Divide and Conquer: The Habits of A Writer

Whether published or unpublished, full-time or part-time, writers have daily habits and obligations that they need to deal with. Probably you’re working a nine-to-five, or probably you’re still a student. It’s understandable – you have a workload you simply can’t ignore, although on occasions circumstances allow you a bit of downtime. So you use that downtime to sit in front of your computer and watch videos until the sun rises. In between, you manage to squeeze in around five, maybe ten minutes – and if you’re lucky, a half-hour’s worth – of writing something, and it doesn’t even matter what kind of written piece it is. Just as long as you write.

I said it a lot before – taking advice from strangers on the Internet, like me, is sketchy, unless we strangers have concrete proof that our advice works. And even then, it might not work for you. But humor me first, because I certainly hope you can relate: writing does not, and perhaps cannot have a place in your daily routine. There’s the feeling that writing isn’t just something that can be as regular as your job, or the classes that you have to take every day, and you just can’t commit to projects that you start because you know you’ll never finish them anyway. Maybe in a few years, when you’re living a comfortable life thinking of nothing but your writing. If that day ever comes.

But if you do want to improve your writing – and writers out there usually do – you will want to make a habit of actually writing. And I say writing, because that is a vastly different activity from trying to write, the operative word there being “trying.” Writing means your attention is on what you’re writing, and you’re not preoccupied with thoughts of whether you should actually be writing. For starters, just write.

And it’s perhaps going to be a bumpy ride, incorporating writing and easing it into your routine. But if you want to go on a journey, the clichéd – but true – answer is that you have to begin somewhere, right? Bodybuilders don’t start out buff. Likewise, writers don’t churn out wonderful, moving pieces after the first try. It’s possible, I suppose, but rare. Uncanny, even. But the important thing to do is that you have to have a sense of how you spend your daily life. Don’t think about writing for the moment. Think about what you’re actually doing every day, sans writing. Do your best to estimate the number of hours you have to spend fulfilling schoolwork, or going from one place to another. If you want to go extreme, you might also want to think about how long it takes for you to bathe and how long it takes for you to finish your food. Getting a good sense of how you spend your time, and where you spend your time, will give you a good sense of whether or not writing can be comfortably involved in your day.

I also say where, because there are times when you’re in a certain place at a certain time when you don’t feel like doing anything at all, much less write. So recognize your daily activities, and where you spend them, and then think about writing. I’m not saying that writing should be low priority, but there are, certainly, things in life, obligations, that we cannot ignore. So think about your schedule, and think about the details, and think about the where and when, and think about where, in the chaos of these things, you will, so you think, be most comfortable with when it comes to writing.

Writing regularly does not necessarily mean a daily business, although the ideal is that you will be able to write something, anything decent, every day. I’ve already said these things in previous posts, of course, but it pays to repeat it until you get it in your head that writing is part of your daily – or weekly – rhythm. I suppose the best thing to compare writing to is physical work-out. I doubt many of us started out with a regular work-out routine that we followed aggressively, almost, perhaps, religiously. You start out small – light weights, fifteen minutes of cardio, maybe ten to fifteen squats a day. But the more you incorporate you routine, the easier your body – and you’ll be surprised to find, your time – acclimates to these changes. And then you can be more aggressive. So writing can be an every-other-day thing, a thousand words or two thousand. And you don’t have to be overly meticulous when it comes to writing – just write whatever comes, as long as you’re managing to write. The habit will ease into your habits and will eventually become a regular thing for you, something so natural and so normal that you have to do it every day. Or every other day.

That being said, bear this in mind, too: the aphorism that Rome wasn’t built in a day applies, certainly. Don’t worry too much about the quality of your writing, so long as you’re satisfied with it. To get into the habit, write first for yourself, and then think of others second. Certainly, like Rome, I doubt Joyce managed to pen down Ulysses in a single, smooth swipe, with his wit and his dense prose appearing on eight-hundred or so pages in one go. Although of course this is Joyce we’re talking about. And then you think of Finnegans Wake.

Some light joking aside, I’m not saying that this will be easy. Life happens, and if you’re not dedicated enough to your craft to be able to set aside time to work with it, it will not work with you. I’m also not saying that you should just drop everything else and just write, because in reality, that’s not really a good idea. I’m saying, though, that if you do get into the habit of writing, and if you incorporate it in your routine, someday you will produce something that will make all those hours worth it.

Like most things in life that you work hard for.



Jillian is an English Literature graduate who loves reading science fiction and fantasy, and is a big fan of J.G. Ballard. She is obsessed with coffee, video games, and rottweilers, and keeps herself busy by writing and walking around a lot. She's currently reading Jeanette Winterson and a lot of YA literature.

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