I’ve always known deep down in my bones that I am a writer. One of my earliest memories from a time before I knew my alphabet, is of sitting underneath my mother’s desk as she worked, “writing” (a.k.a. defacing a notebook with random squiggles) page after page, trying to copy what she was doing. I vividly remember the feeling of having something that I wanted to express in words on the page before I could even write. As a child, I used to write stories and poems all the time; I was that weird kid/young teenager who spent weekends working on an epic fantasy trilogy. I never finished that ambitious project, although I still have a floppy disc of my first draft somewhere, along with a notebook filled with research and ideas. A cynical adult part of me cringes to think of my youthful efforts, but another part of me hugely admires and envies that innocent, unselfconscious passion and ambition. Where did it go?
It was somewhere in the second half of my teenage years, my last few years of school and then when I started studying English Literature at university, that I stopped writing stories; the poems stopped a little later, when I was in my early twenties. Perhaps it was my growing awareness of the craft of others, and the knowledge that there are so many incredible books out there that I haven’t read yet. Perhaps it was the self-consciousness of my later teens and early twenties. Perhaps it was that as I got older I started to realise just how far I had to go to develop my own voice as a creative writer, and I started prioritising the kind of writing that would earn my living and pay my bills. It sometimes feels like everything has been said already, and there isn’t any room—or need—left for what I have to say. How many of us feel this, as young adults?
I’ve been realising recently, though, that even if my creative writing never earns me a penny, it still feels like a calling, a vocation, and I won’t feel truly fulfilled until I make it a regular part of my life. I don’t want to be on my death-bed, wishing I had just given it a go. Ultimately, I don’t care if my stories are never any good, never win any competitions, and never get published; I have stories in my heart and in my brain, and I have to write them down. As Stephen King says in his brilliant book, On Writing, “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.”
As I often think to myself these days, how can I expect to be able to write a novel if I don’t even regularly write short stories? I wouldn’t attempt to run a marathon without training for a long time first. To quote Stephen King again, “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
But, how to find the time to write for fun, when I have bills to pay and a child to look after, and another child on the way? Let alone all the endless life admin, the chores, the errands, and a social life? I’ve met so many people who feel the same way I do. If only we had the time. One day.
So, I decided to make that “one day” today, and create a little online “club” for people who feel the same way that I do about creative writing. The goal is to help us to prioritise making time to write in our weekly schedule. I’m calling it The Writing Habit, and if any of this has resonated with you and you feel a deep desire to try and work on those creative writing muscles, too, I’d love for you to join me!
“The scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things can only get better.”—Stephen King
Here’s the plan:
- If you want to join me, sign up here.
- I’ll send you a weekly email with a fresh prompt to spark some inspiration and get your creative ideas flowing.
- You can pick one evening (or any time slot that works for you) that week when you’ll actually write your piece of creative writing, and mull over ideas until then. Make sure that you mark it in your calendar so that you don’t forget, and really commit to protecting that writing time as you would with any social engagement or other plan. Your writing is important!
- In your assigned writing slot, you can write any form of creative writing you like (poetry, short story, creative non-fiction—anything you like). Treat the prompt as a jumping off point, not as something to hold yourself to too strictly.
- Give yourself a few hours (whatever works best for your schedule and attention span that week), making sure that you limit yourself to some kind of realistic time-frame. Set an alarm, and treat it like a timed exam. Even if you can only manage forty-five minutes to an hour one week, still schedule in that uninterrupted time. No matter how brief, it will be worth it.
The idea behind these “rules” is to encourage you to let go of perfectionism and prove to yourself that writing little and often is possible, even in a busy schedule. I want you to think of this as a replacement for an evening of a few episodes of watching something on Netflix, or the equivalent of a film night. See what you write as a first draft, a beginning, rather than a perfect finished project. If you like the direction it’s going, you can always pick it up later and devote more time to it and develop it into something bigger. Or maybe you’ll absolutely hate it, in which case that’s totally fine, too; no one has to read it, but you’ll have learnt something in the process and you can pick up again with another prompt.
Of course, if you just have a crazy busy week and can’t fit in your writing evening, absolutely no pressure. You can just pick up the next prompt or come back to an older prompt that you missed, whenever you like. Unlike a real-life exam, no one is going to tell you off for skipping it. And, if you find yourself with more time than usual and you’re in the flow, obviously don’t stop!
If you want to post about it on social media, do use the hashtags #thewritinghabit and/or #heartfullofstories so we can all cheer each other along.
Update (November 2018): Please note, The Writing Habit has become a monthly, rather than weekly, email series.