I’m blessed to exist as a writer for film and television, as well as novels, comic books, graphic novels, and more. One of the most common questions I get asked is how to write more consistently, or begin writing again after stalling out.
I have good news and bad news: The answer is simple, but not easy. One thing to explain up front, however, is the issue isn’t a lack of time.
There’s only one thing that every single person is on Earth is equal in, and that’s time. We are different sizes, shapes, strengths and weaknesses, but we’ve all got 86,400 seconds in a day. 168 hours in a week. You, me, Oprah, Obama, James Patterson, Shonda Rhimes. Everyone.
Your time is your life, and there is time for absolutely anything you want to accomplish if you plan your days correctly. There may not be time every single day, but there’s absolutely time in the week. And if you truly think you don’t have time, I have just one question: How many hours of TV did you watch this week? How much time on Facebook or Twitter that wasn’t directly related to your work? I may have found some extra usable time for you. You don’t have to tell me the answer, but be honest with yourself.
168 hours in a week. Work 40. Say you have a long commute, add 20 hours for that (we’ll talk more about that in a moment). Sleep 8 hours a night. That’s 116 hours, 52 left. Dinner, travel, TV, working out, say that’s 40 hours. You still have 12 left. Understand what I’m saying here? You have time.
Never say to yourself ‘I don’t have time’ for something, say “It's not important to me.” Since that’s what you are REALLY saying. And once you start hearing yourself say ‘it’s not important to me to exercise,’ or ‘it’s not important to me to spend time with my kids,’ or ‘it’s not important to me to sit down and write,’ you’ll start automatically adjusting your priorities, and by extension your time. What you spend your time on is what you’re spending your life on, so plan accordingly.
Now let me be clear, some of us really do work 100 hour weeks. Some of us really do work two and three jobs, and you may well be one of them. Doesn’t matter, there’s time if you make it, and if you don’t make it, it will NEVER happen. So resolve today to make it happen.
You can make it 15 or 20 if you’re serious, but I wouldn’t push more than 30 at least at first. I say this because if you try to change too drastically, too quickly your willpower will fail and you will backslide. Better to make small, incremental changes that you can live with than take huge swings and fall down.
Here’s the catch: You don’t actually have to write in those 10 minutes. I highly recommend meditating if you don’t have a consistent practice there as it will improve every area of your life. Or, you can simply take these few extra minutes to think about your project. Keep a notepad by the bed since often times you’ll find you wake up with a solution to a nagging story problem you went to bed with. The subconscious mind is a wonderful thing once it’s allowed to tumble something around for a while!
Weekly goals are good, but too easy to let yourself off the hook. “Oh, I didn’t write today...I’ll just write twice as much tomorrow!” Maybe, but let’s be honest, you probably won’t. Once again small but doable is the name of the game; it’s better to shoot for 50 words a day and hit it than 500 and miss. Start small and after you bang it out for a few days, increase it a bit.
Side note: If you hit your daily goal and are feeling the juices flowing don’t stop!
Another easy cure for writer’s block is to have multiple projects going. You may not be feeling inspired by the romance short story, but the heist screenplay is calling your name. Or the memoir about your childhood, who knows. If you have a few different things going you’ll always feel inspired by something.
This can be the most challenging thing, but will pay the biggest dividends. If you set a time to write you’ll condition your brain over time to get ‘into the zone’ quickly. All things being equal it’s better to do it earlier in the day when you are fresh, but life is complicated and you have to find the time where you can find it. Guard your time jealousy, and do everything you can to shut out distractions during your writing time.
If you hit your goal for the week--I realize I said no weekly goals, so your daily goal x7--do something nice for yourself. See a movie, buy a bottle of wine, or some other treat.
There you have it, some quick tips you can use to ‘stick and carrot’ your way to writing success. And of course, signing up for a course like mine “Building from the Ground Up: Character Development & Story Structure” will save you YEARS of time and effort in your storytelling journey.
To your success!
B. Dave Walters is a motivator, storyteller, and structure fiend. He is best known as the writer of Dungeons & Dragons: A Darkened Wish for IDW comics, and the Long Beach by Night streaming series. He’s co-writer of the Salvage Marines TV series and Electropunk Transmedia series. He has written films, novels, a non-fiction book and over 500 nationally syndicated articles. He operates a full scale 24/7 World of Darkness Discord roleplay server along with over 20 hours a week of actual play game streams.
Want to know more about B. Dave? Watch this interview he did for a writer’s school project.
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