‘Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination are alone omnipotent.’- President Calvin Coolidge
Effective writing doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years and years of honing your skills, staying up late, waking up early, and practically using your sweat and tears as ink. Dilettantes don’t make it in this game.
So if you’re going to be writing over the long haul and want to create a serious and effective body of work, the way you build your life will change. The way you spend your time will begin to reflect the value and emphasis you place on your words. The people you spend your time with, the books you read, the amount of television you watch will all morph. Priorities change, lifestyles get deleted and rewritten, and there are certain components to a lifestyle that will help you go all the way.
Here are 9 priorities you need to build into your life if you want to be as effective as you can possibly be. As a writer, you need to think of these steps as the support beams, the foundational pillars that will allow you to build your art. If your life doesn’t radically change in response to your desire to write, you need to start wondering if you’re really a writer or just a dabbler.
Step 1. Write Every Day It’s said you need to spend ten thousand man hours engaged in an activity before you can truly say you’ve mastered it. Writing is a skill like any other, and like every other must be learned and practiced. It’s hard being creative every day. There’s the danger of seemingly running out of ideas, the fear we all have of negative attention, the sheer difficulty of the creative process itself…there are a million excuses not to write every day, and we all have our own personal susceptibilities. If it were easy, everyone would be changing the world with their writings. Instead it’s hard, and sometimes lonely, and oh so discouraging on occasion…but it’s worth it! So write. Write constantly, write every day, write throughout the day. Let your love overcome your fear!
Step 2. Talk to Your Significant Other You need to make sure your wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, husband, and family are okay with this obsession you have. Get them on board! Show them your passion and let them see how much the act of writing means to you. It’s a strange spouse who won’t want you to follow your dreams, but at the same time they might see the practical side of your vision. “Honey, I think quitting your job to start a writing business when we’re about to have a baby is a bad idea” will save you a lot of pain and heartache when you can’t provide for your family right away. But at the same time, if they get on board with you, you’ll have no bigger fan and no one inspiring you quite like they do.
Step 3. Set Goals, Write Them Down, and Tell Them to Others Goals are really just a crutch to get you through those dry spells when you can’t focus. Some people, mainly the brilliant Leo Babauta, are saying No Goals while others such as Tim Ferriss, Dave Ramsey, and the late Stephan Covey recommend prodigious goal setting. Goals are a two edged sword; they focus your efforts but at the same time limit your vision. But they are useful as long as you allow some leeway and recognize their limits. Once you identify some goals (these steps are a good place to start) actually put them into writing. This almost triples the chances of you actually following through on them! And once you’ve written them down, share them with key people in your life who will notice your progress and encourage you when you achieve them and spur you on when you fail.
Step 4. Find Your Creative Time Everyone has a creative sweet spot in their day. Some are more inspired and productive in the early morning, while others don’t even think about thinking until after noon. Everyone’s different, so this step requires some experimentation. An Effective Writer can and should be able to write at any time because sometimes your schedule will force you to write when you’re not at your sharpest, but you do have a creative crest to your day. Pinpoint it, and use it to your advantage!
Step 5. Grow Your Megaphone Every Day Whether it’s networking, or collecting editor’s emails, or making phone calls, or commenting on other blogs…you need to be putting energy into expanding the size of your megaphone. (Don’t know what I mean when I talk about megaphones? See my post How to Build Your Megaphone.) There’s no point in writing if no one is reading what you’re saying. This gives a point to all the thousands of hours you’re going to spend over the rest of your life, writing all those words. But just like the skill of actually writing, you need to expand it every day to get better at it. The more time you spend, the more momentum you generate!
Step 6. Stay Organized I know too many writers and artists who waste hours of their precious time searching and hunting for that one paper, or that one book they just know they left on that one table. Keep your inbox empty and your desk clean, file your papers or better yet throw them out unless they’re absolutely essential. There’s a dozen excellent tools and resources to help you streamline and stay organized. Use them. It’s hard to be effective when you don’t know where anything is at.
Step 7. Read Consistently If nothing goes in, nothing comes out. Ideas aren’t created in a vacuum. We need the spark and interplay of others thought to help generate our own. It doesn’t matter what you read as much as the fact that you are reading, and thinking about what you read. “A book isn’t as important for what it says as for what it makes you think.” A steady diet of reading is essential for a writer’s growth, just like proper nutrition is necessary for the body’s growth. I recommend history, good fiction and poetry, classic growth and development books, the great books of the western world, and how-to for writers as good starting points.
Step 8. Be Healthy There are few things in life more important than taking care of our body. Numerous studies have shown the direct link between the physical and mental, and the give and take between them. Eat good, wholesome food, exercise, go on walks, don’t smoke, don’t binge on alcohol, get enough sleep! No one can emphasize this enough. You don’t have to go overboard and exercise three hours a day and only drink protein shakes but there has to be some sort of habit of healthfulness otherwise you’ll pay the price later.
Step 9. Be Still Art is ultimately created alone. Creativity comes to those who let themselves stop and listen. If you’re constantly on the move and always going on to the next thing, burnout will set in and creativity will die. I’ve seen it happen, to me and to others. In our go-go-go culture we don’t like slowing down and being still, but when you do you’ll begin to see a creative explosion happening in your brain. Let the silence work it’s magic, and just be still.
Have any thoughts of your own on actions and attitudes necessary to be the best writer you can be? Tips, hints, questions, and arguments are welcome. Let me know what you think!