3 Daily Steps that Changed My Writing Life

How you can adopt them too

Like many writers, I’ve written since I was a kid. Nothing great, but the seeds were planted long-ago. I wasn’t until three years ago that I made the leap towards writing as a commercial fiction author. Six years before that I wrote a total of 12 non-fiction books under a pseudonym. The climb has been long and hard, but fulfilling. I’m just getting started.

When I wrote non-fiction I had no daily plan. The work was haphazard at best. I’d write in short bursts and take long hiatuses in between. Once I made the commitment to fiction, I knew I needed a set of general writing principles — a daily practice to follow, no matter how tough things got. I knew I couldn’t rely on willpower alone.

Here are the three principles:

  • Write every day
  • Every word matters
  • Share only when the work is done

I’ll explain these steps in-depth. Writing principles have allowed me to take a blue collar, workmanlike approach to the writing. As with any craft, we’ve got to put in the time if we want to see results. When we take the blue collar approach we find there’s no such thing as writer’s block, just as there’s no such thing as carpenter’s block.

Writing principles give you something bigger to latch onto than your willpower. Principles are more than a checklist. They’re a compass. We may not be able to see the end of our work, or the sum of our efforts, but we can follow a compass, trusting that our daily effort will compound into something greater than ourselves.

There will be hard days. There will be unbearable days. But if we keep coming back to the keyboard despite the setbacks, this is when the magic happens.

Write every day

Writing is a muscle which atrophies quickly. When you’re in the middle of a scene the worst thing you can do is put it down for more than a day or two. The momentum withers. Self-doubt sneaks in. The longer you stay away from the work the longer you’ll stay away from the work (yes, it’s true).

I’m a procrastinator. I see shiny things and go after what’s new. I have a hard time sticking with my original projects. Maybe you do this too.

One thing I do know is that writing every day adds to a compounding effect which allows you to accomplish a large body of work with the least amount of effort.

Every word matters

The language you use counts. Why use three words when two will do? Why use five when you don’t have to say anything? Instead of using lazy cliches, tweak them slightly and make them yours.

Every word holds a purpose. Edit your work to the bone. Ignore excessive exposition. Ask yourself: Am I writing this to propel the story forward, or am I writing this to be self-indulgent?

Write cleaner first drafts. I write much of my work on my phone and I leapfrog back to the previous day’s work for a quick edit. Once I reach the end of my manuscript it’s done and ready for final edits. No more multi-drafts.

Observe your word choices and avoid loose, conversational phrases that fill pages, but aren’t required.

When you choose your words carefully you make an impression on the reader. You benefit the work as a whole.

Share only when the work is done

Be careful not to share your work too early. It’s tempting to share our first pages with a loved one or friend. It feels good to hold our your work and say “look what I did!”

The danger is with early work. These are the fragile stages, an unpolished, first-attempt. If you wait until the short story or manuscript is complete, the beta reader will have a chance to judge the work as a whole. You’ll have finished the project. Even if the feedback is hard to swallow, the project is done and can be repaired, instead of abandoned.

If you share your work early, there’s a danger your pride may be hurt and you’ll never return to the project, thinking you’re not good enough. Share only when the work is done.

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