It’s not talent or word power that make writers successful; it’s staying power. Here are our 7 best tips to thrive as a writer.
1. Dream Big; Act Small
Setting unrealistic writing goals is a sure-fire way to make your writing dream unattainable. For example, starting the year with a resolution to write 1000 words per day, on top of a day job, isn’t going to cut it. That’s what Steven King manages after decades of full-time writing and over two dozen blockbusters to his name.
As a beginner writer, start with small steps. Two hundred words per working day add up to 1000 by Friday, which is a good deal better than zero because you felt entirely demoralized after a disastrous Monday.
Your goals must be achievable. You can always up or lower the count if you find your initial goal isn’t working. Work out what works for you, rather than give up on your big dream.
2. Write Down Specific Writing Goals
What do you want by December, and how exactly will you get there?
Studies have found that participants who wrote down specific actions required to achieve their goals were three times more likely to achieve their goals than those people who wrote down their dreams in vague terms.
Your goals have to be clear, measurable and specific. Here are some examples:
For fiction writers:
- By Friday I will have written 1000 words: 200 per day. I will write between 8 pm and 9 pm in my study each day.
- By end of January I will have completed one publishable short story of 2000 words. I will write 200 words per day, allow one week of rest and one week for editing and polishing.
- This year I aim to enter four international writing competitions. I will complete four stories of 2000 words each. I will complete a story by end-April, end-July, end-September and end-December.
For journalists and business writers:
- I will write three feature articles by end-February. I will spend two weeks per article, researching, interviewing, writing and editing.
- I will spend two hours each Monday between 8 pm and 10 pm brainstorming article ideas.
- I will spend one hour per day following the news, Twitter and Facebook and collecting article ideas and taking notes.
So take an hour or two to get your dreams translated into measurable, specific actions and goals.
3. Don’t Let Bad Writing Days Stop You
“Being a real writer means being able to do the work on a bad day.” ~ Norman Mailer, Pulitzer Prize-winner
All writers have bad days. Accept it. It doesn’t mean you should give up; what it does mean is that you might have a better writing day tomorrow.
Julia Cameron, author of the best-selling book The Artist’s Way, says that what defines a writer is showing up at the page, no matter what. It means writing, regardless of your headache, hangover or hang-ups. It means doing your assignments in spite of all your excuses.
We all have busy, full lives. So what? Don’t let that prevent you from completing 30 minutes of writing every day.
4. Routine Routine Routine
In the writing courses we offer, we emphasise the importance of a writing schedule.
We’ve seen super-talented writers fizzle out halfway through the course solely because they couldn’t stick to their routine.
On the other hand, those writers who sent in their assignments like clockwork delivered the goods, literally. Once they had a product that they had polished several times over, they could submit it for publication. That’s one solid tick on the bucket list.
Here’s what some famous writers say about the benefits of a writing routine and persevering at it.
“The mere habit of writing, of constantly keeping at it, of never giving up, ultimately teaches you how to write.” ~ Gabriel Fielding
“Imagination grows by exercise, and contrary to popular belief, is more powerful in the mature than in the young.” ~ William Somerset Maugham
“You will have to write and put away or burn a lot of material before you are comfortable in this medium. You might as well start now and get the work done. For I believe that eventually quantity will make for quality.” ~ Ray Bradbury
“Successful writers are not the ones who write the best sentences. They are the ones who keep writing.” ~ Bonnie Friedman
Once you have your writing goals in place and have set up a writing time, stick to it. Again, make your routine realistic and manageable. Figure out if you work well at night, or first thing in the morning. Ask yourself – do you write best in a coffee shop, or staring at a blank wall? Do the words flow when you write in silence or when you listen to music?
Use web apps like www.habitforge.com to send you daily writing reminders. Join writing groups online for daily inspiration to write, such as the Writers College on Facebook.
5. Identify Your ‘Stops’
“The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” ~ Sylvia Plath
All writers have secret niggling doubts about anything from their plotlines to their writing ability.
Let me repeat that. ALL WRITERS HAVE DOUBTS.
The key is to identify your hidden insecurities and know how to overcome them when they surface.
Julia Cameron calls these insecurities “enemies of your creative self-worth”.
They’re the debilitating beliefs like:
- “I have no imagination.”
- “I can’t write anything interesting or original.”
- “People will think my writing is stupid.”
- “I write such rubbish I may as well give up now.”
- “My ideas are boring.”
- “I’m too busy to write.”
- “My grammar is terrible.”
- “I’m not sure I can write.”
- “I’ve got nothing fresh or better to add to what’s already out there.”
When you notice these beliefs emerging (and the inevitable sinking feeling that goes with them) you need a plan of action. For some, this may be going for a walk and letting the writing rest for an hour or two. It might mean reading some positive feedback you have received about your writing. Phoning a friend could help, or emailing your tutor.
The point is: at some stage you will have doubts about your writing. The trick is not to let them derail your writing.
Over time, as you build your confidence and writing muscle, these doubts will not only become less frequent, but you will also get better at managing them.
“The point is at some stage you will have doubts about your writing. The trick is not to let them derail you.”
6. Join a Writing Community
Join a discussion group for writers, a writing circle, read writing blogs, take a writing class. It is vital to keep learning about your craft.
Connecting with like-minded individuals keeps you motivated and enthusiastic. Writing can be a lonely business and finding out that most writers encounter the same obstacles and have the same concerns can be comforting and inspiring.
You can find writing circles in the UK here, South Africa here, New Zealand here and Australia here.
If the idea of a group doesn’t appeal to you, share your writing goals with one or two trusted writing companions. Suddenly your projects will seem more real.
However, talking about a writing project before it is written has its pros and cons. Find out if it works for you.
7. Get it Written, not Right
One of the most common fears we hear from our students is: “I have written something, but it is so bad, I cannot hand it in.” When you write a first (or even a second) draft, give yourself permission to write a load of tosh.
It is relatively easy to edit a poorly written 1500-word article or short story; it is impossible to edit a blank page.
“Give yourself permission to write a load of tosh.”
All you writers out there – get your assignments written. Switch off your left-brain, mingy, perfectionistic editor. Leave the critiquing to your tutors, and for when you tackle your final draft.
Apply these seven tips to your writing life and make this your most successful writing year ever.
Nichola Meyer is a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in O Magazine, Femina, Essentials, Baby & Me, Your Baby, Your Pregnancy, Little People and Cape Town’s Child. Previously a lecturer in Magazine Journalism at CityVarsity and Boston Language College, Nichola has been the principal of the Writers College since 2005.