One of the reasons I started this blog was to give my writing a bit of oxygen. But it also gave me something to write for, a blank page which would need to be filled regularly. The hope was that it would force me to create that writing holy grail:

A Daily Writing Habit

Almost any piece of advice on being a writer will emphasise the need to develop a daily writing habit. This is an allocated time of day when you sit down and write for a set word count or a certain length of time. Famous authors credit a large part of their success to this habit.

“Habit has written far more books than inspiration has. If you want the Muse to visit you, she needs to know where you are: so stay at your desk.” Phillip Pullman 1

In his memoir ‘On Writing’, Stephen King notes that he writes 2,000 words every day. Sometimes that word count is reached easily, other days it is a toil that stretches on hour after hour. Frankly it is nice to know that even he has a problem doing that too. But the point is to write every day. Get into the habit!

NaNoWriMo

It was with this aim mind that I took up a friend’s challenge to do NaNoWriMo last year. 2 National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is:

“a daunting but straightforward challenge: to write 50,000 words of a novel during the thirty days of November.” 3

It really is that simple, you have 30 days to write 50K worth of words on a new novel. That is 1,600 words per day for a month. It sounded manageable when broken down like that. In the last week of October I signed up and filled a large sheet of paper with a plot structure. I felt ready.

NaNoWri… No

On Day One I sat down and started writing. For the first five days of the challenge I managed to hit the target. Then I had a day off. It wasn’t intentional, just a long day with errands and demands on my time getting in the way. I put in a couple of longer sessions over the next few days and got back up to target. But it was tough. I was doing very little beyond sitting at the desk struggling against the word count.

Even when I told myself to get up and walk away from the computer, I was still thinking about the writing I hadn’t done. Not any helpful stuff, like plot points or how to develop the character. No, I was simply castigating myself for not writing. After the obligatory walk, I’d make a cup of tea, sit back at the desk and…. Yeah, nothing.

Write-In sessions

My friend, who has half a dozen or so ’NaNoWriMo’s’ under her belt, came to the rescue. I spent a few Saturdays at her place (this was pre-pandemic) for ‘write-in’ sessions. We wrote in bursts of 25 minutes, the limit of my attention span post-brain injury. In the breaks, we would discuss our current works, any sticking points and could bounce ideas off each other.

I was familiar with writing to a timer, but doing it with another person in the room made it more fun. The chance to talk and stretch the mental muscles after writing sprint was an effective, way to get the word count up. I didn’t complete the challenge, but don’t feel failed either. I wrote 35k words in 30 days, 70% of the target. Crucially, that was more than I had written for some time.

Next steps

In the past few months, especially during lockdown, my friend and I have repeated the experience. Every fortnight or so, we’d book time together for an online chat. Then the timers were set and we’d write feverishly before the timer went off and we would report in with each other for updates.

There are several companies who provide similar retreats. 4 These write-ins used to be IRL. Where a group of writers would meet at a set location and write on separate projects, all fuelled by writerly snacks provided. These retreats have continued in an online format and I’m considering doing one.

For now though, I’m taking part in Writers’ HQ’s free ’14 days to a daily writing habit’ course. This has proven to be a mixture of videos, exercises and prescribed writing sessions delivered in one neat little email every morning. You also get access to, and are encouraged to use, the Writers’ HQ online forums. We are only five days in, but again I have managed more writing in that time than has happened for many a week. I have also been surprised, comforted and inspired by the writing community on the forums.

I signed up to the course with one eye on NaNoWriMo again. If I can get into a daily habit over September and October then I’ll be in a great position for the November sprint. Meanwhile, I think it might be time to call my friend to set up another virtual writing retreat.

Have you found success with a writing retreat? Or is there another technique you would recommend? Please let me know over on Twitter

  1. https://twitter.com/PhilipPullman/status/1087269789930790912?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1087269789930790912&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fmashable.com%2Farticle%2Fphilip-pullman-writing-advice-twitter%2F ↩︎
  2. When writing a blog on procrastination, it is good form to show just how long you have been procrastinating before posting. ↩︎
  3. https://nanowrimo.org/what-is-nanowrimo ↩︎
  4. https://londonwriterssalon.com/ & https://writershq.co.uk/ language warning ↩︎