Over the years I’ve been very fortunate to meet and work with countless authors, both established and aspiring and, during that time, I’ve begun to notice a handful of subtle clues that let me know fairly reliably where each person is at in their career. One specific habit I want to share with you is this: people who are new to the world of writing are the ones who I most often hear uttering the phrase “I can’t write unless…” There have been some fairly interesting and unusual endings to that sentence, too. Some of them are quite normal like “I can’t write unless it’s quiet” or “I can’t write unless I’m alone”. Then you have some weirdly specific ones such as “I can’t write if I can hear a ticking clock” or “I can’t write unless my cat’s with me”. And there was even one lady who insisted she couldn’t write unless her chakras were aligned and the room had good feng shui.
Now, it’s perfectly reasonable to have a condition under which you prefer to write. Personally, I like to be in the break room at my work. It’s nice and quiet and no one disturbs me because they all think I’m diligently working through my lunch break – as if! But the problem comes when you have conditions which you must have in order to write. It’s a little different if you’re just writing for fun, of course. But if you are serious about practicing your craft and building a career in literature, you are going to need to learn to write under any condition or you just won’t find enough time to produce material in a good quantity.
The first step to breaking these rituals is to simply give something new a try, accepting the fact that you might not be able to produce very much under these new conditions at first. Go to the library and find a quiet table to settle at, grab a drink at your local café and write while you sip or, if you live somewhere warm and sunny (lucky you), go sit out in the park or on the beach. Pushing yourself to write in these new environments will have two benefits for you. First, you will gradually desensitize yourself to the distractions that you previously thought were holding you back. And second, you may, by chance, actually discover a place where you write even more efficiently than you did under your original rituals.
Pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone is beneficial, but I’m not saying that you have to spend all of your writing time next to a busy road, hoping that you might eventually find it soothing. As I’ve said, it’s normal for you to have conditions you prefer to write under, and you should probably still do the bulk of your work in this environment. The aim here is for you to develop the ability to work elsewhere when you need to.
Give it Time
After half an hour of your new routine, you may have only produced half a sentence and a cracking headache, but don’t give up on it so easily. Even if you have to leave it for the day, come back the next with a pack of aspirin and renewed determination. If you need to, just build up your time spent out of your comfort zone day by day.
It can also be helpful to start a new side project to work on while you are experimenting with your writing environment. While you’re still practicing, your writing may not be at its best so if you have a separate project to work on, this can take away some of the worry over the quality of work you are producing. In time, you will be able to work just as well no matter where you are but, for now, accept that it will be a learning curve.
The overall benefit of breaking your writing rituals is that you will gain yourself so much more time in which you can produce material and practice. That hour long wait at the train station will no longer be useless and neither will your stay in the doctor’s waiting room, your morning commute or your holiday flight. Now, all of those scraps of time that you used to be wasting can be claimed back, if you so desire.
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