It’s been how long since I’ve written?
Stop me if this sounds familiar—you used to write a lot. You wrote stories as a kid. Maybe you aspired to become a poet as a college student. You had a blog once upon a time. Perhaps you loved writing essays. Whatever you once loved to write, you can’t remember the last time you wrote a word that wasn’t a post to a social media app. You long to write again, but you have no idea how to start. This post on how to start a daily writing practice is for you.
I’ve been there
Years ago, about a year and a half into a grueling commute where I spent almost all my time on my smartphone, I realized that the daily writing practice that I’d created for myself had dwindled down to almost nothing. I’d pick up my journal on weekends, but it had become a prop, and writing became something that I thought about but never did.
I made myself start writing again
For as long as I can remember, I have dreamed of becoming a writer, and I realized that my dream would die if I didn’t do something about it. I knew that the adage that writers write was absolutely true from my earlier writing practice, and that I wouldn’t be ready if inspiration came if I didn’t have a practice in place. My commute may have been dreadful (it really was—90 minutes, one way, minimum, on a bus), but I resolved to carve out some time for myself to allow my dream to live.
How my daily writing practice began
I started writing for ten minutes a day before I left for work. Or, rather, I started lurching for ten minutes a day. My early entries often consisted of, “I have no idea what to write. Seriously, how do I know what to write? I guess I’ll just write about my coffee, which has gotten cold while I stare off into the distance.”
I think that a lot of us get discouraged when we go back to writing after a long time, and we don’t know what to say, or, worse, how to say it. However, we have to keep going. We haven’t lost our gift. We just haven’t used it in a long time and need to limber up.
Gradually, however, as my writing muscles became flexible again, words and phrases came back to me. I found joy and wonder in my writing practice once more.
My dream lived another day every time I picked up a pen or opened my laptop, and sometimes, I even loved what I’d written. I kept it up. I write for a lot more than ten minutes every morning now, but I am very pleased to say that I have had a sustainable writing practice for over a decade now.
Overcoming the fear of starting
While I have my morning ritual firmly established, I am always up for experimentation if it seems like it would help. Over the last year, I’ve incorporated something that has helped immensely, and I thought that I’d share it with you.
A number of otherwise incredibly creative people I’ve met have shared that they have had a hard time starting up writing again. Blank pages paralyze them. Over the last year, I’ve incorporated an opening exercise to my writing practice that I have found myself sharing with people. I thought that I’d share it with you.
A repurposed exercise
Credit where credit is due—this practice has its roots in a Mel Robbins exercise from the High 5 Habit. However, Robbins intended the exercise to help calm the mind enough to be able to get to the work of the day, I’ve found it to be an incredible creative exercise in its own right. I’ve expanded it—hers is meant to be quick—and it is a great way to limber up and start a writing practice.
Take a deep breath
Picking up a pen again or opening your laptop is scary. Congratulations on dusting off your journal or cracking open you laptop. Remember that you don’t need to write something worthy of a Nobel Prize. You don’t have to write something worthy of an Instagram caption. You just have to write something.
Take a deep breath, honor yourself for showing up, and begin.
Start with your senses
A common exercise to help people experiencing panic attacks is to go through the senses and to name things that one can see, hear, smell, etc. It works, because it stops the spiraling and brings one back to the present moment. Isn’t writing like that sometimes? We have no idea what to write about, all we know is that we really want to do it, and we’re starting at a blank page and, and, AND . . . we shut the journal and walk away, never to speak of it again.
I decided to give the senses exercise a try one morning, and I found myself going a bit overboard in describing what I saw, heard, tasted, etc. (you wouldn’t believe my coffee tasting notes at this point). Instead of moving quickly through each sense, I found myself lingering, describing the color of the leaves; the sounds of cars or the wind (or my neighbor’s dog); Ollie’s silky soft ears, as he sat next to me.
I started playing with words and phrasing, challenging myself to describe the shade of the green leaves outside, or the nuttiness of my coffee as I stuck my nose in it like a wine connoisseur, or the citrus notes in its taste. It’s especially powerful as the seasons change (or, if you happen to be sitting in front of a window in the Balkans, looking out toward the Bay of Kotor).
I didn’t need to calm down in order to write at this point in my daily practice, but I found that it allowed me to stretch and gave me something to focus on as I started up. It occurred to me that this would really help people like you who maybe haven’t written for a long time.
Just write what you sense
Just simply write what you see. Write what you hear. Write what you smell, taste, touch. Free yourself to play with words—no one is ever going to see this. You don’t even have to look at it again. It’s practice.
Best of all, it takes all of five minutes at first (if you have time, I encourage you to try for ten, as it gives you more time to dig a little deeper, but five minutes is perfect if that’s what you have.).
Clear your mind and get it all out
Now that you’ve stretched a bit, it’s time to clear your mind. Set a timer for ten minutes and just write down whatever comes into your head. It could be your grocery list—that’s totally fine. Keep writing. One of these days, you are going to surprise yourself with what comes out.
I’ll be honest—I still sometimes come up with to-do lists while I’m doing this exercise, especially when my mind gets busy for whatever reason. However, instead of beating myself up and fighting it, I just keep going. Usually there’s at least a sentence or a paragraph I’m proud of in there. Sometimes, it’s the whole damn entry.
Writers write, and that’s what you’re doing when you do this. Just keep going.
At the end of the ten minutes, take a minute and reflect on your work. If there’s something in your work that you’re proud of or want to come back to for whatever reason, highlight it. I use a ReMarkable tablet (not an affiliate link—I’m just a superfan), and I use the tagging feature to capture the work I wish to keep. I used it for this post, which I started drafting while Clearing My Mind one morning.
Get started today (free template to help)
All you need to get started is paper and a pen or an open document, but sometimes the blank page is just too much. Fret not, because I have just the thing for you!
The Daily Writing Practice template can help get you started. It’s available as a printable or as a fill-in form. While I suggest that you write by hand, as I find that it helps unlock creativity, if you’re more comfortable typing, by all means, do that. The point is to get writing.
To access the Daily Writing Practice Template, all you need to do is subscribe—it’s absolutely free, and it comes with all kinds of other goodies.
Tried it? Have a tip to share?
Have you tried this practice or have a tip to help aspiring writers get started with a daily writing practice? Share in the comments below!