In our Writing Space Group (a group of Princeton employees who like to write and meet once a month to do so), we often talk about finding the time and motivation to pursue our own creative projects. Some of us write every day for work, some don’t, but we all struggle to find a consistent, viable schedule for our own creative writing projects. We have discussed many strategies, and the key to consistency, it seems, may come from something as simple as sitting down at your desk or kitchen table.
A personal trainer once told me that he doesn’t advise clients to exercise every day, just to touch the front door of the gym. Once you’ve touched the door, you’re likely to go inside and feel compelled to exercise. The same is true for writing. If you can commit to just opening your document on the computer, pulling out your notepad, or even re-reading something you have written, chances are high that you will dive in and write or edit. There should be no penalty or self loathing if you don’t, though, since the commitment is just to “touch the door.”
Another habit forming method, the Pomodoro Technique, involves setting a timer for 25 minutes and working until it dings, then taking a break for five minutes. You can link together several “pomodoros” or just commit to one at a time.
Limiting your expectations for each session can help too. Perhaps the story you are writing today will not become the great American novel; perhaps it will, but it will be a story regardless. It will be yours, and it may lead you to more and better stories. Writers must warm up and practice, much like musicians or athletes. Be kind to yourself as you get in shape, and keep practicing.
As world-renowned artist Chuck Close says, “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightening to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself.”
So touch the door, open your laptop, and show up!