“I’m not a real writer,” a student said to us recently.
We asked what she meant. She clarified, “I mean, it’s not like I write for a living. It’s not like it’s my job.” This is a common concern among writers, especially new writers. They want to know how to write more, but they’re short on time and worse, they feel their writing is invalid if they’re doing other types of work.
Friends, if you are writing, you are a real writer. Your writing does not have to involve money in order to be valid. Most of the famous writers you know started their careers in a completely different field, and some of them continue to earn income from work that isn’t writing-related.
You should never be ashamed of having a day job. You also shouldn’t use your day job as an excuse to stop writing. Many writers feel that because they don’t write for a living, they don’t have time to write at all. Yes, it’s tough to find time to write in our busy, packed schedules. But you don’t need 40 hours a week to devote to writing — a few minutes a day will do. If you’re reading this sentence, you can find time to write. Here’s how to write more, even if you’re busy. (And aren’t we all?)
Bring a notebook to work.
Even in a busy job, you should have a few minutes of downtime every day — it’s the law. Whether it’s a lunch break or just a ten-minute refresher between work tasks, use this time to practice your writing.
Carry a notebook and pen with you to work every day so you have everything you need to get your writing done. Then, instead of checking email or scrolling Instagram, take out your notebook and start freewriting. Or journaling. Or working on your short story. Carry your notebook with you when you’re running errands and write when you’re waiting at the doctor’s office or sitting on the bus.
If you don’t feel like carrying a notebook around all day, at least carry a smaller small notepad to jot down quick ideas. When something interesting happens or you have a thoughtful observation, write it down. This might inspire you to come back and write more about it later.
Banish “writer’s block” once and for all.
We’ve all had writer’s block. The longer it lingers, the harder it is to beat. You might find that you haven’t written in months due to a seriously bad case of writer’s block. And then it feels nearly impossible to figure out how to write more.
We’re a big fan of Anne Lamott’s concept of Sh*tty First Drafts, or what Stephen King calls “writing with the door closed.” In her book on writing, Bird by Bird, author Anne Lamott explains:
“For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
The idea is simple: Start writing without the pressure to be good. Remind yourself that no one has to see this draft, so it’s okay if it’s terrible – even sh*tty. The important thing is to start writing.
Similarly, you can start a freewriting practice. Set a timer for 10, 15, or even five minutes a day and just start writing. Don’t stop, no matter what you’re writing, even if it’s “I must not stop writing.” With this method, you’re literally forcing your hand. The only rule is to keep writing.
Another useful way to figure out how to write more? Writing prompts. One of our favorite resources for this is Reddit’s Writing Prompts community, where Reddit users come up with the most imaginative topics for other members to write about.
Write in the morning.
In The Artist’s Way, author Julia Cameron suggests a practice she calls “Morning Pages.” At her blog, Cameron explains:
“Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. *There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages*– they are not high art. They are not even ‘writing.’ They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.”
This method doesn’t work for everyone, but many writers find it much easier to write in the morning, before the day’s obligations and pressures start rolling in and taking their toll. Wake up a bit earlier to devote time to your writing practice before you head into work. You don’t have to write 1,000 words in the morning, either. Just take a few minutes.
Write after work.
Okay, maybe you’re not a morning person. You might find it easier and more relaxing to write at the end of the day instead. Schedule time after work to devote to your writing practice, even if it’s just fifteen minutes.
If you find it hard to motivate yourself to write when you get home from a long day of work, try to stop at a coffee shop, or even stick around at your desk after everyone has gone home. Get your writing done in another environment, then come home and relax. Many of the writers we work with write right before bed, after the kids are asleep and the day’s chores are finished.
The essayist David Sedaris often shares his diary entries. They’re only a few sentences long, but they can be hilarious and beautifully written:
“I read in an interview that David Lynch used to go to Bob’s Big Boy in Los Angeles. Every day for seven years he’d have a milkshake and six cups of coffee and take notes before going home to write. I sure will miss the IHOP when I move to New York. Every night Barbara carries a menu to my table and says, ‘Just coffee this evening?’ Every night I cross my fingers as she hands me my change at the register. Every night as I leave, she says, ‘Take care.’ The few times she hasn’t said it, I’ve worried I’ll get hit by a car while riding my bike home.“
You can do something similar. Practice writing in just a few paragraphs or a few short sentences. Each day, take an observation and try writing something interesting about it in a paragraph or less. There’s also microfiction, writing a short story in as few words as possible. It’s a fun challenge and a good way to practice writing.
(Speaking of David Sedaris, here’s a fun interview where he discusses his writing practice:)
Use social media.
If you’re already on social media all day, use it to your advantage. For example, next time you post a photo on Instagram, use it as an opportunity to practice your writing. Twitter can be a fun platform for writers to practice micro-journaling, too.
What’s more, this can be a solid strategy for building your brand as a writer – a concept that many creative workers find cringeworthy, but that’s important nonetheless.
Here’s a good example of an account that uses strong writing to accompany beautiful images.
Join a writer’s group.
If you find it motivating to have some kind of accountability for your writing, consider joining a writer’s group.
Chances are, your local library, community center, or bookstore has a group that meets regularly (if not, try searching for one on Meetup or Facebook or perhaps even start one on your own). Typically, everyone writes a few pages each week, then shares it with the group for feedback.
This can be helpful for a number of reasons. First, it’s easier to stick to your writing when you have an ongoing commitment to do so, and other people are counting on you to show up. A writer’s group is also hugely beneficial for the advice and feedback you’ll get from other people.
It can be a challenge to figure out how to write more, and there are a few strategies we find counterproductive. For example, some writers will come up with a word count goal — write 1,000 words a day or 3,000 words a week. If this works for you, then that’s great. But we think you should make writing a habit, not a goal. A word count goal kind of turns your writing into a task instead of an enjoyable practice.
Another piece of advice we find questionable is to set up a dream workspace so that you’ll be more inspired to write. Again, if this works for you – great. But in our experience, it reinforces perfectionism, which is one of the biggest obstacles that keep writers from writing. You can, and should, write anywhere! If it helps to declutter your space or set up some cute tchotchkes to get the creative energy flowing, then do that. But don’t use the fact that you don’t have a writer’s cabin in the woods as a reason to not write.
In general, people have idealized visions of what it means to be a writer, and that can get in the way of doing the work. Writing isn’t as romantic as it seems. It’s scribbling a few sentences in your car while you’re waiting for the kids to get out of school. It’s writing some really sh*tty first drafts that later make you cringe. Writing is messy and imperfect. Practice every chance you get and, most importantly, don’t let writer’s imposter syndrome get in the way.