Do a cursory search, and you’ll find the internet teeming with advice on how to become a better writer. Here’s a few samples: you’ve got to write from your “happy place”, imitate your heroes, write out your daydreams, etc., etc. No comment on whether this advice is any good, since different things work for different people. However, one thing becomes clear after surveying these pieces of advice: all of it is circling one thing, and that is a writing habit.
You’ve Been Lied to About What Writers Do
The popular view of what a writer does is simply not realistic. Picture the writer as a sitcom character: manic-depressive genius who drinks all day and writes all night, somehow pulling off masterpieces despite being crazy (and never being seen writing). That’s what most people conjure when asked to picture a writer, and who could blame them? It’s a fun thing to picture.
Except the reality of the work is not that at all. You can’t drink all day because you have responsibilities to get to, and you can’t write all night because you have to get up in the morning to get to those same responsibilities. You never end up writing a masterpiece because you never pictured doing the actual work of writing as part of being a writer.
The picture of a writer that pop culture created is not “bad” per se, it’s just not productive.
When you’ve been fed a steady diet of myths about what kind of people writers are and what they actually do, and have to face the reality of the drudgery that writing can be, it can be discouraging, to say the least. That idea for a novel you’ve had kicking around in your head is fun to think about, isn’t it? What’s not fun is sitting down to write 1000 words every day, and then having to throw out most of them before it can be shaped into a draft you’re not embarrassed to show to people.
Your View of Writing Has to Change
There’s no flowery way of putting this: you’ve got to put in the hours. The ability to write is not something you’re born with, it’s something you consciously develop. And whatever end goal you keep in mind for your writing, the work itself — the process of writing — has to be what you fall in love with.
Sitting in front of your computer hour after hour, typing with no end in sight, is not fulfilling if you don’t find the joy in doing just that. If you need outside validation to appraise what you write, if you need to rely on constantly reminding yourself about the end goal of being published or being on the NYT bestseller list, you will abandon any project of significant length. No motivator other than the joy you find in working can keep you on the path.
The Work Itself Must Be the Motivation
That’s it. And to keep the motivation up, all you have to do is keep on writing. Magical stuff happens when you do.
After you form a writing habit, the way you think about your work shifts completely. With producing higher volumes of text, the standards you judge your work on become completely different. With writing every day, your definition of a successful day of writing become entirely different. Your abilities start evolving, your voice becomes defined, and you develop your own unique style.