Habits of Productive Writers
There are a myriad of reasons why people write – they are creative, they like to tell stories, there is a topic they are passionate about, they are a scholar, they want their voices to be heard, and so on and so forth. However, the difficulty of writing is what keeps many people from ever finishing a draft. Some individuals claim to “hate” writing due to its challenging nature. But writing, like any activity, is a series of steps that once adhered to will yield results. The biggest obstacle is whether or not a person perseveres through the process and sees their first draft to the end. From time management to writer’s block, the task of writing is plagued with distractions and hindrances. Overcoming these hurdles is a matter of patience, focus, and mindful tips and tricks.
Brainstorming – or stream of consciousness – is one of the first, and arguably most, effective methods in jumpstarting a person’s brain and getting them ready for writing. Akin to deep stretching before a workout, brainstorming gets energy in the brain flowing before a writer leaps into their main project. It is a mental warmup that may be implemented in the middle of a writing session, when a creative or linguistic wall emerges. For example, a writer might turn to a prompt, which may or may not have anything to do with what they’re writing, and write down everything that comes to mind for five minutes. Do this without regards to grammar or spelling so that there’s no break in pacing, and what comes out of it may be surprising – or it might be nothing. The point is that the writing doesn’t stop, and the brain is allowed to mull around in the background and come up with solutions that will surface when least expected. There are many studies, including one by the National Center of Biotechnology Information (NCBI), dedicated to how the subconscious mind works on our behalf.
Along the lines of brainstorming, it is important to silence the inner critic when plugging through a first draft. The constant start and stop of editing and rewriting effectively kills the flow of the task, and should be saved for later drafts. The first draft is when writers should allow themselves to be free. Get to the finish line first, especially in creative writing. There is no need to be tame, grammatically or structurally, before all possibilities are explored. Only when the first draft is materialized does a writer have permission to let criticism sprint through the pages of their second (or tenth) draft.
A set time for writing every day helps the brain settle into the habit of writing. Rather than waiting for inspiration to strike, seasoned writers weave the craft into their daily practice. Not only does this keep fresh words on the page, but it strengthens the skill itself.
Similarly, writers should also figure out what time of the day or night they work best. According to the Harvard Medical School Division of Sleep Medicine, differences in circadian rhythms (biological clocks) vary among individuals and is mostly determined by genetics. A writer should find their own rhythm and work at the time they are most alert and awake.
Possibly the most overlooked reality of writing is that the best writers read, and they read a lot. Writers read several different authors that write about several different subjects. The purpose of this is to find new sources of inspiration and ideas, broaden vocabulary, learn from a variety of established writers (variety is important so as not to absorb and copy a single author’s style), and stay connected to the passion for the written word. After all, who decided they wanted to be a writer without first falling in love with reading?
If writing were an easy job, everyone would be doing it. There wouldn’t be seminars and countless reference books on the topic, and this article probably wouldn’t need to exist. However, for those who stick it out, writing is one of the most rewarding gifts a person can give to themselves and to others. The methods outlined above just scratch the surface of all the different methods writers employ to stick to their craft and grow with it. However, every helpful tidbit boils down to two words: just write.