Some writing coaches propose that you write when you feel great, including writing only in your “tiger” time, and not writing at the other times. The “tiger” time is the time of the day when you focus easily and your writing flows. Although I am not opposed to the idea, I find it impossible to implement at the moment.
I had to, therefore, come up with another solution. Let’s face it, my (and maybe yours too) “tiger” time is in the evening, between 11 pm and 1 am to be exact. The time when working mummy needs to sleep. Does it mean that I never will have my writing flow? Oh no, no, no. I want my writing to flow, and I want it within my working hours, as after that I want to spend time with my kido, and after they go to sleep, I go to the gym. The only time I have for writing is faaaaaaar away from my “tiger” time.
If you are in a similar situation, do not despair. I have found and tested the solution. There are things you can do to make your writing time feel great at the time of the day that YOU choose.
Create a positive ritual around your writing
If you are able to create a ritual around your writing there is a big chance that the time of the day will not be that important. The human brain loves rituals and craves patterns. If you can teach your brain a pattern of “if I do this (ritual), the flowy writing occurs”, then you are home. Creating a pattern will allow you to escape associating writing with any particular time. Instead, the writing will be associated with the setting and activities you do before or during writing.
Your writing ritual can be anything. Imagine lighting a candle, setting up some soft music, sitting down in a comfy chair at the desk by the window with a view on a forest. You open your beautiful notebook and start writing with your favorite fountain pen. Your writing flows.
Or how about imaging yourself stepping into a cute little cafe filled with a smell of a freshly grounded coffee. Sitting down at the table, taking out your laptop and starting typing while sipping on your favorite coffee. Your writing flows.
My writing ritual involves preparing a cup of tea. If I am in a particularly unproductive mood, I turn on some epic music. Tea has caffeine which I usually desperately need in the morning. Epic music is energizing and uplifting for me. It also does not have lyrics which gives my brain space to create the words for my writing. My writing flows.
The key is to find something in your writing ritual that you will truly enjoy. This way you attach your writing to a pleasant experience and make it truly enjoyable for yourself. Looking forward to your writing sessions, even though it may be more related to a cup of a delicious coffee rather than the act of writing itself, is still a good thing. Isn’t it? Use your favorite places, objects, and music to your advantage. Attach your writing to them. Make your writing ritual as enjoyable as possible.
Get a writing buddy or a writing group
Some people cannot stand the fact that writing requires a bit of loneliness. For these people having a writing buddy may work. Even though you don’t talk during writing, it helps that the person next to you is doing the same. This is a premise of writing groups too. The power of writing in a group is in motivation and accountability all members contribute to and receive at the same time. Sometimes you can even get feedback on your writing.
There are also online services where you can rent a person to write with you. I did not use any of these services yet (as I have a regular writing buddy at the moment), but I heard good things about Focus Mate. If you have used these, please let me know what your experiences are.
Use your best friend. If your best buddy is not an academic, you can still arrange a writing session with them. Your friend can do some writing along, be it a letter, Christmas cards, computer code, blog posts or diary. If you genuinely like the person sitting next to you, I cannot imagine writing time to not feel good.
Focus on progress, not achievement
I often hear academics saying: When I will finish this paper, I will be so happy. Why wait until then? Why not feel great about having a good writing session? And by good, I mean the session where you have produced some writing. That’s it.
You don’t necessary need word count or a timer. Writing anything will be always better than nothing. If you keep writing regularly and feel great about it, you will eventually finish, whatever the thing you are working on is. Shifting your focus from the achievement to the process can have a huge effect on how you feel about your writing on a day-to-day basis.
The main problem with focusing on the outcome is that the outcome is usually ambitious and big in academia. It is a journal article or a book, not a sentence or paragraph. These goals require long timelines ranging from several dozen of hours to months or even years. You shouldn’t wait that long to feel good about your writing.
Experiment with prizes and celebrations
Have a prize system set up to reward yourself for your writing. It does not matter how silly your system is. Apparently, doughnuts work quite well for academics as a reward for finishing 20 minutes of writing… However, if you would prefer some healthier options I would suggest looking into rewarding yourself with a bubble bath, a walk, a movie, your favorite cup of coffee.
Of course, you can implement some prizes for achieving your goals too. Just be careful not to shift the emphasis from the process by doing that.
As always, silly things work best. Buying a new pair of socks each time your article gets published is one great idea, you are welcome. 😉 If socks will not work for you, try something else, but keep it as “everyday use” as possible: a new coffee cup, stationery item or a day off for that matter, will work equally good. Be creative.
During my PhD I would place a funny sticker in my calendar for each day I did my x hours of writing done. This silly trick worked wonders for my motivation. I actually looked forward to finishing these self-inflicted minutes of work and felt accomplished and rewarded each time I placed a sticker on my calendar. I saved this calendar and look at it from time to time, always with a smile.
Celebrate! Celebrate any successful writing. Truly and sincerely pat yourself on the back after a good writing session. Academics tend to focus on how much we lack to perfection. I would like to propose that celebrating small victories may be a better long-term strategy. After publishing an article, instead of saying to yourself that it “took too long”, “is still not perfect”, “no-one will read it anyway”, stop yourself half-sentence (as you would a friend), take a deep breath, smile, and say “congratulations on your effort, great job!”.
Have realistic expectations
Last but not least. Writing requires time and effort. It requires iterative editing, sustained effort and a lot of thinking. Writing is hard. But all of these do not mean that you cannot enjoy the process nonetheless. Please do not expect that the writing will suddenly become easy with a new routine or prizes. The goal of this blog post is to help you to make your writing more enjoyable and easier.
If you feel great during writing, you are more likely to do it often. Writing often will lead to writing more. More writing is better than less writing, as it gives you higher chances of finishing an article, a book, a grant application. In a nutshell, work on your writing feeling great and you will win writing longevity as a by-product.
Last note. Trying new things requires an adjustment period. Do not get discouraged by the first few writing sessions not going excellent. Your routine may take time to build, as you experiment with what works and what doesn’t. If you get easily distracted at the beginning, know that it is normal. Try some of these tactics step-by-step to create a positive writing routine. Oh, and let me know how it went, I am super curious.
This post was inspired by Dr. Cathy Mazak.