#1 - Prepare Yourself
You can’t rely on spur-of-the-moment inspiration to consistently write. Whether or not the output is any good, your goal is to write. It’s not about writing something good or clever, it’s just about getting the words down. Treat it as a mechanical task. As Neil Gaiman describes the process, it’s like “putting one brick next to another.” You write one word, then the next, etc. etc. When you abandon the need to have every sentence perfect on the first go, things move much faster. You might even find you’ll enjoy the process more. The mistakes aren’t permanent, and revision is a necessary step you need to handle separately later on.
So, approach your goal clinically. Your mission is to get down the words, and that is all. Determine a good amount of words you want to write before bed, preferably, something you can reasonably achieve. There’s always room to boost that number later, but start with something you’re sure you can reach. 500-1000 words is usually a good starting point, but you can ultimately choose more or less, depending on your skill level and experience.
#2 - The Ritual
Now, I’m not talking about messy slaughter in your backyard by candlelight – this is a bit different. When I say “ritual,” I mean the physical/metal process you repeat at the same time every day, to get into “the zone” for your task. Plenty of people have rituals to get ready for bed, or start the day. In the same way, you need to find your writing ritual. It’s different for everyone – I’ve heard of poets who write after lunch on their dining table, always with a pen and pad. Some write a few hundred words after a morning shower. In any case, it will be much easier to incorporate your writing time into a pre-existing ritual, like before bed, for example. It will be easier to form the habit.
As I said, this is usually different for everyone. My evening ritual usually involves an after-dinner cup of tea, turning out all the lights, reading from my book of choice for awhile, and finally starting the writing process before sleep. It’s very relaxed, and allows my creative side to take hold, rather than my annoying inner-critic and editor. Remove distractions from your time of writing as much as possible, and allow yourself to dedicate 100% of your focus to the task at hand.
#3 - Food for Thought
Now, this might seem obvious, or it may not. Your brain needs energy to do its job effectively. Ensuring you’re properly fed can increase your mental stamina and focus, so it’s important to give your brain what it needs. We’re no health experts here, and you should definitely consult a health professional before drastically changing your diet, but we’ll toss you a few pointers. Avoid carbohydrates if you can. Especially in high amounts, they can slow you down, and make sleep much more preferable to writing. Seek out foods that are high in proteins, and that assist in focus and productivity. Berries, fish, nuts, and even chocolate can help fuel your brain to perform at its best. It is often overlooked, but a healthy and balanced diet can go a long way to help you reach your goals.
#4 - Just… Do it!
Now that you’ve prepared yourself and gone through the motions of your ritual, it’s time to get writing! Of course, what works best is going to differ from person to person. You may have an idea of what you want to write, perhaps not. You can decide to just begin writing, or perhaps continue a story that is unfinished. Whatever it may be, turn off all expectations. These words don’t mean anything. You’re not writing to be perfect, clever, or good in any sense of the word. Your mission is getting down the words, and meeting your quota. This can appear counter-intuative, but I’ll tell you this: it’s not going to be a fast start, but the more you write without these expectations, continue to get your word count down every day, the more your writing will improve. You’re going to need to make less revisions than you think, just give it time. By doing this, you are strengthening muscles in your head, and the efficiency to come will push you through any dry spell. Even after this, however, there’s still one vital step to take, to get you to your goals…
#5 - Read. Every Day.
Didn’t think I would forget this one, would ya? Well, reading is just as important as writing. Just like you need food to give your brain the energy it needs to write, reading is the fuel that powers your storytelling side. Whatever you read, make sure your material of choice is broad. Don’t get stuck in a rut and only read one type of story. Read non-fiction, different genres, different authors you’ve never heard of. Expand your horizons, and this is what is going to kill any writer’s block you may anticipate. Reading allows your mind to make new connections, and fuels ideas that would have never appeared on their own. Make time for yourself to read every day. Don’t try to analyze the writing, don’t pick it apart, you can always do that later. Just read, and enjoy. You’ll be learning without even realizing it. And everything you read, is going to give you inspiration and motivation for your own work.
While writing every day may seem to be daunting, time-consuming, or even impossible, I have full-faith that you can do it. Make yourself a plan, do whatever is required to meet your quota, and above all: enjoy the craft. You’re writing because it’s fun, no? But that’s a whole other conversation. Don’t stop trying, even if you miss your quota on a few days. What’s key, is that you never give up, because that is the only way to fail. As long as you keep trying, you’ll find a way to make it work, and it will become easier and easier over time.
And now, for the fun bit. Below, I’ll include some recommended reading. These are only some of the books that have helped me in my journey, and I can only hope they will help you in the same way. If you're unfamiliar with any of the authors, these recommendations are probably a good starting point, because the complete list would span far too long for mortal eyes. Be warned, there’s a good amount of variety, but a fair amount of horror. What can I say? I have a soft spot. I’ll most likely update this list as I find worthy recommendations. Cheers!
- Ancestor – Scott Sigler
- A Scanner Darkly – Philip K. Dick
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
- Amphigorey – Edward Gorey
- Animal Farm – George Orwell
- Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card
- Eric – Terry Pratchett
- Fragile Things – Neil Gaiman
- Haunted – Chuck Palahniuk
- I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream – Harlan Ellison
- Infected – Scott Sigler
- In the Flesh – Clive Barker
- Kiss, Kiss – Roald Dahl
- Me Talk Pretty One Day – David Sedaris
- Night Shift – Stephen King
- On Writing – Stephen King
- Reaper Man – Terry Pratchett
- Skeleton Crew – Stephen King
- Smoke and Mirrors – Neil Gaiman
- Soft and Others – F. Paul Wilson
- Someone Like You – Roald Dahl
- The Complete Works – Edgar Allan Poe
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
- The Hobbit – J. R. R. Tolkien
- The Hunting of the Snark – Lewis Carroll
- The Illustrated Man – Ray Bradbury
- The Metamorphosis – Franz Kafka
- The Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales – H. P. Lovecraft
- The Thief of Always – Clive Barker
- The Weird – Ann & Jeff VanderMeer
- There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby – Lyudmila Petrushevskaya
- Through the Looking Glass – Lewis Carroll
- When You Are Engulfed in Flames – David Sedaris
- Where the Sidewalk Ends – Shel Silverstein
- 001 – Bag Man – Scott Sigler
- 182 – The Dreaming Way – Jim Bihyeh
- 239 – The Line – Grady Gratt
- 262 – Black Hill – Orrin Grey
- 267 – Mentor – Sean Eads
- 277 – The Orchard of Hanging Trees – Nicole Cushing
- 279 – Gingerbread & Ashes – Jaelithe Ingold
- 281 – The Women Who Watch – Thomas Owen
- 338 – Beware the Jabberwock, My Son – Dixon Chance
- 355 – The Chair – Leah Thomas
- 357 – Growth Spurt – Paul Lorello