The Maven: Establishing a Daily Practice
It’s been said that writing is easy; you just sit down at your typewriter and bleed. Sounds pretty untidy, fairly painful, and frankly more than a little unsanitary to me. But writing—whether you’re working on a novel or polishing an email to your boss—is an increasingly important skill in today’s hyperconnected world. We all need to write and write well.
Even Mount Holyoke women—who are arguably as well versed as anyone in the fine art of cranking out sparkling prose—can struggle when it comes to putting pen to paper. Or fingertips to keyboard. Whatever. Writing is hard. It just is.
The secret to successful writing isn’t knowing every grammatical rule or flinging out a bunch of five-dollar words. What it all comes down to is carefully crafting a solid, daily practice. You just need to write. A little bit. Every day.
1. Keep it simple
Make a plan to sit down and write for just a few minutes a day. Schedule it on your calendar, block the time off as “busy,” shut the door, and turn off the phone. Start small; just fifteen minutes a day will do. Now is not the time to trot out your inner overachiever. Simply make a plan to sit down and write for a few minutes every day, come what may.
2. Keep it short
You’re not setting out to write the Great American Novel here. Well, maybe you are. But even if that is your dream, try to leave those big-project goals at the door when you sit down for your daily writing practice. In the immortal words of pro-basketball player Allen Iverson, this is practice—not the game. Your tiny daily writing sessions are simply designed to limber you up and get your writing muscles all supple and lean. So set yourself a very modest daily word count goal—something utterly attainable, even on a bad day—and crush it.
3. Keep the streak alive
Now that you’ve established a dedicated time of day and a modest daily word count to strive for, all you need to do is focus on keeping the streak alive. Get a wall calendar and a red marker and make a big fat “X” over every day that you manage to get the job done. Don’t worry about whether or not you’ve written anything good or anything that will ever see the light of day. If you hit your target for the day, you win. You’re done for the day. You can have a cookie. No really, go get a cookie. You’re looking kind of frail.
4. Keep it up
Don’t stop. Good habits are hard to break once you have them. But maybe you’re already some kind of amazing rock star writer and you don’t actually need a daily practice. Maybe your job, your life, your secret desires and noblest dreams don’t require you to use words and use them well. But I doubt it. Maybe you just like to bleed. But I kind of doubt that, too.
—By Beth Dunn ’93
Beth Dunn ’93 is a writer and editor at HubSpot, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based, marketing software company, where she manages the voice and tone of the HubSpot product, user experience, and customer communications, and coaches other folks who want to find their own voices. She lives on Cape Cod in a very small house, writes at bethdunn.com, and spends an absurd amount of time on Twitter (@bethdunn) with people like you.
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This article appeared in the summer 2014 issue of the Alumnae Quarterly.
July 14, 2014
All good advice, Beth. I coach others on specific writing projects and in developing a practice, but I need reminders to keep my own practice on track. I’m settling back in after vacation, and I might start making those X’s on the calendar. The other thing I’ve found helpful is having a little accountability. To that end, I have a couple of friends I share writing with once a week.
For anyone getting started or getting back on track with their own writing, I have a quick, fun project on my blog on Wednesdays: http://sarabarry.com/write-with-me-wednesday-the-summer-day/