WriteCast Episode 17: 5 Tips for Establishing a Writing Practice
© Walden University Writing Center 2015
[TEASER:] BRITTANY: This can be a really helpful practice for scholars.
NIK: Welcome to WriteCast: A Casual Conversation for Serious Writers. I'm Nikolas Nadeau.
BRITTANY: And I’m Brittany Kallman Arneson.
NIK: In this episode, we’re talking about writing on a regular basis and five tips for setting up your writing practice.
All right, Brittany, so can you believe 2014 is actually over?
BRITTANY: Oh, I know. It has just flown by. I can’t believe that we’re ringing in the New Year.
NIK: But we’re definitely excited for another new year.
BRITTANY: Yes, it will be wonderful. I have to say I am planning to make one resolution for 2015.
NIK: Oh, that’s nice. What’s the new resolution?
BRITTANY: Okay. So, I’ve been playing the piano since I was in second grade, but I have virtually nothing to show for it because I don’t practice. And so I told myself I’m going to practice the piano three times a week. It was going to be every day, but I figured this is probably really more realistic, with a new baby on the way. So, three times a week at the piano is my New Year’s resolution.
NIK: Nice. That will be good for your baby, too, I’m sure he or she will be quite the Mozart or the Ben Folds Five, or whatever you envision.
BRITTANY: I hope both. I want our child to be a very versatile musician.
NIK: So, obviously regular practice is an important part of improving any skill, whether it’s playing the piano or academic writing. So, we actually wanted to talk today about practice in the context of academic writing.
BRITTANY: Yes. And we figure the New Year is really a perfect time to resolve to set up a regular writing practice in your busy schedule. If you spend a little bit of time now preparing a practice based on some of the tips we are going to give you, then when things settle down, you will be all set to jump into your new writing routine.
NIK: Yep. So in this episode we are going to have five tips for you for establishing a regular writing practice.
BRITTANY: Before we get into those tips, though, I wanted to talk a little bit about why it might be important to establish a regular practice.
So, a lot of you might have heard this kind of widespread belief that forming a new habit takes 21 days, but some research actually suggests that it can take more than two months to form a new habit, so, that kind of behavior that becomes automatic for you. This research also found that missing a day or two didn’t interrupt the process of habit formation, so you don’t have to beat yourself up if you sort of start a practice and then something happens and you miss a day or two here and there. But we do think that it’s really important to start building the habit of writing early on, and that this can be a really helpful practice for scholars.
NIK: Yep. So setting up a writing practice can also help you get over the fear of writing and the fear of the blank page or the blank screen. So tip No. 1 is to make a plan and stick to it. And here you want to just set up that regular schedule, and so put it in your calendar, block off some time, make a date, or just let people know that it’s your time. Just tell them you’re going to write.
We actually have a blog post from our colleague, Sarah Prince. It’s on making a capstone calendar. So, you can find it by going to our blog, which is waldenwritingcenter.blogspot.com, and in the search box just type in Capstone Calendar, and that blog post will appear.
So the whole point is just to show up, sit down, whether or not you have any ideas, whether or not you feel particularly inspired, and then let your muse find you. Train yourself, train those ideas, to come up to the surface during that designated time.
BRITTANY: Right. And I want to point out, too, that, even though the capstone calendar blog post is directed more toward students who are working on their doctoral study or their dissertation, this is actually a really helpful practice for anybody at any stage. So, if you are an undergraduate, if you are a graduate student working on coursework, still go and checkout that blog post because the advice there is really applicable across the board, not just for folks working on those capstone documents.
NIK: Yeah. That’s a great point, Brittany.
BRITTANY: Thanks. So, Tip 2 is to set up your space. Now many of us know this, or many of us have experienced this, but aren’t fully aware of it, aware of why it’s important. Aesthetics and ergonomics do matter. They make a difference in terms of our ability to function well, to produce good work, to focus. So you want to make your writing space somewhere where you are really comfortable. Your chair, how comfortable it is, how supportive it is, the lighting in the space where you are writing are really important factors. You might also consider bringing some inspiring art or photos into your space, maybe some plants – something that helps you feel like you get excited to sit down in that space. Right? You don’t want to be too hot or too cold. You don’t want to be uncomfortable. You don’t want to think your space is ugly. You really want it to be an inviting space for you to go ahead and sit down.
One other thing is, I think ideally we would all prefer to be in a space with a door that shuts, so that we can have a little bit of privacy, and then, also, so that we can go away afterwards and shut the door on our work and not worry about it. Not everybody’s living space allows for that, of course. So, if you don’t have that kind of space available to you, you might consider always writing in the same public place, like a library or a coffee shop. So, someplace that you like to be that feels good to you, and kind of setting up that pattern where you go to that same place, either in your own home or in a public space every time you sit down to write.
NIK: Yeah, and I just wanted to remind our listeners we also have an episode, episode No. 7, when Amy Kubista, who is the manager of the writing services here at Walden, mentions that she and her husband rearranged one of the rooms in their house just to give herself some private writing space. And I have to say as someone who lives in Boston, where housing is not cheap, that definitely resonates with me. I definitely can see myself doing that. If there’s actual space to work with in my new apartment, I look forward to doing that, as well.
So, moving on to Tip No. 3 is to establish patterns or quirks in your writing process. Just like tennis players, sometimes they take a certain number of bounces with the tennis ball before they serve, some people like to use the same pen, or cool hat you like to wear when you write. It doesn’t really matter--whatever you think will help you get into the mood, make it fun, make it original, so that you know it’s your time. And, if you are living with roommates or family members, you know, if you put on the writing hat, they’ll know, you don’t mess with her, you don’t mess with him--that’s writing time. So just figure out a strategy that works for you.
BRITTANY: Right, and we’re being a little bit silly here. And this might also seem a little bit superstitious to some of you, but really, regardless of whether or not you choose to wear a silly hat or just use the same pen, some of these quirks and patterns that you build into your practice can really help train you brain to focus based on that trigger. So picking up that pen becomes a trigger for focusing on writing for your brain. And this is something that can be really helpful if you build those patterns into your practice. Your brain will get used to saying, “Oh yeah, now I’m sitting down in this space. This is the same space I sat down in last time. I’m picking up this same pen. I’m putting on my goofy hat. It must be time to write.” So there really is some helpful truth to these suggestions and not just silliness or superstition.
So Tip 4 is to be patient. Now this is a hard thing for all of us in this culture. We aren’t used to being patient. We’re used to getting things instantaneously. But we’re…
NIK: Brittany, can you wrap it up, now? I’m getting a little impatient. Can you just get to the point, please?
BRITTANY: Nik, Nik. You are not illustrating my point. We have to back up a little bit when we’re writing, right? And not worry so much about producing the final product right away. And I think that’s something that can be really challenging for all of us when we’re busy, when we’re trying to get this podcast episode wrapped up, and why is my co-host blabbing on and on? [Nik laughs] You know, we really want things to clip along, and that is not always how the writing process works, as many of you will know from personal experience.
So, one thing we really want to emphasize is not to become discouraged if some days are slow. Just keep showing up. Keep sitting down in that desk. Keep using your special pen or putting on your fancy hat, regardless of whether or not you feel like you are making a lot of progress with your writing every time you sit down. And you really want to make sure, too, to turn off that inner judge or editor. We’ve talked about this on previous podcast episodes before, where we are talking about really not censoring yourself, right? It doesn’t matter what you write, just that you get something on the page so that you can feel like you have produced something over the course of your writing time.
NIK: Well, that reminds me, Brittany, is lastly Tip No. 5 is after all this work, and all of this struggle and suffering – hopefully it’s not too much of that, but of course it takes some time and dedication – after all that making sure to reward yourself. So this involves giving yourself that treat or that reward if you show up for your writing sessions each week or each day or each month. Brittany, I remember seeing this really clever trick on Facebook where someone would put a gummy bear on their book after each paragraph that they read, and I thought that was brilliant. I also thought it would be a pretty fast route to tooth decay, but it’s along those lines, you know. Give yourself a reward after 500 words, maybe treat yourself to some coffee or whatever you choose. So try those things, and also share your successes. Share in the victories that you have. Maybe on Facebook or Twitter, or, as we talked about in a previous episode, share it with your writing community, if you have one here at Walden. If you don’t, just make sure that you let us know on our Facebook page or on our Twitter feed. We would definitely love to hear about your successes as academic writers.
BRITTANY: Yeah, I actually think that social media is a really great way to do this final tip, this reward yourself tip. Now, of course the reward can be coffee or a gummy bear or whatever, but I think the way that social media is set up, especially Facebook, if you post something that you’ve done that has made you feel successful, your friends tend to chime in and give you that feedback that can be really helpful – that positive reinforcement, telling you, “Good job,” “Way to go,” “We’re proud of you,” those sorts of things. And those can be really motivating messages to go back and sit down at your next scheduled session and keep working. So, yeah, definitely use those tools to your advantage, as well.
NIK: Well, thanks for listening. I hope this episode gave you some tips, but, more importantly, some motivation to get writing. And, of course, this applies to any kind of writing, whether it’s letter writing, journal writing, novel writing, or a paper or dissertation writing. We definitely are a fan of all of these kinds, but, specifically here, we want to make sure that you get your Walden academic writing done or, if you are from a different university, get whatever you need to get done, done. Make sure that you reserve that time to write so that you can have more time to enjoy the rest of your life.
So, tune in February 1 for our next episode, which will feature student questions and our answers to them.
BRITTANY: Thanks everyone.
NIK: All right, take care everyone.
NIK: This podcast is a production of the Walden University Writing Center.
BRITTANY: This episode was produced by me, Brittany Kallman Arneson, my co-host, Nikolas Nadeau, and Anne Shiell.