Issue 48 - A Writer's Action Plan - Sage Cohen, Diane Albright, Kerrie Flanagan, Victoria Ipri

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ou try to write. Really, you do. But something always gets in your way, whether it’s your family schedule, a plumbing emergency, or just the busy-ness of errands and phone calls. When you finally do manage to fall into your desk chair, the words simply refuse to flow. You stare at the blank screen. You check your Facebook account. You build fancy what-nots out of paperclips.

What you don’t do is write.

Whether your goal is to write a novel or draft an article, writing doesn’t just happen. It’s like exercise that way. A personal trainer can help you meet your workout goals. Fortunately, you have WOW! Women on Writing and the Writer’s Fitness Plan to help you get into topnotch writing shape. Adopt each of these writing habits, one at a time, and find yourself laying words on the page like never before.

It all begins with how you see yourself.

Step 1: Call Yourself a Writer

When someone asks what you do, what do you tell them? I tell people that I’m a writer. I don’t apologize for not writing Oprah books. I don’t make excuses for not being J. K. Rowling or Nicholas Sparks. My answer is simple. “I’m a writer.”

Writers who don’t write are often their own worst enemies. The problem begins with how they see themselves. This is one of the many ways that writing is like fitness. Once you’ve convinced yourself that you can’t possibly swim fifteen laps or run a mile, you’re free to sit back and watch this evening’s reruns. You’ve failed without ever breaking a sweat. Why? Because you didn’t even try.

If you convince yourself that you’ll never have an Oprah book or a New York Times bestseller, it’s tempting to avoid the keyboard altogether. After all, what’s the point of creating something insignificant? You’ve failed before you even write, “Once upon a time.”

Want to banish this attitude problem? Start by giving yourself permission to succeed. The first step is calling yourself a writer.

When someone asks what you do, tell them you’re a writer. You can mention your day job, but be sure to include your writing. Don’t have any sales? As long as you write, you are a writer—no apologies necessary.

Repeat after me. “I am a writer.” Seriously. I want to hear you say it.

Calling yourself a writer is just step one. It’s like putting on your running shoes. You’re up and off the couch and ready to write. All you need to do is find the time.

Step 2: Find Time to Write

Once you believe you’re a writer, you’re going to need to do something about it. This means finding the time to write. Don’t expect to find extra time lying around. After all, writing is like exercise. It doesn’t just happen. You have to work it into your already full schedule. Just how you do this depends on you and how you’re wired.

Some women need big blocks of time. One writing friend, picture book author Donna Bateman, takes time away from her family for a personal retreat. She books a cabin at a state park and writes and writes and writes.

This wouldn’t work for me. I’d love the quiet of staying in a cabin, but I’d only get so much writing done. I write hard and fast; so after a certain amount of time, I’m done. The words no longer flow. I write like this for an hour, two or three times a day.

If you don’t have any kind of writing habit, you may not know yet what approach works best for you. Try writing for fifteen minutes a day. This means that you set a timer for fifteen minutes, sit down, and write. No e-mail. No blog reading—not even The Muffin. No getting up to see what the kids are doing. Just write.

Can’t find time to write with the kids or husband at home? Then do something about the distraction. Some women set their alarm clocks an hour early and write every morning before the rest of the household wakes up. Others work after everyone else has gone to bed.  I’ve known writers who sit out in the car on their lunch break and get in twenty minutes of writing. Still other writer moms write while waiting to pick the kids up at school.

Again, this is like exercise. Some people need a gym membership—they pay the money, feel committed, and get to it. Other people find fellow fitness nuts too distracting. An early morning solo run suits them. Each athlete needs to find what works for them.

So too with writing. You need to find a time that you are energized and that works with your schedule. Then stick to it. An exercise habit doesn’t develop overnight; neither does a writing habit. It will take about six weeks before the habit is well and truly yours.

But, you’ll get there. Remember—you’re a writer.

“As you develop a workout routine, it gets easier. You develop stamina. Writing is the same way.”

Step 3: Write Regularly to Build Up that Writing Muscle

When you start a new exercise routine, you start training muscles you may not have worked with in a long time. At first, it’s hard to run for fifteen minutes. In fact, after five minutes, you’re ready to quit. Maybe two laps at the pool is all you can manage.

The same is true of your writing muscles. When you start writing for fifteen minutes a day, you may have trouble getting the words to flow. You may even sit there and stare at the blank screen or empty page for five minutes.

If this happens to you, remember that you’re a writer. Writers write. So, write whatever comes to mind. “This is the most ridiculous waste of time ever. This isn’t even real writing. I won’t be able to use a word of it.” That’s okay. You’re writing, and that’s what counts.

As you develop a workout routine, it gets easier. You develop stamina. You no longer break into a sweat during just your warmups.

Writing is the same way. This is why you need to write on a regular basis. When you write every day, you build a solid writing habit. Your brain and your body will know that this is when you write. It’s expected. It will take time, but eventually, the words will come more easily. You’ll build your writing muscles, and you’ll have fewer of those writing days, where you stare at the walls. Instead, you’ll be laying words out hot and heavy at the end of your allotted writing time.

When, more often than not, the timer goes off and you’re still writing like mad, you may want to reevaluate your writing goals. Write for fifteen minutes twice a day or increase the time to thirty minutes each time. When this new goal also becomes easy, add to it again.

Eventually you’ll discover a word ceiling, a point beyond which you simply can’t produce intelligent text. You may be surprised just how high that ceiling is when you push yourself. You started out barely able to jog around the block, but who knows? A marathon may be in your future.

“An exercise partner makes sure that you show up at the track to run laps every morning. A group of fellow writers works much the same way.”

Step 4: Find a Support Group

As you push yourself to write more or to become fit, you’re going to periodically hit a plateau. No matter how hard you push yourself, you can’t seem to make any progress on your novel. Your running times just don’t improve.

At times like these, it is really easy to get discouraged. Warning! When this happens, you are at risk because you’ll be tempted to quit. In order to keep this from happening, you need someone to hold you accountable.

A personal trainer pushes you when you just don’t have the oomph. An exercise partner makes sure that you show up at the track to run laps every morning. A group of fellow writers works much the same way.

If the only person you are accountable to is yourself, it can be easy to let your writing slide. After all, you just don’t feel inspired. You can always catch up tomorrow. Or the day after that.

Another writer who knows about your goals can help you stay on task. Some writers have a single writing buddy. They meet with this person on a regular basis or just check in to confirm that they’ve met their goals. Expecting a phone call from someone who knows that you were supposed to write two pages today? That can be enough to keep you seated until the day’s writing goals are met.

Other writers find the support they need in a critique group. Regularly scheduled meetings work as deadlines for women who write best when they know that a group of their peers will expect to see something new from them the first Saturday of every month.

But what if your work schedule is so variable that it is hard to fit in meetings? You may never know ahead of time what days you have off, so meeting with a group of fellow writers is all but impossible. Women with wonky schedules or who live in isolated areas or areas with few other writers can link up online. That’s how I found the critique group that I worked with while I was in grad school. Some of us still exchange manuscripts, although we graduated well over a decade ago.

Whatever way you chose to connect with other writers, they are much more likely to hold you accountable than your daughter or your husband would. Writers write. And other writers? They’re going to expect to see actual writing, not just the same excuses that they could make on a busy, aggravating day.

Step 5: Think Small

No matter how deeply ingrained a habit becomes, sometimes life intervenes. Whether the problem is an injury or an upcoming “big day” such as a daughter’s wedding, something will eventually interfere with a woman’s well-laid plans.

At times like this, you probably won’t have the time or energy for large blocks of writing. That’s okay on a temporary basis. Not that you should quit writing altogether, but you may have to scale back.

Take a moment to reevaluate your goals. The chapter of your novel that you planned to write this week? Not going to happen with a wedding taking place. But if you can once again find fifteen minutes a day, you can work on something shorter. Draft the craft project that you and your daughter made yesterday to use as a centerpiece at the head table. The jokes that you and your sister shared? They would make great fillers. Get them down while you still remember the punch lines. And that soup you and your niece made for the rehearsal dinner? Write it up.

Use the inspiration of busy times to create shorter items that you can market as soon as things calm down. Just find the time to write them down now. That way you’ll have them on hand when your writing time is once again your own.

“Whether it’s a word count goal or a number of submissions out, be sure to keep yourself inspired by rewarding yourself accordingly.”

Step 6: Reward Yourself

When you meet your fitness goals, whether it is running your first marathon or simply completing your first nonstop mile, you probably treat yourself. After all, you deserve it.

Do the same for yourself as a writer. Developing writing muscle isn’t easy—if it was, everyone would be a novelist. Whether it’s a word count goal or a number of submissions out, be sure to keep yourself inspired by rewarding yourself accordingly.

Writing rewards don’t have to be expensive. Meet your writing buddy at the local coffee shop. What better treat than a latte and a scone? Or go to a fun non-writing activity that you may not normally have time to do around all that writing. Take the time to drive into the city for the big exhibit at the art museum. Or simply stroll through the botanical gardens.

Of course, your rewards can also be more writer-ly. Give yourself a gift of that writing how-to book you’ve had your eye on. Or maybe you can enroll in a writer’s workshop or retreat. Any of these things help improve your craft, and that’s all a part of being what? A writer.

Whether your goals are to write for women’s fitness magazines or craft a romantic suspense series, you are going to need some serious writing muscle to pull it off. To develop that muscle, you’ll need a Writing Fitness Plan. The rest is just a matter of writing it down.


Sue Bradford Edwards is a writer and book reviewer who creates scenes in her home office in St. Louis, Missouri. Read her work at and To find out more about her or her writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey, her book review blog, The Bookshelf, or her website.


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