Eighty percent of success is showing up. -- Woody Allen
I have tea with a writer I'm mentoring who's having trouble doing the writing she needs to do. I come home and visit a blog friend to find she's struggling with the very same issue. There's a lot of this going around. The devil in me says, tell 'em all to give it up. The angel is appalled. And the snark -- smart little shifty guy lives in the back of a shirt drawer -- suggests I just spill the obvious secret.
How to become a writer? Someone who not only starts projects but finishes them? Someone who's always learning the craft and mostly getting better at it? A for-real, do-it-for-a-living, legitimately call-yourself-a-writer?
The answer's so obvious, so hiding in plain sight, that I feel a little silly going on about it, so I'm gonna try to make this brief. I can give you the whole kit and caboodle in four words:
Do it every day.
You know I love romance as well as -- well, probably more than -- the next guy, but there's one romantic notion I would dearly love to explode, and that's The Romance of Inspiration. We've all got a touch of it, this fantasy of being touched by the muse, bolted from the blue, stealing the fire from the gods and blazing with it through the pages, and sure, such shit happens. But waiting around to be struck by lightning is a high risk, sucker's odds game. No, the true path to being a successful writer, in every sense, is very simple and pedestrian:
Do it every day.
Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. -- Thomas Edison
Here's what works -- and I have this not only from my own experience but pretty much all the writers I've read and known: commit yourself to a fixed writing time. One hour minimum, if your life is truly so jammed that it's all the time you can steal. One to three hours first thing in the day is a popular slot. I'm not alone in finding the just-out-of-dreamland quiet, pre-conversation, pre-world-at-large time especially productive. You may be a nightbird, by inclination or necessity, and that's fine, too. But whatever it is, train your psyche to "show up for work" at a designated time (and perhaps even, place) six days a week.
This is the tried-and-tested best way to create a writing practice and its rewards are huge.
Doesn't even matter what you write -- think of it as going to the gym for your writing muscles. Would you run a marathon without daily sprints? Try to play Rachmaninoff's Third without daily scales? How the hell do you expect to have and sustain the facility to get a writing job done if you're not in shape?
Writing is easy. All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead. -- Gene Fowler
I'm not saying it's a breeze. A daily practice is in fact acknowledgement that the work is hard. But the secret within the secret is this: if you put in that hour-plus, day after day, your brain gets trained and your soul gets goal-oriented, your unconscious gets engaged. The work you're working on begins to have a life, as it's a part of your life, and you'll find that ideas come to you when you're not in the room, come to you in your sleep... because you have tripped the mechanism and the machine is on.
And as I've mentioned before, what you're writing doesn't have to be "the draft." It can be thoughts about it, a self-interview, illustrated index cards -- babble. But whatever it is, when you do it every day, the muse is more apt to drop by, drawn by the energy you're putting into the ether. And when you do it every day, you're more likely to be able to show her a good time -- to rise to the occasion and make with the funky-sweet music.
Some days will be awful. Some will be Huh? Some not bad and it doesn't matter. Just show up. The beauty part is, whether your pages suck or soar on a daily basis, when you get into that rhythm and discipline, over time you will become a stronger, better writer, guaranteed.
So give yourself the Sundays -- even the Big Guy (or Girl) took a break. But as a general motto?
Do it every day.