Hold Fast, Young Fellows

Last day of January! That’s exciting, I think. I’ve become resolute in my determination to maintain better writing habits, and so far it’s been paying off. There’s seldom enough time in the day to do all the nothing I’d like to do, but mornings I wake up earlier and work on this site, five days a week, and evenings after work is novel writing time. The novel is a beast, but it’s always worse imagining working on it than it is actually working on it.

There’s something dreadful about sitting down in the chair and contemplating opening up that word document, scrolling down and having a staring contest with that blinking icon. What will the first word today be?

Well, there’s a trick I’ve found, and that’s going back and doing a little editing of the work you did yesterday. That way you’ve already started writing by the time you start writing. You’re already warmed up and you’ve found your place again. It seems to work pretty well.

I was reading an article about the daily routines of famous writers. You can find it here. It’s definitely worth looking at. Some people have some pretty strange habits, such as Jack Kerouac doing bizarre yoga positions before he wrote, or Hemingway‘s famous habit of standing up while he writes.

Yet there was a common theme among all of them that I found reassuring. The most important habit to cultivate as a writer is to write. Write first, last, and foremost. Nothing else is more important. You must write, and you must continue to write until you are done. Then you should probably keep writing some more.

Friends, family, dates, games, movies, social outings, lunch with colleagues—they must all take a back seat to your writing. This isn’t to say you must do nothing else besides write. But your writing must not be neglected or postponed for anything. Whether you’re in the mood or not, you must write.

Hemingway in Cuba
Hemingway in Cuba

And it makes sense. If you were a professional in some occupation, and you may well be, you couldn’t call and tell your office you weren’t coming in because you found this awesome new website full of hilarious cats and you want to look at it for a while before you do work (I can’t be the only one for whom this is a problem). You wouldn’t tell them you’re going on a date with your girlfriend this afternoon so you won’t be able to make that deadline. No, work comes first.

I’m not sure why this is such a difficult task for us to grasp as writers. Or at least, it is for me. Deadlines as a self-motivated writer are such soft, fuzzy things. I’m reminded of Jack Sparrow, I like to set deadlines, I like to wave at them as they pass by.

In any case, it’s comforting knowing what you need to do to accomplish something. Writing a book is hard, extremely hard. But hearing all the best writers that have ever been say the same thing, well, you start to get an idea of what needs to be done. I leave you with a wonderful quote from Hemingway, and I feel like it sums up the romance, charm, and hard work necessary to be successful as a writer.

When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there. You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again. You have started at six in the morning, say, and may go on until noon or be through before that. When you stop you are as empty, and at the same time never empty but filling, as when you have made love to someone you love. Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you do it again. It is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through.




  1. I knew immediately that you had been looking at Brainpickings. I printed out that page to put on my wall to remind myself that my writing deserves to be up at the front my list of things to do. Now I can come back to your post whenever I need to remind myself that I must write even though I’m not in the mood. Thanks!


  2. I admit to not working with deadlines or writing every day, but I do have two things from your post going for me. I definitely read and edit some of what I wrote the day before. It puts me back into the story and takes me right back to where I left off as though I never left the page. I also try to stop writing when I know what is happening next. It eliminates floundering when I sit down to write again.


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