Writing Like Clockwork

There is a perception of writers that we are all these carefree souls who write as and when the whimsy takes us. That we are tied by nothing, and work best when left to cycle round sleeping and writing and drinking coffee. I’m certain that there are, in fact, writers out there who are just like this. But the vast majority of us – of you – are not, and trying to be that way will only be detrimental.

If you were to ask me what the best thing I have done for my writing in the past year has been, it wouldn’t be publishing Mundane Magic. It wouldn’t be starting this blog, or opening a Patreon, or any of the many other things I’ve done to empower me and my writing career. It would be this: I started writing from 10am-12pm every day.

I’ve now been doing this for almost three months, as part of setting a daily schedule for myself. In those three months I have written 60,000 words of novel, written or edited two dozen poems, two short stories, a dozen blog posts, and more – primarily because every day, I’ve sat down, turned everything else off, and tried to write.

My rule is that I must at the very least attempt to write something, even if I find that it’s not quite working for me that day. Obviously, running this blog and my Patreon means that I have deadlines – that means generally, I always have something I need to be writing. So if I’ve tried to work on Protos and it’s not happening, I can just work on an article or poem or something instead.

In doing so, I try to be generous to myself. Because there is a grain of truth in that whimsy-following stereotype. There are days where you try to write and nothing comes out. But I’ve found the more I’ve done this, the fewer those days are. Often those days are not because I have “writer’s block”, but because of something external – like my mental or physical health playing up.

I have good days, where I write solidly for two hours then look up groggily, realising I’ve just churned out several thousand words and not even noticed the time pass. I have bad days where I go ‘okay, no’ and completely ignore those two hours. Most days are somewhere in the middle. Today, for example, I wrote quite happily on Protos for an hour before I felt myself starting to flag. I took a brief break and then shifted to writing this article instead.

In part, this works for me because I have the privilege of time – this is my job, I’m privileged to have it as my job, and most people don’t. A huge number of the writers that you will have read novels by wrote their first novel whilst also holding down a full time job. I know many of you are in this position. So how can you do this?

The simple answer – which isn’t the whole answer – is just to pare it down. Only got 15 minutes a day? Do 15 minutes a day. Carve out a corner of your lunchbreak, take a notebook or laptop to write on your commute, enforce 15 minutes of writing when you get home. There are a ton of resources online that encourage this kind of brief spurt writing, based on different approaches. Here are a couple:

750 Words is, not surprisingly, about writing 750 words a day. It’s free for the first month and $5 thereafter – if you find it works for you, you can either choose to invest in the website or find a way to do it free for yourself.

4thewords is a more gamified approach. Like 750 Words it’s free for a month then costs money thereafter ($4 a month), but it’s a very different approach. You write words, battle monsters, all in some really nice artwork. A fun way to trick yourself into developing a habit!

But perhaps it’s not the amount of time or how to do it that concerns you, though. It may well be making the time at all. Many people, especially those with children or otherwise unusual schedules (like shift workers), find it difficult to develop daily habits.

There’s no simple answer for this, because it very much depends on what your situation is. I will say though that in my – admittedly biased – experience there is generally always some time you can find for yourself. Even if it’s tiny. Even if it’s five minutes here and there. Even if it’s not every day, but every other day. Even if it’s five minutes for one day a week. That’s still a habit.

The difficulty is in making writing the most important thing, and that’s fundamentally what writing like clockwork is. It’s saying: for X minutes a day, I am making writing my priority. So if your life has a lot of priority demands (children, work, caring for others, etc) then you are going to find this hard. There’s no way around that.

But it’s almost certainly not impossible.

Lastly, and closest to my heart, is the other (oft unappreciated) benefit of making writing a habit: it really helps with mental health. Especially with depression, where making and maintaining habits – finding the spoons to do it every day – is an ongoing battle.

Writing daily, like any habit, is a muscle. Stretch it regularly and it will get stronger. But it doesn’t just empower your writing muscle. It works others that you can’t see. Your determination, your discipline, your drive, your creativity. All of these things will improve if you make writing a priority, everyday, like clockwork.

You can do it. Go on. Start now.

If you enjoyed this post and would like to see more, we’re almost halfway to our first Patreon stretch goal: moving to three blog posts a week! Come check it out if you’d like to financially support the blog and my writing whilst getting some awesome rewards.