(From one newbie writer to another)
So you’ve decided to become a writer eh? That’s good, you’re in good company.
I’m a writer myself, still in the beginning stage just like you, but a writer nonetheless.
But something brought you here. Perhaps you want to hear the opinion of a writer more or less the same as you.
Well, if that’s the case, you’ve come to the right place, my friend. No need to worry, I’m not gonna eat your head. In fact today we’ll just start with a few basics.
To help you get started with your life as a writer, I’ve created a short list of advice for you. And yes, I also use them as a guide when I write.
So let’s get started, shall we?
A Simple Writing Routine
You’re gonna want to have a writing routine. You need to keep it simple and clean.
No need for a complicated schedule where you have multiple schedules every day of the week. To keep it simple you’ll need to have the same schedule every day.
So since this is the life you chose, be consistent. Show up at the same time every day. Be ready to do battle each day.
You don’t need to have an earth-shattering day. You just need small but consistent output, like an hour of continuous writing each day (minimum).
How many words you could churn in an hour is up to you — make every minute count.
Keep a Journal
A journal is a notebook in which you keep your notes. Nothing fancy but you need to have it ready so that when you get an idea you can jot it down fast and easy.
A journal is also useful to brainstorm ideas.
James Altucher has this daily exercise where he brainstorms 10 ideas on a topic each day. It might not be much if you do it for a few days, but you sharpen your mind with each exercise and you become an “idea generator” if you keep at it for years.
If you keep the practice long enough, ideas tend to have sex with each other and you get to have a unique perspective on a certain topic. Altucher coins this “idea-sex”, the offspring of which you need to keep an eye out on.
On the other hand, Ayodeji Awosika, a prolific writer, tells his student to brainstorm article headlines each day. It’s like Altucher’s idea except this time you focus on article headlines.
I use my journal to alternate between Ayo and James’ suggestions, and I think I’m getting good at it each day. We’ll see, ask me how it went after a year.
The Timer is Your Friend
When I was starting out, one of my biggest blunders was that I let myself free-write without minding the time.
Free writing is a great writing exercise, but before you can free write, you need to have structure.
And time is one of the best guides out there. Having a timer setup when you’re writing makes you more focused on the work at hand.
So whenever you’re writing, time yourself.
When you journal in the morning set a 10-minute timer. Focus and write anything that comes to your mind within that 10-minute period.
Push that button and then go fast!
It should be the same when you write about your day — set a timer.
When you’re writing an article and you have only 1-hour window time. You can’t fuck around and browse the net, right?
So set a 1-hour timer and do everything you can to put the words down on the paper (or on the screen) for the whole 1-hour.
The timer doesn’t limit you. On the contrary, it makes you laser-focused on the task at hand.
A Place of Practice
You must have a sacred shrine for your practice. You know, a room, a clean desk, a straight chair, and a computer.
By themselves, they’re just things. But when you think of them as a place to practice your craft, then they become something special.
Your workplace is your sacred shrine. Make it clean and comfortable.
Don’t let anyone desecrate your place of practice, especially yourself.
Don’t bring distractions inside your workplace — eliminate any litter and your phone as well.
Keep it lean and simple so it will work for you, not against you. Respect your place of practice and it will reward you with great output.
Read a Lot
You need inputs to replenish ideas inside your brain. Read good books to do this. You can read for pleasure or you can read to learn stuff, better do both.
To learn from what you read, at the very least you need to write what you’ve read in your own words. That’s why you’ve got your journal with you at all times, right?
Now if you know the fundamentals of your subject already you can either go deeper by reading more specialized stuff or you can do a lateral step by reading books from a completely different subject.
You can also go back and reread books you’ve read in the past, especially the great ones. They tend to give you fresh ideas when you’re in various situations in your life.
It’s not that they’re saying different things, it’s your situation that changed, so you get new insights each time you read the book.
Don’t overdo it though. Go back to writing.
Get a Mentor or Join a Writing Group
You’ll want to learn from other writers.
I know what you’re thinking, “why can’t I just write and get on with my life?” Well, you can. But it’s better to get a different perspective.
You can learn a lot from the people who’ve been writing for years and years. They can tell you some of the pitfalls you’re about to encounter — although you’ll not heed them.
Now, in the beginning, it might be difficult to find a ‘mentor’ who could teach you the craft, and it may cost you some too.
If funds are low at the moment, get free resources instead. They’re all over the net anyway, you just need to curate them.
Usually, the people you want to mentor you are also teaching everything they know in their blogs and/or newsletters. Subscribe to their newsletters and heed what they’ve got to say.
You can also join a group of writers. Again, there are free and paid memberships out there, join the one that you think can help you.
Manage Your Energy
What’s this got to do with writing? Everything.
If you don’t manage your energy well, your output will be at the mercy of your energy level on that day.
I’ve got a simple regimen to keep my energy levels high:
- Sleep at least 6 hours each day
- Eat healthy, until 80% full
- Meditate and do breathing work
- Exercise or go for a long walk
Remember those four, and one ‘not’ to do — drink alcohol.
I love drinking even when I was younger. I’m not an alcoholic or anything like that, I just love the taste of a good beer. But it just doesn’t go well with writing.
They say Charles Bukowski wrote while he was hammered as hell. Well, I tried that but after a few times experimenting with the idea I finally came to the conclusion — I couldn’t write while I’m drunk or having a hangover.
I found proof during my meditation practice. When I drank alcohol the night before, my mind tend to go all over the place when I meditate in the morning.
On the other hand, my mind was more focused and stable when I didn’t drink alcohol the night before. So that’s that, case closed.
If you’re not convinced you can try the experiment yourself.
Anyway, you also tend to sleep late when you drink so there might be some correlation in there — ie. drinking tends to trash the quality of your sleep.
And if you’re like me and you only get to sleep 6 hours max, you’ll want all those hours to count. So if you really want to write, keep your alcohol intake to a bare minimum, OK? OK.
Again, manage your energy so you’ll have enough to use for your writing.
Finally, just write.
All this stuff I mentioned above is there to help you write — not to hinder you. If you need to do an hour of preparation each day before you could write, then just fuckin’ forget about it.
Just go ahead and write.
I used to be a total idiot like that. I do a bunch of preparation until I only got 30 minutes left to write.
I was furious with myself. “You should have used the time you spent on preparation to just do the thing — you know, like write something?” Instead, I fell for that trickster mind of mine telling me everything needs to be perfect before I could write. Well, that’s total BS.
You don’t need to get everything perfect. Always be biased for action. That is, make writing your first priority above all else.
After you’ve done your work for the day, you can worry about the logistics for all you want. But for heaven’s sake, do the work first, will you?
If you keep at it consistently, someday you’ll be great and you’re gonna be happy with yourself. When that day comes you could celebrate, hold a party, and maybe even have a little drink and all that stuff.
But for now, you’ve got lots of work to do. So starting today, go out there, sit on a chair, set a timer, and just write something. Do this every day for the rest of your life.
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