- Conquer the blank page.
- Learn your base habit: the two minute warm-up write.
- Show up every day and write.
You’ve decided. You want to be a writer.
You’re going to be a writer.
Now it’s time to write.
But how do you start?
Writing is hard. Starting to write is even harder.
You have to overcome the inertia of not writing.
You have to find something to write about.
Once started, you have to keep writing, day after day. Or else you’ll stop. (Ask me how I know…)
Writers like to complain about “the tyranny of the blank page.”
The blank page can have a terrifying power over us writers.
Imagine that the blank page is Hitler.
Imagine that blank page with that toothbrush mustache and those beady little eyes.
Imagine how it gloats as writers around the world cower before it.
That little tyrant. That petty little tyrant.
He thinks he’s better than you.
He thinks he can control you.
I’m not from Virginia, but they have a saying there that I’m fond of: sic semper tyrannis. “Thus, always, the tyrant.”
As a proud ‘Murican, I stand with the Virginians: I don’t take kindly to tyrannies.
You shouldn’t either, whether you hail from Richmond or Mars.
So let me show you how to take that tyrant right down. Put your foot on his neck. Menace him with your sword if you like. (Try it! It’s fun!)
You see, it’s as simple as this: you don’t write a novel all at once.
You don’t build a writing habit all at once, either.
It takes about three weeks to establish a habit, and that tyrant will fight you every step of the way.
So what’s the trick?
Channel your inner Sun Tzu. Don’t fight. Not until you’re guaranteed to win.
How do you guarantee victory?
You prepare the battlefield ahead of time.
You stack the odds in your favor.
You start by doing the easiest, most absolute smallest amount of work possible.
Start by showing up.
Open your favorite writing tool. Set a timer. Write for two minutes. Then stop.
Do it again the next day. Show up. Write for two minutes. Stop.
These first three weeks of building your writing habit are about becoming consistent. Consistency means showing up.
Especially at first, showing up is much more important than word count.
Every time you show up, you’re proving to yourself that you’re a writer. James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, calls this “casting a vote” for your new identity.
Don’t worry about word counts. Don’t worry about anything more than showing up and writing for at least two minutes.
“What do I write?” you may ask.
Easy. Write whatever comes to mind. Vomit onto the page. It’s called free writing. Don’t worry about structure, typos, or pretty words. Just write.
If nothing comes to mind, write “I’m writing because I’m a writer and that’s what writers do.” Write that over and over for two minutes if you have to.
(Spoiler alert: You won’t have to.)
By the end of the first week, you’re going to have a hard time stopping at two minutes.
If that’s the case, go ahead, add two more minutes to your timer. Keep adding two more minutes as needed.
But if it starts to get difficult, back off. Frankly, I wouldn’t recommend going beyond ten minutes. I find five works really well for me.
Do this for three weeks. Minimum.
Then don’t ever stop.
Congratulations. You’re writing.
This new habit of yours, free writing every day for at least two minutes, serves two purposes:
- As you begin to add real word counts, this becomes your warm-up routine. A few minutes of free writing to shake the cobwebs out of your head.
- It’s a placeholder, cheap maintenance for the habit that you will build your career on.
In the years to come, you’re going to have bad days, bad weeks, bad months even. Even if you do nothing else, you can find two minutes each day to fill with words.
“But what about the 50k? You can’t write 50k words in two minutes a day!”
Of course not. Two minutes is your beachhead against the blank page.Next comes the long road to total victory.