Last summer I read James Clear’s Atomic Habits. The book deeply reinforced my enthusiasm for harnessing the power of habits. As a result, at the beginning of last year’s classes, I had my students fill out a sheet choosing a specific time to write each school day. I also committed to grading at a specific time each school day. 🙂
Although the students and I were not always able to keep our appointed time, planning in advance helped to establish the expectation of working on our assignments regularly. Even if the time had to be missed for some reason, we strategized a specific plan to do our tasks at an alternate time. I’m continuing with the writing plan commitment again this year. I wrote the essay below for my students to explain the reason for and process of the commitment to daily writing.
Writer in Training
Talent is not the most important characteristic for becoming a writer. As writing instructor Kevin Meyer notes, “Writing can be a challenging skill; however, if you are willing to get started and practice, anyone can learn how to write well. It is not a gift that only some people are born with. If you dedicate time and practice to it, you can become a master of writing” (Meyer).
The most important action for a writer is to write every day. Writing is a skill that can be learned, like playing a sport or an instrument. Practice produces steady growth. Writers make daily writing a habit. Science fiction writer Octavia Butler advises, “First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice” (Amory 388).
What is the best way to make writing a habit? The first step is to decide what time to practice writing each day. Pick a time during the school day, because the brain is tired late in the day. The best time is usually the same time that writing class is held. For example, if writing class is held at 10 AM, plan to work on writing from 10 AM to 11 AM on the other weekdays. This programs the brain to expect to write at that time every day.
The second step is to prepare the “writing station.” It should be a quiet place without the distraction of screens and people. All needed materials should be stored there so that time is not wasted searching for them when practice time arrives. The writing station should be comfortable, but not too relaxing. The lighting should be bright enough to see well and to aid in staying alert. If the light is low and the seat is soft, the brain may begin to shut down for a nap. By intentionally planning the place and time for writing practice, the writer is positioned for success.
Once the time and place are decided, the writer is ready to implement the plan. About fifteen minutes before starting, drink some water and take a bathroom break. Some quick exercise in the fresh air, such as jogging down the block and back, can wake up a sluggish brain and prime it for action. When the time arrives, one must not even think about whether one “feels like it” or not. A successful writer just sits down and jumps right in!
Improve focus by staying seated and working without taking “little vacations.” Make sure phone, earbuds, and other electronics are in a separate room to avoid the temptation of texting, social media, and random music and video surfing. Diversions such as going to the restroom or tending to pets disrupt focus. Continuously concentrate, without leaving the writing station, until the day’s to-do list is complete. If the daily tasks extend past an hour, take a fifteen-minute break to refresh the brain. Then continue until the work is done.
The secret to becoming an effective writer is not a mystery. The most important factor is to follow a daily plan for writing. As accomplished Victorian author Anthony Trollope observed,
A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules…There are those who think that the man who works with his imagination should allow himself to wait till inspiration moves him…I was once told that the surest aid to the writing of a book was a piece of cobbler’s wax on my chair. I certainly believe in the cobbler’s wax much more than the inspiration. (Trollope)
Do not wait for inspiration. Make a plan, stick to the plan, and grow into a skillful writer.
Amory, Dean. Essential Knowledge for Personal Coaches. Edgard Adriaens, 2012.
Meyer, Kevin. “Is Writing A Skill Anyone Can Learn? Find Out Now!” Can I Be A Writer – “The Answer is Yes”, WordPress, 22 Aug. 2022, canibeawriter.com/is-writing-a-skill-anyone-can-learn/. Accessed 12 Aug. 2023.
Trollope, Anthony. “Chapter VII. Doctor Thorne—The Bertrams—The West Indies and the Spanish Main.” An Autobiography of Anthony Trollope, 2nd ed., Project Gutenberg, 20 Nov. 2015, www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/5978/pg5978-images.html. Accessed 12 Aug. 2023.
*Although the information for the Works Cited page is in the correct MLA form, the spacing and indentions are not. WordPress does not offer formatting options for the official MLA format.