5 Practical Writing Tips To Last a Lifetime

Photo by Dennis J Coughlin

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Writing has the power to change your life. I’ve experienced it myself and I would love to share the tips that have helped me along the way.

1) Write 1000 Words a Day and Then Do What you Want!

Part One

This is my most productive tip. Since starting with this daily goal of 1000 words, I have been writing over 7000 words a week. I now have a backlog of blog posts and I’ve written the outline for my first book.

The inspiration for this idea comes from the “The Jerry Seinfeld Productivity Hack”. The headline of that article caught my attention since I happen to love Seinfeld. It is one of my all-time favourite TV shows and therefore I will listen to any advice that Jerry Seinfeld has to offer! Better yet, Jerry gives away the secret to his success:

He said the way to be a better comic was to create better jokes and the way to create better jokes was to write every day. But his advice was better than that. He had a gem of a leverage technique he used on himself and you can use it to motivate yourself — even when you don’t feel like it.

He revealed a unique calendar system he uses to pressure himself to write. Here’s how it works.

He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker. He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day.

“After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job is to not break the chain.”

Perfect! A calendar is a simple way to track my progress each day and I love the idea of making it a game where you don’t want to “break the chain”.

Instead of wasting time shopping around for a new calendar, I went into my Google Docs Calendar and printed off the current month. I taped it to the wall next to my writing desk and so far I have not broken the chain!

Part Two

Part two of this tip involves the neurotic way I handle my personal projects. When I take on a new obsession like writing, I tend to overdo it. I am a bit of a perfectionist and I have the habit of taking my self-motivation to extreme levels. I’m also a bit hard on myself.

I’ll get excited to learn a new skill and then work it into my schedule. That part is fine.

The problem is that when I’m not working on that new skill, I feel guilty about it. If I’m not “doing the work” as Steven Pressfield would say, I start to feel like any leisure activity is a waste of my time. I become convinced that I’m letting myself down if I’m enjoying some “time off” from the project. Messed up, I know!

To combat this, I’ve added the second part of this rule. Write 1000 words a day and then do what you want!

That means if I can get my daily word count complete first thing in the morning, then I have no reason to feel guilty later than night when I’m watching a movie or playing my guitar. The work for that day is done and I’m allowed to chill out for awhile and recharge. It’s a win-win scenario.

2) Write in Your Journal Every Day

Writing in a journal is the most important step to becoming a writer.

I started writing in my journal months before I ever thought about starting a blog. It was a way to process my own thoughts and to give myself time to reflect early in the morning, before the business of the day took over.

Journalling has the power to:

  • improve your mood,
  • grow your relationships
  • and deepen your faith.

A journal provides the perfect way to explore ideas in a safe environment. One of my top tips is to never let anyone read your journal. That way you are never afraid to express your thoughts and nothing is off limits! A journal is like shouting into an empty cave; once it’s done, you feel better and no one heard your rant anyway.

There’s also a great advantage for us writers; journal writing is part of your daily word count! Some mornings I might write 500 words as I chat away to myself. Better yet, some of this exploratory writing can turn into significant ideas. So many of my blog posts have started off as random one line thoughts in my journal.

3) Only Read Books You Enjoy!

You need to read as much as you write and you should only read books you enjoy. Okay, so this tip might seem a bit obvious, but I did not follow this rule for years.

When you talk to friends about books or read book reviews, there can be a sense that we are all supposed to act a bit more sophisticated than we feel. A friend might point out that “this book was a New York Times best-seller!” Or someone at work might ask, “Haven’t you read that book? I thought everyone had read that one?”

You start feeling guilty about your reading habit before you even pick up a book!

For years I read a steady stream of trendy, best selling fiction. I enjoyed some of those books and the rest I just slogged through until the end.

Here’s the solution. Buy or borrow loads of books from many different genres; fiction, non-fiction, fantasy, horror. Whatever you can get your hands on. Then read the one’s you like and give the others away.

If you are halfway through a book and you are not dying to pick it up during your next lunch break, then ditch it! You are allowed to give up a book. Repeat after me; you are allowed to abandon a book. As Austin Kleon said:

“I will not finish books I don’t like.”

Remember that books are wonderful! In fact, there are so many great great books out there that once you find your niche, you won’t be able to fit them all into one lifetime. Give yourself a fighting chance and just read the books you love.

4) Be Wary Who You Learn From

I have to thank Joanna Penn for this tip. I was watching this video interview where Joanna pointed out that writers should:

“Be wary of who you take advice from.”

I was blown away when I first heard Joanna give this advice. It was such a refreshing opinion on today’s self-publishing scene. There is so much advice for writers out there that it has reached the point where it is overwhelming. These days, everyone and their uncle is selling an on-line product to help you become a better writer.

Here’s the kicker though; you don’t have time to listen to them all! The only thing you need to do as a writer is write.

To help clean up this stream of advice, look at the person giving the tips. Joanna was pointing out that you need to find writers that are successful and who are making money the way you want to make money. Seek out their advice first. As a writer, you have to prioritise your teachers.

Then, if you still overwhelmed and do not know where to look, start with the masters and read classics like “On Writing” from Stephen King and “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott.

Disclaimer:

The irony of this tip is not lost on me. I am not a published author (yet), so please take everything I say with a grain of salt. I am passing on my advice as someone who is eager to help and as someone who is learning the craft of writing one day at a time.

5) Enjoy Writing!

This final tip is a deal-breaker. If you are miserable every time you sit down to write, then it’s time to pursue another form of art.

I spent a good deal of time creating art that was making me unhappy and I would like to help other people avoid that same scenario.

You will hear a great deal of advice which points out at the craft of writing is a constant struggle. Yes, that is true and writing is hard, but it should not make you unhappy.

Think about it this way. Biking up a steep hill is tough, but I love riding my mountain bike. I might be out of breath and exhausted by the time I reach the top of a hill, but I love that feeling and I can’t wait to get back at it the next day. That’s the way you should feel about your writing or any other form of art for that matter. Writing is tough, but it should also be rewarding and fun!

Life is short. Don’t waste it by making unhappy art.

Keep writing

Keep writing. That’s the golden rule.

Take the bits from this article that work for you, ignore the rest and then get back to your daily writing.

You learn the most as a writer when you are practising the craft. Write every single day. Tell the truth with your words and keep going. I wish you all the luck in the world.

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