Q & A: Cultivating a Writing Practice

Question: I've read books like The Artist's Way and Writing Down the Bones that talk about cultivating a daily writing practice. I can see the benefit of writing daily, but I can't get myself to stick to the habit -- I only last four or five days. How can I create a daily writing practice that sticks with me? Help!

Let me start by saying: I hear you.

Cultivating a daily writing practice has always been a struggle for me. My intention is there, solid and dreaming, but follow-through can be a challenge: family, work, the business of everyday life. It's not easy in these hyper-connected times to carve out space for the quieter moments, but it is critical to cultivating our own writing practice.

I think, the most important tool for creating a daily writing practice is to be realistic.

It's easy to have this ideal of spending an hour or more each day writing. And if that is the kind of time you have to dedicate to your practice, then that is incredible. But if the reality is that you can set your alarm for 15 minutes earlier each morning, or write on your lunch break instead of watching Netflix, then make those choices. Part of cultivating a daily writing practice is to acknowledge the time you can realistically spend writing (which might even be 5 minutes). Doing so will help ensure the sustainability of your daily practice.

Because if you are spending time writing, and that whole time you are worried about doing other things, your writing will suffer.

Another useful tool for keeping a daily writing practice is to decide how you want to use the time. For some, a daily writing practice is used more like morning pages -- a complete brain dump. Getting out all the various thoughts and strands to start the day with a clear mind. For others, having a project you are working on (a book, essay collection, or poetry series) is a great container for a daily practice.

Evelyn Lauer talks about this in her episode of In Her Room. She notes that, because she is working on a book project, every time she sits down to write she knows what she is writing: the book. Using this as a container, there is some relief of the internal pressure we can feel when showing up to the page.

A third tool I think is critical to keeping any writing practice going is be compassionate with yourself. If you miss a day of writing because your kid is sick or your dog eats the sheets, that's okay. If you sit down to write and what you really need to do is meditate or listen to a podcast or watch a dance performance, that doesn't mean your time was wasted. Be gentle with yourself and what you are able to accomplish, but also don't fall into the trap of making it a regular thing. You are trying to cultivate a writing practice, after all. Not a podcast listening practice, or a youtube watching practice.

So, be realistic about the time you can commit each day to writing, be clear about what your daily practice is writing for, and be gentle with yourself when you maybe don't get your practice in one day, but also don't be complacent with your actions.

I'd love to hear about how you maintain a daily writing practice! Leave a comment below and share your tips and tricks. Do you have a question about writing, life, or personal ritual? Submit your question for a future Q & A post!