The Only Rule

I can almost see the finish line. I think I'm less than two chapters away from finishing the initial draft of my first complete novel. I did write a novel when I was about ten, but some of my friends contributed chapters, so I suppose that doesn't count. And believe me, no one wants to read that novel.

Like many other aspiring writers I know, the daily writing habit has long eluded me. It's freakin' hard. But I knew I had to get there in the end, otherwise books would not happen. I'm certainly not perfect yet, and it's not happening every single day, but I am getting much, much closer.

What's made the difference?

I implemented a rule. Everyday I have to sit down for 30 minutes at my little writing desk in the study (this happens at 10 p.m. on weeknights and usually at some point in the morning on the weekends). I don't have to write, but I have to sit there, and I'm not allowed to do anything else. I can read what I've written already or just think about the story, but that's it.

Luckily, because I'm there, words often do end up on the page. Maybe not a lot, but sometimes a couple hundred. Over the days, those word counts really do add up.

And another benefit: writing everyday keeps me in the story. When I used to only write at weekends it took so long to get back into it. Now I feel much more like I'm living and breathing the narrative.

This strategy has helped me with writing, but I think people can use it for anything really. One of my friends is taking weekly French lessons (via Skype) and is loving it. But she wanted to listen to French radio daily to help with her listening comprehension. She said it was hard to get herself to do it so regularly -- even though once she started listening, she enjoyed it. I suggested that she use a similar method, but set the bar even lower. She just had to listen for one or two minutes -- all she really had to do was put her headphones in and tune in on her phone.

She tried it and told me that it was working: once she started, she usually ended up listening for the 15 minutes that was her goal.

I'm not sure where this resistance to starting things comes from, but it's amazing how easy it can also be to trick ourselves. Lucky I'm so dim witted that I'll sit down at my writing desk even when I don't want to write.

Another key part of this routine for me was letting the Hub know this had to happen and asking him to remind me it was time to write. (According to Gretchen Rubin's habit framework, I am an obliger, which means I need external accountability.) The Hub now knows that at 10 p.m. I can't watch just-one-more episode of whatever series we're bingeing on. Even when I'm tempted to skip, his asking "Aren't you writing tonight?" is often that kick I need to remember that it's the rule. And sometimes, as an added bonus, I even get out of doing the washing-up (dishes) or taking the rubbish (garbage) out. Being the tortured artist in the relationship at the moment certainly has its benefits.

Photo credit: Alicia Chenaux - Ch'Know Blogs Writer's Block via photopin (license)


  1. I admire your determination! More than that, I'm looking forward to reading those first few pages while curled up on a chair, sipping coffee!

    1. I love the fact that you are looking forward to that! And especially that you also plan on drinking coffee while you read.


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