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How to Write Every Day and Not Burn Yourself Out: A Ten-Step Guide

by | Walk The Plank, Writing Advice | 2 comments

If you’re looking to build a sustainable writing practice, you’ve come to the right place.
Follow these ten tips on how to write every day (and not burn yourself out in the process), and you’ll be chugging away before you know it! I cannot promise that this is a sure guide to writing success, but it is a sure guide to writing every day. Remember — writing is writing, no matter how little writing it may be. Without further ado, let’s dig into this ten-step guide on how to write every day, while avoiding burnout and “writer’s block.” The tips are arranged in the order in which you should tackle them.

1. Start with small daily goals.

If you want to be able to write every day without burning yourself out, this is the most important piece of advice I can give you, hands down. Don’t expect to run a marathon in a day. That is, the first day you decide you want to start writing every day, don’t write 4,000 words. Write fifty or 100 or 500, or a thousand if you’re ambitious.

I’m not saying that you can’t go from zero to a hundred all at once. It can be done. But it’s not the best way for most people to approach this challenge. Notice I say best and most. If you think you can go from writing zero words a day to writing 2,000 words a day and maintain that for the rest of your writing life, go right ahead.

2. … but have an overarching goal in mind.

It’s easier to achieve when you have a broader goal in mind as well as small goals. When it comes to writing every day, it can be helpful to be working on a “big project” of some kind. Maybe that project is a novel, or maybe it’s a collection of short stories or poetry. Maybe your overarching goal is just to have fun! Whatever the case, have a mission in mind. The mission could be as simple as a reason — “I love to write” — or complex — “I’ve been told I’m a great writer and I think I can make some money writing short stories, so I’m going to create a collection.” It could be, “I have a story to tell.” Or it could be, “I’m journaling for my mental health.” Whatever the case, keep some kind of bigger picture in mind, so that you’ll have something to remind yourself of on the days when you get bogged down in word count targets and rotten plot holes and the endless desire to go back and edit…

3. Write at a set time, in a set location.

I can’t recommend this enough. If you read my post on how I balance blogging and fiction writing, this was one of the tips I gave for separating different types of writing. But it goes for writing in general. When you pick specific times and locations to write, you clue your brain in. You tell it, “It’s time to write,” and it gets cracking and writes.

A couple other tricks that I also recommend are even more specific. Use a specific kind of music, if you like to write to music, or light a specific candle so that you’re always smelling the same thing when you write. All of these can serve as additional mental cues to get you in the frame of mind to write.

Do all of these, of course, to the best of your ability. If your schedule changes constantly, you may have difficulty maintaining a constant writing “schedule.” Still try to carve out similar sized and located time frames to write during. You’ll find that this tip will help you both with writing every day and with writing productivity.

4. Turn your inner critic off.

We all have an inner critic — that little voice that tells us our writing isn’t good enough and urges us to go back and edit while we’re mid-draft or mid-project. That little voice that compels us to delete the 500 words we’ve written so far today and start from scratch. That little voice that causes us to rewrite a paragraph ten times.

In some stages of the writing process, the inner critic is invaluable. We need the inner critic when we’ve gotten to the editing and revision stages. But when it comes to writing, we need to write. And that means that if you’re going to write every day and get anything done, you need to turn your inner critic off. Just write. Even if you’re hitting a dead end on your project, write something else. Write anything. Write nonsense until the nonsense becomes sense again. Write trash, resting assured that you can throw it out later.

This is how I’ve always functioned. I tend to get into a funk in between novel projects in which I start something new every day. Eventually, one of those ideas catches. It’s frustrating, but it happens. If I let my inner critic get the best of me, I don’t get anything done. So I shut it off and give myself time to work things out on paper.

5. Reread some of your previous day’s work before you begin writing each day.

This is actually a tip I picked up from Ernest Hemingway, who not only reread his previous day’s work each day, but often rewrote it, too. I do this sometimes, starting a couple paragraphs from where I’m going to begin, and re-type what I wrote the day before to get myself back into the swing of things. It works surprisingly well. Just make sure you keep that inner critic shut off!

If you don’t want to rewrite, just take five or ten minutes to reread some of your previous day’s work — a page or a couple paragraphs or whatever you please. This will help get you into the right frame of mind to start writing right away.

6. Stop to check if you’re having fun.

If writing always feels like a grind, you may be working on the wrong project. It’s true that sometimes writing is hard work, even when you’re working on a project you love. But it shouldn’t feel like sitting in the doldrums. There should be some movement and some excitement in your mind. And if there isn’t, this is a sign that you may be headed towards burnout and “writer’s block.” (Which isn’t really writer’s block, it’s an amalgamation of other factors — but that’s a topic for another day.)

At any rate, if you’re not having fun, stop and think about what you’re doing and what you could do differently. If you’re not excited about the idea you started with, change it up. Turn that inner critic off and give yourself the freedom to explore various ideas before settling into one. Writing is a joy. If writing isn’t a joy to you, then you may want to consider why you’ve started writing in the first place.

7. Make time to read.

It’s the old mantra: If you don’t have time to read every day, you don’t have time to write every day. Writers write, but writers also read. They read a lot. Reading gives you ideas. It lets you see how other authors have done things. It gives you inspiration. It shows you what can be done and what has been done.

Personally, I always carve out a chunk of time in my afternoon to read. Maybe it’s only a few pages. But I read something. If you don’t have the time to read a book, read the news. Or read some blog posts online. Read in your genre and outside your genre, inside your space and outside your space. Learn something new through reading. Read, read, read. Your writing will improve as a result.

8. Celebrate your victories.

This also ties in to the larger goals you can set for yourself. For example, maybe you notice you’re writing around 500 words a day. So you can set a larger goal based around this measure: That you want to write 4,000 words in the next week (which would come out to a little over 500 words per day). When you achieve a small victory (or a large victory), take time to celebrate! Get yourself and your loved ones takeout. Or buy yourself a cool notebook. Or treat yourself to a relaxing bubble bath. Celebrate the way you would celebrate any other milestone — a job promotion, progress on a diet…

9. Don’t beat yourself up over “failure.”

You’re trying to write every day. You’ve done a lot of reading about how to write every day. Then, you give it a shot… and fall flat. Don’t beat yourself up! If you’re going strong and have a one-day lapse, get up the next day and write again. If you’re finding it really hard to sustain writing every day, adjust and try writing every other day instead, for starters. Or lower the number of words you’re writing. If you write ten words a day, you’re still writing every day. If you write fifty words a day, you’re still writing every day. When it comes to developing a writing practice, quantity truly doesn’t matter in these early stages.

10. Recognize your limits.

There have been days where I’ve written 10,000 words. Of fiction. Most of the time, this happens when I’m hypo-manic. And it feels amazing.

What doesn’t feel amazing is the come-down. As much as you may think, sometimes, that you can sustain writing 10,000 words a day, you probably can’t, just like I probably can’t (for long). As I said in the beginning, if you think I’m wrong, go ahead and give it a shot. I won’t say it can’t be done. There are some published authors who do it. For obvious reasons, they’re among the most prolific of writers.

There are a lot of reasons why it’s better not to trod the line or test the boundaries. We all have human limits. At the very least, we need sleep. Could we write eighteen hours, sleep six, get up, and repeat? We could. Would we be happy and productive doing it? Probably not. Again, we all have limits.

By all means, figure out what your limit is. Currently, I write around 5,000 words a day combined on everything I do — blogging, poetry, fiction writing — and this may or may not be my limit. I don’t really know, because I’ve never tried to push too far past it. Above all else, I want to avoid burnout. Burnout is a writer’s nightmare. I’ve felt it maybe once in my life, pushed through it, but don’t want to go there again. I don’t want you to have to go there, either. So it’s best to maintain a healthy recognition of your limits.

How to write every day: Above all, just write.
Start small. Write anything. Start anywhere. Fake it till you make it. Keep going. Be bold. Be fearless. You’ll make progress. I believe in you. I fell into writing every day by sheer accident and joy of writing, but I know that it’s possible to start writing every day using a system that helps you build up your writing ability over time. And that’s the system I’ve set out to outline above.

I hope that these tips have helped you get a grip on how to write every day, while avoiding burnout. If you enjoyed this article, try my article about whether writing can become an addiction. If you’re loving the content on Voyage of the Mind, we’d love a tip on Ko-fi. You can buy us funny virtual coffees for $2 a pop. We’d really appreciate the support!

I’d also love to hear your voice in the comments. Tell me what you think about these ten tips. Let me know if you’re going to embark on a journey of writing every day! Talk to me about anything.

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