4 Steps to Building a Writing Practice

I used to have fantasies that, once I decided to become a writer, I would just become this writing powerhouse. It would just happen. I would be writing all the time. Nothing would stop me.

But changing careers isn’t like that. A lot of things need to happen mentally before you can start to have something to show for it. You’re not just going to buy a pile of bricks and think that you can start building a house. You need more than just the supplies and tools. You need a plan. And with this plan, you can start to build your practice.

Step #1: Decide Your Plan

What do you want to be, an artist, writer, or actor? Whatever it is, choose it. Own it. Call yourself an artist, writer, or actor. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t done art, or written a book, or been in a play. If you say that you’re aspiring to be, then what your subconscious hears is that you are holding yourself back from your commitment. Even if you work in accounting, but you want to become a writer, then say you’re an accountant and writer. Say it yourself. Say it often.

The more you tell your brain what you are, the more comfortable you will be telling others. I’m an accountant and a writer. Put it in the present, positive tense. But do it. Whenever you start a new endeavor, things feel uncomfortable for a while until you start to get the hang of it.

That’s OK. It’s OK to make art for yourself, write for yourself, or practice acting and still call yourself artist/writer/actor. The point is to get yourself mentally in it. Painters paint. Writers write. Actors act. Start doing any one of those things, name it for yourself, and get your mind in the game. Your body and soul will follow.

Revisit this step as needed.

Step #2: Start and Stay Small

Ask yourself: What can I do right now to take the next step? What can you do with your hands or your mind or your time that will start you on the path. Maybe it’s getting paper, watercolors, and brushes. Maybe it’s buying a book and a new pen that you like using. Maybe it’s watching a movie with your favorite actor so you can study their moves.

Whatever it is, ensure it is a small step that you know you can do. If you don’t have a lot of time to spend on your new path, don’t sweat it! Just do whatever you can do in any amount of time you can find. If you only have five minutes, then take that time to write for that five minutes, or put a few colors down on the paper, or sign up for an acting class online.

Your small steps can grow and change over time, too. First, I decided to write at least 1 page of writing warm ups. Then I decided to substantially add to my memoir during Camp NaNoWriMo in April. Then, I decided to continue writing in May, three days a week at least 500 words a day. Anything over that would be great. That’s where I am now. Because I started small and allowed myself time to get used to it, I was able to add to my workload without feeling overwhelmed.

I have learned that, when you start small and stay small, you will find that virtually everything you can do is within your grasp. Just do the next best small step that will move you forward.

Step #3: “Don’t Break the Chain”

Those words, “Don’t break the chain”, are attributed to Jerry Seinfeld who was giving advice to an aspiring comic. Seinfeld allegedly told this comic that he should write every day, mark it off on a calendar, and not break that chain of writing.

Get yourself on a schedule that you can hold yourself to.  Every day, to some degree, is best. The schedule reinforces your commitment to your goal. I find that putting up an accountability calendar wherein I check off each day that I work keeps me motivated.

I got my calendar from Carrie Brummer’s Artist Think pages (but you have to join to get it). You can search for others online or make your own. Her Carrie’s calendar is basic with diamond placeholders for the days that are big enough for you to check them off. At the top, there is space for you to write what your goal is. I wrote that mine was to write.

Across the top of my accountability calendar, I wrote “Don’t break the chain.” Every day when I sit at my desk, I see my calendar, my goal, my unbroken chain of writing days, and those words written across the time. They are my daily visual reminder to write every day. When I need inner motivation, I remind myself not to break my chain.

I’m over 70 days of writing every day, and seeing that proof, right in front of my face, helps build confidence.

Step #4: Seek the Company of Others

Seek out others in the same field. Attend conferences. Join  groups. Take classes. Read. A lot. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, start your own group. Try volunteering or working in companies who are in the field you want to be in. Even writers and artists who spend a lot of time working on their own benefit from finding people in their field with whom they can work. Not only will you grow in your field, you will begin to feel connected to like-minded others who are focused on the same goal as you are.

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