, dare I say it, a schedule?!) is super important when you have limited time to hand.
Some people get up at 5am and write then (I mention these people b/c they seem like superheroes to me and I just cannot get over it), if you’re like me maybe you’ll settle into writing when you wake up, sometimes at lunch, and then in the evenings. Perhaps you have a long commute on public transport you can use. The trick is to plan. If it doesn’t work out, that’s fine, but knowing you’ve set aside the time to write can really help lift the self-imposed pressure we all place on ourselves. Nobody has enough time, and no writer has free time, but there are ways of getting around that.
3 Writing often and with reckless abandon
I’m not sure writing every day is always a good thing — I’ve seen people burn out and into oblivion by pushing too hard — but writing as often as you can, and trying every day, is important. There’s something mechanical about what we do, something akin to a muscle that needs conditioning, and that means you have to sit down and type even when you don’t feel like it. You’ll feel better afterwards. You’ll know you’re achieving something. Never forget what got you started writing in the first place — be it a need for release, therapeutic, or that thrilling feeling when there’s only you, a lamp, and a blank page and a whole universe of possibilities to explore.
4 Knowing the difference between a first draft and the finished thing
The first draft of anything tends to be a pile of poo. It’s messy, chaotic, and full of plot holes. That’s okay. It’s so important to be able to look at that first draft, have the humility to admit it is a steaming pile of brown muck, and then work on it. At least half of writing is rewriting, maybe more. That’s what comes next, this delightful next step you can look forward to after you’re done. You’re refining something and creating magic. YER A WIZARD, HARRY!