How to “Just Write”

In honor of CampNanoWrimo being only TWO DAYS AWAY (how did that even happen so fast?!) I thought I’d publish a post that might be relevant to those, like me, who feel wholly unprepared for this little adventure.

Some of the best and worse writing advice I’ve gotten from professors, friends, family, and the internet is to “just write.” It seems like a piece of solid and simple advice. What do you do when you you’re at a block with your writing and can’t seem to go on? Just begin writing again and soon you’ll be out of that zone. Voilà.

And yet I, and I’m sure many others, have found this advice both infuriating and short-sighted. Sometimes you feel like you’re just too run dry to “just write”. Sometimes it sounds like a good idea, but you just don’t have the time or know how to make it. Sometimes you feel like your writing is so awful that to just keep going seems like the dumbest advice in the world.

I’m not saying I think this is bad advice. I just think that being able to follow it can take a few more steps, and that it advice can only be taken seriously once we learn how to approach “just writing.” The following list discusses how to do just that.

And before anything, I think I should say that I am by no means an expert at any of this, and I struggle with all of these issues. But I think the thing with the writing process is to constantly keep trying to improve your method, which I am constantly working at and so I’m going to share a few of the things that have worked for me at different times (even I haven’t mastered any of them completely).

1. Build a routine, set deadlines, and stick to them.

I know, I know. Building routine? Setting deadlines? This is obvious. Every writer knows they have to do it but for the most part, unless you’re a wizard of time management, this is no simple feat.

But I’m going to stick with this as possibly the number one thing to do.  The only times I’ve found myself consistently productive with my writing were when I was in school and had assignments I had to do, or participating in NanoWrimo. Hence, schedules, deadlines and routines.

I think one of the most important things to understand with this though, is that there is no right and no wrong way to do it. You have to tailor it to your needs. Should you aim to write everyday? Should you have a target word count goal? Not necessarily. It all depends on what you want to accomplish. And not only that, but this is a hit or miss strategy as in you probably won’t establish a workable routine on the first time, or the second time, but by the third and fourth you’ll probably be better at creating and sticking to whatever routine works best for you. You’ll have to be open to tweaking and revising  the routine too, as life always gets to be disruptive even when we have the best intentions.

I’ll write another post on how to create and stick with a routine that will work best for you (once I figure it out for myself, that is), but the most important thing is establishing one, so that you no longer have to fit your writing around your schedule, but that you fit it into whatever else you need to do.

2. Set realistic goals and redefine what you count as progress. 

Even if  you’re already used to setting goals and deadlines for yourself in your writing, it can still be difficult to get any writing in if you’re expecting yourself to write an entire novel in an hour. It can overwhelm you to the point where writing seems impossible and pointless anyhow.

That’s why it’s so essential to set some realistic goals for your writing sessions and redefine what it looks like to meet these goals. Can you write an entire short story in an hour? Maybe not. How about 500 words of it? 100 words? Is the only way you can be considered making progress if you finish the chapter today? What if you just finish the scene? Isn’t that progress as well?

In other words, don’t stop aiming high and trying to reach your goals, but also don’t discount any work that you do and overwhelm yourself with unattainable goals. Take it word by word, then sentence by sentence. If “just writing” seems hard to you because you feel overwhelmed by what you need to write, then try writing a few words, pat yourself on the back and then see if you’re able to keep going. Even if you can’t, hey, you’re a few words closer to your goal than you were before.

3. Be patient and forgiving with yourself.

You’re not going to get it all right on the first try.

Now let me say that again: You’re not going to get it all right on the first try.

I can’t emphasize it enough. If you’re the type of writer who is a complete perfectionist (err… not that I would know anything about that… heh), then “just write” can be one of the hardest pieces of advice to take because if your writing isn’t perfect on the first try then you see yourself as a complete failure not worthy of knowing or understanding language.

But like, chill.

You’re not going to get anything right on the first time, especially not when you’re trying to get from stuck to unstuck. One of the biggest tips I can give is to be okay with writing shit. Seriously. What I like to do is write it on a post-it note and stick it at the top of my computer screen, right above where the word doc. Nothing will relax you more than being able to glance up every so often from writing, and seeing written in capital, bold letters:

YOU ARE ALLOWED TO WRITE SHIT.

So do just that and be okay with it. As writers, we’re going to have to get used to being criticized and/or rejected by people we know and don’t know, so we might as well have ourselves to turn to for some self love when we need it. Don’t become overly critical of your work. Be patient and forgiving of yourself, and being able to go along with the writing process will become that much easier.

4. Learn what helps you and what hurts you in your environment.

How much sleep and/or coffee/tea do you need to write? What kind of music or noise level do you need? Between what hours are you able to write without being distracted by Netflix? What temperature does the room need to be for you to be comfortable and your fingers to work at  their optimal speed? How many pieces of chocolate should you eat to give you just the right amount of sugar high?

Maybe some of this seems unimportant, but if you have a routine, attainable goal, are being nice to yourself and you still can’t seem to just write, then perhaps it has something to do with your environment.

Like most of these tips, it’s going to take some time to figure out what environment works best for you and but start by taking it one thing at a time. Assess all areas. Begin by clicking out of Netflix when it’s time for you to write, or locking your pet out of the room.

You’re never going to get a 100 percent perfect environment every time (as if that’s a thing anyway), but maybe if you can get to 60 percent, you’ll begin seeing a change in your writing and ability to begin writing.

5. Engage in writing you like and writing you don’t like.

Why do you love the books you love? Why do you hate the ones you do? Nothing can be as inspiring as seeing others succeed or, let’s be honest, fail. Read the work over and do your best to analyze it. What did they do that you wish you could do or what did they do that you’re certain you could do better?

One exercise that could help with this is actually physically copying out the writing from pages of your favorite novels and seeing if you can get in that author’s mindset. Pay attention to their diction and sentence length, metaphors, alliteration, and all the other stuff you ignored in your English class and see why it works. Then try to mimic it in your own writing. Soon enough, you’ll be off writing again, and stronger and more knowledgeable than before.

Or do the opposite. Look at a book you dislike, copy down a page or two, figure out why it doesn’t work, and then recreate it in a way that you think might be more effective. You’d be surprised how easily this can get you to begin writing again.

6. Productively procrastinate.

Sometimes it’s not going to happen. We have to be honest with ourselves. No matter how solid your routine is, how attainable your goals are, how patient you are, how perfect your environment is or how many authors you’ve mimicked, sometimes you’re just not going to be able to get there. And that’s something we have to accept.

This isn’t to encourage you to quit or give you an excuse to.

It just goes along with being patient and forgiving with yourself, and being able to know yourself as a writer and how much you can take. Perhaps every day you’ve written that week, you’ve had to push yourself harder than ever so by the end of the week, you just don’t have anything left to give. That’s okay. And this is where I think productively procrastinating works best.

By productively procrastinating, I mean that you procrastinate the actual writing of your story, but are productive by fleshing out, discovering, or researching other aspects of your story. This can include spending hours collecting names for the characters, creating a Pinterest inspiration board, filling out detailed character sketches, researching cultures to further develop your story’s world or whatever else your heart desires.

Doing this can oftentimes get you thinking deeper about your story so that even if you don’t end up actually writing, you can reignite any excitement you have for it, which will  make you want to write the next day. And let’s be honest, all this other advice be damned,  wanting to write is one of the number one keys to actually getting you to write.

So, how do you get yourself to actually sit down and write? Have you ever found the advice to “just write” a bit vague and unhelpful? Can you think of any other tips to help you get back to writing? Shout out to those participating in April’s CampNano! How are you planning on tackling this month? I hope you all found this helpful 🙂

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