There are many ways to cultivate your creativity and your writing, but there is a shortlist of things that professionals find helpful (see the list below). At the same time, everyone is unique, and what other people have done might not necessarily work for you. So with creative habits it’s important to experiment, to make some discoveries about your own style. Overall, I have a few suggestions.
Find time to read every day. Replace some of your media consumption (YouTube, playing video games, and so on) with reading – maybe an hour, maybe two hours a day if you can. Or perhaps just half an hour, or 15 minutes. It depends on you, and on how much you want to make the time. Five minutes a day is not enough to develop the habit of reading. More is better.
And your reading should come from a place of enthusiasm, right? You need to want to read. So, choose something you want to read and see what happens. I read about an hour a day, sometimes a couple of hours a day if I’m not super busy. That’s typical for someone who reads a lot.
Allow yourself moments of stillness and quiet in which interesting things can happen. So much of life goes by unnoticed. We’re just going through the motions, getting things done, doing the same thing over and over again. We all do this. But if we slow down a bit, look around, and become more attentive – sometimes we make fantastic discoveries. One way we can do this is to use our phones less. So, when you’re in a lineup waiting for a coffee, or waiting for a bus, or whatever, don’t scroll on your phone every time. See what happens if you just stand there, look around, and notice what other people are doing. Get curious about what you see around you. Be attentive to the small things, the small moments, the experiences that are happening all the time but which we just rush through.
If you can, if you want to do this in a more substantive way, then go to a park, sit on a bench, put your phone away, and just look around for half an hour. See what happens. The first time you do this, it might make you pretty anxious. We’re not used to slowing down in this way. But try it. You may discover something new and fascinating.
Commit Time to Writing
This is obvious, right? I know that as a student, much of the writing that you do is done the night before an assignment is due – right at the last minute, when you run out of time. That’s okay; it’s part of the student experience for many people. But writing tends to benefit from a slower speed, from time that is carved out of daily life. Dedicated time when you can be in the moment, when you can focus on doing things right. What we find among professional writers is that they often write every day, sometimes for two or three hours. That’s a lot to work up to. You could start in a more modest way. You could try to take half an hour, three or four times a week.
It’s best to do this in the morning (for most people, not everybody). When you get up and you’re fresh, and the day has not yet exerted its momentum upon you, and you’ve got a bit of time before the speediness of modern life takes you out of yourself – that’s a good time to write. You don’t have to get up at five in the morning or meditate for an hour before writing. You can if you want, if it helps. Getting up early is particularly popular among professional writers (see the list below), but it may not suit you. You can just get up, not check your email or your texts, not check the news, and before you do anything else other than make a cup of coffee – you write for a bit.
Aim for half an hour at the start. Don’t worry about how much you write. I might only write a hundred words in half an hour. Not very much. That’s fine. Speed is not the goal. Quality is the goal. Go as slow as you need. Don’t rush. Take it slow, one sentence at a time. (Watch the video on editing for more on this.) Let the words build themselves. And if you don’t get more than a couple of sentences in a half-hour of morning writing, that’s okay. Keep going the next day. Eventually, after maybe a couple of weeks, you’ll get into a rhythm. And that rhythm will speed up over time. And you’ll find yourself writing more.
Writing is a skill and a habit like any other. It takes time to adjust, to get used to it. But if your goal is to write more, and to write better, do these three things: read more, slow down, and write. If you start with these three adjustments, you maximize the chances that your writing will improve. (Probably your life will improve, too.) Give it a go.
Famous Writers and Their Habits
Ernest Hemingway — Sharpen pencils.
Willa Cather — Read the Bible.
Thomas Wolfe — Walk.
Wallace Stevens — Walk (to work).
James Horan — Commute (on the ferry).
Agatha Christie — Wash dishes.
Friedrich Schiller — Draw the (red) curtains.
Edgar Allen Poe — Position cat on shoulder.
Toni Morrison — Rent hotel room, remove pictures.
Position and Posture
Virginia Woolf — Standing
Ernest Hemingway — Standing
Philip Roth — Standing
Nathaniel Hawthorne — Standing
Lewis Carroll — Standing
Thomas Wolfe — Standing (leaning over the top of the fridge)
Mark Twain — In bed
Truman Capote — In bed
Eudora Welty — In bed
Paul Bowles — In bed
Henry David Thoreau — In bed (in the dark)
Anthony Trollope — Early morning (5am)
Paul Valery — Early morning (5am)
Daniel Boorstin — Early morning (5am)
Toni Morrison — Early morning (5am)
Katherine Anne Porter — Early morning (5am)
Eudora Welty — Early morning (5am)
Aldous Huxley — Morning
Henry Miller — Morning
Thomas Mann — Morning
Pablo Neruda — Morning
P.G. Wodehouse — Afternoon/early evening