Sometimes when you are a writer, there is the question of when to write. Do you write when you feel like writing, or do you try to write according to some program?
This question might come up at many times during your journey as a writer. Let's say you have a blog. Do you post according to a schedule, or do you only post as you have ideas? Let's say you are writing a novel. Do you write a certain amount each day, or do you only write when you are sure of what you want to say?
Additionally, apart from projects, as a writer, you might wonder if there is value in writing regularly, even if only just for the activity of doing it, or if you should only write when you have something particular you want to express.
The importance of good writing habits
Writing, in some ways, is like exercise. You can exercise according to a plan, but you can also organically incorporate physical activity into your everyday. We've all heard the examples of taking the stairs, parking farther from a building, and walking around at work. A similar notion applies to writing.
If a writer finds time to write on a regular basis – not necessarily for a project or according to a schedule, but just generally – they can derive many benefits. Regardless of what the writer writes, they can gain from the activity.
First, and quite simply, writing regularly, helps keep a writer a writer. It can be very easy with the demands of home and work and other obligations, to put writing off. If writing isn't part of your career, it can seem like something that can be put on the back burner and taken care of later.
Writing regularly though can help prevent the sort of "lag in writing" that can come from these situations. By finding time to write, let's say fifteen minutes a day, five days a week, a writer can keep themselves, in essence, a writer. By making writing a priority, a writer can make sure they do it.
Second, writing every day can help keep a writer in practice. Writing is a skill. It's like doing magic tricks or maybe martial arts. If you don't it for a while, it's not that you'll forget, but you might not be as fluid or as able as you once were.
By writing on a regular basis, a writer can keep that part of their mind that deals with words, ideas and creating fluid and active. They can, in some way, keep themselves limber for the task.
Third, writing regularly can be an outlet for expression. Think of keeping a diary or a personal blog. Writing on a regular basis can be a way for you to get what is inside, out. It can be a way for you to express what you think and feel.
Fourth, writing on a regular basis is a great way to promote creativity. You can come up with all sorts of ideas when you have to put something down on the page. While not everything you write will be a gem, you might be amazed at the diamonds in the rough you discover.
You can think of your own starting points for writing or you can use prompts. At the end of this article, is a list of thirty- one writing prompts that can get you started.
The pros and cons of a writing schedule
In addition to writing on a regular basis, you might, as a writer, also consider writing according to a schedule. The difference between the two, is that, when you write regularly, you might write a variety of things, for a variety of reasons, at a variety of times. When you write according to a schedule, you are writing a certain amount, at periodic intervals, with the intention of achieving a goal.
I personally have written, and still write, according to a schedule. I have written novels where I made an effort to write two thousand words a day, five days a week. I've also done something similar with poetry books and poetry submissions. Also, I post almost every weekday on my blog.
There are some good and bad things about writing according to a schedule.
On the good side, writing this way can be a means to finishing a long project. One impediment to writing something long, like a novel, is the actual writing of it. Seventy thousand words, are a lot of words. While you may be able to come up with ideas and outlines, the necessary task of getting enough words on the screen still remains. There is no way around it.
Writing according to a schedule. though, can help you get through the marathon of the task. If, for example, you write two thousand words a day, five days a week, for ten weeks, then you will have something that is at least as long as a novel. It might not be done, it might need a lot of work, it will definitely need editing, but you will have something done.
This benefit shouldn't be overlooked. Writing something long can sometimes seem overwhelming. It can be very hard to take that first step up the metaphorical mountain. Writing according to a schedule though, can help you get to the top.
Another benefit of writing according to a schedule, is that in addition to helping you complete longer works, it can also help you more methodically accomplish smaller goals.
Let's say you have a goal like getting thirty short stories published. By writing according to a schedule, you can help yourself move toward this.
If you write when the feeling comes to you, or only when you have the time, it might take a while to get to your goal. Instead, if you write according to a schedule, let's say three stories a week, you'll increase the chance of achieving what you want.
While not every story you write will be accepted, by writing according to a schedule, you will at least get enough of them out there to have a chance of achieving what you want. As the process goes on, you'll learn from the experience of the task, and hopefully more of what you do will go through.
A third benefit of writing according to a schedule is that it can help teach you to write more quickly and get things done.
Sometimes, as a writer, there can be times when a piece takes hours, days or even weeks to complete. If something is important, like a personal short story, or an article about something you are passionate about, there can be a sense of wanting it to be perfect.
The problem with this, is that it might mean you spend too long on the piece, and maybe, you never get it done.
Writing according to a schedule can help with these problems. If you set a schedule that says you are going to finish what you are working on this week, then, if you stick to the schedule, you will finish it. While what you end up with may not feel perfect or be exactly what you want, you were able to get it done, and in a reasonable amount of time.
While you may worry that writing this way can cause your work to lack in quality, there are a couple of strange truths about writing that should help you feel better.
One strange truth of writing, is that people generally can't tell how long you spent on a piece. Look at this article. Did it take me an hour to write, or days? Since people can't inherently tell how long you took to work on something, don't feel like you have an obligation to work a long time.
Another strange truth of writing, is that sometimes you can work on something for an inordinate amount of time, only to have it rejected by every editor you send it to. Other times, you work on something for twenty minutes and it gets accepted the day you sent it. Sometimes that's just how it works out.
Both of these truths should make you feel better about getting something done more quickly according to a schedule.
While there are benefits to writing according to a schedule, there are cons to it as well.
For one thing, writing according to a schedule can make writing feel like a chore. When you have to write it can take away from the feeling of wanting to write.
Secondly, to some degree, it can impact the quality of your work. Let's say you are writing a novel. You get to a part where you aren't sure what should happen. Instead of stopping and coming back later when you have an idea, you decide to stick to your schedule. Your schedule says two thousand words today, and that's what you write. You look for places to elaborate, you explain, and you extend scenes. You do what you can to make your scheduled goal.
While this means you reach your required word count, it might make the quality of your work suffer. Places might sound wordy, there might be distractions for the reader, and you still haven't gotten to the point, in the place where you were writing. The same issues can arise with shorter pieces. If you are cranking things out, so to speak, they might not always be the best.
Another con of writing according to a schedule, is that it can lead to burnout. When you write more than you feel like, and according to a calendar or a clock, it can leave you feeling drained. You might not be creative and you might feel stifled. You might be better served to take a break from what you are doing.
Words of wisdom from other writers
If you are looking for some advice about writing regularly or writing according to a schedule, here are some words on the subject from accomplished writers.
Charity Bishop, editor of Prairie Times Magazine and author of a number of books including The Usurper's Throne and Ravenswolde, has this to say,
"Find out the time of day you are most able to focus, and carve out time to write. It may be 5am. It may be 10pm. But somewhere inside you is a time you can train your mind to focus only on your writing. People write books one day at a time, and each day you choose to write, you become closer to your goal of finishing a book. Do it daily or as often as you can, and learn from the mistakes other writers make so you do not have to make them on your own. Reading books and paying attention to simple things like grammar, sentence structure, and where quote marks go, as well as where you don’t feel the story works, is valuable in learning to build your own style. If you’re weak with dialogue, read it aloud as you write it, to see if it feels natural. If you’re weak in building a sensory world around the characters, practice by describing a scene from a movie and figuring out how to weave actions or set pieces into the narrative. Inspiration is for amateurs. Writers write, whether inspiration shows up or not, simply to hone their craft. They learn to push through their blocks – a block is a realization that the story has headed in the wrong direction. I often go back to the place it ‘worked’ and then take it in a new direction and the block disappears."
Frederica Mathewes-Green, author of a number of books including Welcome to the Orthodox Church: An Introduction to Eastern Christianity and Mary As the Early Christians Knew Her, derives her inspiration for writing from her faith. Her advice can help if you are searching for what to write and a reason for doing so. Speaking of the Lord, in reference to writing, she says in part:
"A habit of keeping always near him opens a channel of communication, so to speak, through which he can alert us to what we need to write and how. It's rather a different way of looking at writing from the one in which a writer (or artist in any medium) has the primary obligation of expressing himself, letting his artistic consciousness speak."
"what we write comes from the depths of our soul and is communicated by means of the talents we've been given"
Christine Klocek-Lim, is the author of two novels, Disintegrate and Who Saw the Deep, a number of chapbooks and a full length poetry collection. She edited Autumn Sky Poetry Daily and has won, been a semi-finalist, finalist and nominee, for a number of awards. She says,
"Balance leads to creativity. As a writer, that means putting down words each weekday and exercise. Many of my writing problems are solved when I run or hike or do yoga. My mind opens up, and the movement is good for my body. The mind mulls over words even as the body does other things. This is the beginning of the process. The act of forming words is the middle. Revision is the end."
New Year – New Writing
With the New Year upon us, now might be the time to start a writing program for yourself. As noted in the benefits above, writing on a regular basis can do a lot to help you move forward as a writer. Now is a great time to start.
There are a lot of ways you could start a writing program. Some ideas include:
31 Writing Prompts
If you're looking to start writing on a regular basis, here is a list of thirty-one writing prompts (one for every day of the month!) to help you get started:
1. Write an essay supporting a point of view, such as about a political or a social issue.
2. Write about feeling hungry or thirsty.
3. Write the same story from different points of view. For example, write a story about a dog going to the vet, from the point of view of the dog, the owner, and the vet.
4. Write about a time you were very ill.
5. Design a character that is the complete opposite of yourself, including dress, motivations and beliefs.
6. Write at least one paragraph on the taste of grass.
7. Write a story containing ten things that are blue.
8. Write about victory.
9. Write about defeat.
10. Write about feeling angry.
11. Write a story with a despondent character.
12. Write a back and forth argument between two people about some issue.
13. Write about being arrested.
14. Write a fictional story, with yourself as one of the characters.
15. Write a personal story, but without using the word "I".
16. Write a detailed description of something, like a piece of fruit. Describe things like color, texture, smell, etc.
17. Write a story with two endings, one happy and one bad.
18. Design a fictional culture. Write about their history, their technology, and their social structure. Think of aspects that are unique (e.g. they don't wear the color blue) and write reasons why (e.g. only politicians are allowed to wear blue).
19. Write an essay supporting a point of view that you don't necessarily agree with (but not something you are extremely opposed to). For example, if you aren't a vegetarian, you might try writing an essay supporting the idea.
20. Write what it would be like to live on half the salary you currently earn.
21. Write about significant moments. Some examples might include, the moment a person finds out they have a disease or the moment a person finds out they got a job.
22. Write about living in a climate different from your own. For example, if you live in a cold, dry place, write about living in a warm, wet place.
23. Write about experiencing a natural disaster.
24. Write about being homeless.
25. Write about winning the lottery.
26. Write about experiencing an event without one of your senses. For example, if are a person who can hear, write about what it would be like to go to a party after recently losing your hearing.
27. Write a description of something expressing one of the senses of it to someone who lacks that sense. For example, write what Christmas day smells like, in a way that someone who couldn't smell would understand.
28. Write about someone with a certain condition experiencing the progression of time. For example, write about a person who in unemployed. Write what they experience after one month of being unemployed, after three months, after six months, and after a year.
29. Write a paragraph on paper with your non-dominate hand (assuming you aren't ambidextrous). Then with your dominate hand (or by typing) write what that experience was like.
30. Write a letter that you would put in a time capsule.
31. Write about someone meeting you for the first time. Write what they would have as their first impression.
M. Sakran is that guy who walks those dogs. He is usually found standing by the side of the road while one of his dogs plays in a ditch and the other wonders why he isn't getting a treat right now. When not catering to canines, he tries to be a writer. He's had over seventy items published, including a collection of poetry called First Try, and has also self-published an eBook called Understanding: poems with explanations. You can find his poetry related blog at msakran.wordpress.com and his website at msakran.com.
M. Sakran is that guy who