Hey everybody, it’s me again! Today, I will share what I believe are overlooked but healthy writing tips and habits, particularly for new or young writers or those who will be doing NaNo for the first time. Please keep in mind that this is not intended to be an all-inclusive list. Also, all of these habits can be useful year-round. That said, let’s go!
Habit One: Regularly Tidying Up Your Workspace
If you’re anything like me, your desk slowly accumulates the last four sessions’ water cups, a cat toy or two, stacks of loose papers with lore or character references hastily scrawled across them, post-it notes, a small mountain of hair ties, and several random tchotchkes from elsewhere in your home that somehow migrated to your desk. Well, consider it time to reset!
Once a week or so I like to wipe down my desk with a 2:1 ratio of water and vinegar and either burn a candle or use my diffuser nearby to freshen up the air a little [I promise I’m not an MLM hun lol]. Wipe down your monitor, keyboard, and mouse (in a way that’s safe for electronics) and clean the dust bunnies from your wires and computer tower if you use a desktop! For the handwriters amongst you, dump out your utensil cup (or drawer, or bag, or spread out your pile), clean it out, get rid of broken or dead utensils, pencil shavings, eraser bits, whatever, and organise your stationary in a way that’s convenient for you. I know approximately nothing about typewriter care, so if you use one I will assume you know how to properly clean it!
While we’re looking at our workspace, look around and see if there’s anything you can do to change things up a bit, which might help if you feel a bit “stuck” or “murky”. If space permits, try moving your desk or working near an open window. The increased airflow could help you concentrate better [unless you’re like me and have horrific seasonal allergies, in which case it just makes you sneeze]. Try swapping out or rearranging nearby decor—paintings, tapestries, calendars, those little word art signs that say stuff like “live laugh love”, figurines, whatever. Of course, be careful to not use anything in this tip as an excuse to procrastinate.
Habit Two: Practise Telling your Inner Self-Saboteur to Get Lost
On that note, let’s talk about the two most common times I see writers (including myself) “get in their own way”: when we’re struggling with procrastination or impostor syndrome.
Easily the most common issue I have observed is procrastination. “Procrastination” is defined as “the action of delaying or postponing something”, which could be intentional or not. Sometimes we procrastinate because our subconscious has realised that there’s something dissonant about what we’ve written and where we’re trying to go. In my opinion, this is the most frequent cause of writer’s block. Other times, procrastination can arise from things like stress, untamed perfectionism, failing motivation, and low creative self-confidence. [If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues, please seek out help from a licensed professional. It’s okay to ask for help, even if you think your issue is minor.]
When I catch myself procrastinating, I find it most helpful to make a realistic to-do list and work through it piece-by-piece, giving myself as much time as I need to complete it without allowing myself to procrastinate further. Being flexible and taking time to refresh and reset guilt-free has done wonders for my productivity.
As far as impostor syndrome goes… if you write, you are a writer. There’s nothing more to it. Even if you just put down your first word six minutes ago, you’re no less worthy or meaningful as a creator than someone who’s been writing since the seventies. Nobody expects you to be an expert in the craft with a film deal and your book printed in six foreign languages before you’re allowed to share your ideas, opinions, experiences, and stories. If anybody does, then they’re the ones missing out. Communication and sharing with others is at the heart of storytelling.
So, start telling your inner self-saboteur to get lost!
This ties into our third habit, so let’s move on!
Habit Three: Be Assertive About Your Work
It’s very easy to be self-deprecating when talking about your projects, but it’s not a great way to raise confidence in yourself or to introduce others to your work. I know it can be uncomfortable to speak positively about your art, especially when you’re just starting out. I myself still struggle with it sometimes. Being assertive about what you’re working on shows your audience, be they other writers or your readers, three things: one, that you genuinely believe in this project’s worth; two, that you’re confident in yourself, your craft, and your creative direction; and three, that you know what you and your project need to be successful. Even if you’re not quite there yet in your heart of hearts, pretend to be. Very few people can tell the difference.
Now, speaking positively about your work doesn’t mean singing your own praises at the expense of ignoring things you need to improve on, nor putting others down to elevate yourself. At worst, self-deprecation or passivity might come across as fishing for compliments. At best, they can make you seem like you didn’t put in any effort, and why would anyone care about your work if you yourself don’t seem to? On the other side of the coin, being aggressive in your self-confidence is a major turn-off for most would-be helpers and is an active detriment to refining your skills. Consider the following sentences:
“So I know it sucks but here’s what I wrote today. It’s trash lol so I’ll probably delete it. Just lay it on me.”
“I wrote this today but there’s something “off” with it that I just can’t quite put my finger on. Any ideas?”
“Did you see the chapter I wrote today? Isn’t it great? What do they mean this part doesn’t “flow”?! Uhm, hello?! Did they even read it?!?!
“Hey, don’t know if anybody cares, but here’s this thing I wrote. I’ll just leave it here.”
“You don’t get to criticise my story when you didn’t even use the correct “your/you’re” in the last chapter you shared.”
“Hey guys. Here’s my latest chapter hot off the press. I know I need to work on x an y, but overall I’m really proud of z!”
Which ones sound more like writers you’d want to work with? And, which sound more confident in their work?
If you’re finding it difficult to talk about your work without focusing on the things you dislike, try giving yourself a “crit sandwich”. Find one thing you like about it, one thing you’d like to improve, and one more positive thing. Practise this every time you write. And remember: you are the ultimate authority on your own work. So, why not act like it?
Habit Four: Taking Regular Breaks
Taking breaks is a huge boon to your creativity, but it’s something I frequently see dismissed as beneficial in the writing community. Nobody can be productive 24/7. We all need time to reset and marinate in ideas once in a while.
I sometimes apply a modified version of the “Pomodoro technique” suited to my needs in my writing sessions. If, like me, you are wondering, “What’s a ‘pomodoro’?” it means “tomato” in Italian. The technique was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the ‘80s, who I believe used a tomato-shaped egg timer to develop his technique. Officially, the Pomodoro technique follows a 25-5-30 minute timer pattern, but you can set it in a way that’s convenient for you. I usually set the “writing” timer for 20 minutes and the “short break” timer for 5 and repeat this cycle four times. On the fourth break, I take 15 minutes instead of five. This allows me time to stretch a little, get a drink or snack, or use the restroom without breaking my flow.
Personally, I use the Focus Keeper app on my phone [no affiliation] to keep track of my sessions, as it was made with the Pomodoro technique in mind. It wouldn’t be too difficult to use an egg timer (which I believe the technique was developed with), your phone, or just a regular alarm clock. You can also google “timer” and set yourself reminders that way.
Not only is it ideal to take breaks within regular sessions, but don’t forget to take a few longer breaks in general, especially if you’ve had multiple intense sessions or just worked through a particularly difficult part. This may be an unpopular opinion, but…it’s perfectly natural and normal to not want to constantly be working on your story. You’re allowed to have other hobbies and interests. Personally, I encourage it. The good thing about writing is that, unlike gardening, nothing is going to die if you just skip a day or two of watering. As a word of caution, if you’re prone to procrastination, it might be a good idea to set a limit on how long you take away to keep yourself accountable.
Habit Five: Stop Putting the Critique Cart before the Writing Horse
Giving, receiving, and applying critique is a lengthy enough topic to warrant its own discussion, but I would be remiss to not mention it here with NaNo looming.
Trying to find out what’s wrong with your piece before you’ve even finished it will only lead to frustration. Similarly to speaking poorly of your work, it’s unlikely to raise your confidence and can actively work against you when you’re trying to make progress. Slow down, relax, take your time, and leave critique for finished drafts. It can be beyond exciting to share your work with others hot off the press (especially if you’ve made a breakthrough recently), but that excitement can only grow by holding off on asking for critique until you’ve given yourself enough time to put your full effort forward. There will be plenty of time to revise, edit, and share once your story is done.
In my opinion this habit is most lethal to writers who share their first chapter right after they’ve written it, specifically online in large, anonymous forums. First chapters are hard in themselves. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by sharing them—especially, and I stress especially if you are “pantsing” as a newbie and you don’t know where the story is going to go after this. I speak from experience. Yes, there was a time when the Outline Queen was a pantser, and it super did not work for me being as young and inexperienced as I was. Even now, several years later, I am hesitant to share work with writers I am unfamiliar with.
1. How are you preparing for NaNo? If you’re not participating this year, what will you be working on?
2. Do you have any tips or experiences with the habits I went over in the video? How did you develop or resolve them?
3. What is a writing tip you wish someone had given you for your first NaNo (or when you first started writing?)
Journal it, think about it, send it as a comment, keep it to yourself, do whatever you like! I always appreciate your comments, likes, and subscriptions. Thanks again for reading, and I’ll see you sometime soon!