3 Habits of a freshman writer (and why you should concentrate on only these)
I wish someone had told me or better still, I had figured it out myself at the beginning of my writing journey, but it took me twenty-years of painful, frustrating, trial and error learning to reach to the conclusion that to become a writer I only needed to concentrate on developing three habits.
Like all aspiring writers, I wanted to write and publish a book as soon as possible. Why on earth you would want to spend so many hours doing an activity and have nothing to show for it?
This is the approach I had taken with every endeavor which my time and energy. Even as a teenager when I started learning embroidery, the only projects I ever undertook were the ones that I could hang on walls. I was not interested in embroidering the table clothes and bedsheets, which wear-off after a few years of use. My tapestries and cross-stitch are still hanging in my living room framed in expensive gilded frames.
In the busy, achievement-driven, self-important society we live in today, it is quite logical to set yourself a goal of writing a book as soon as you can put a few sentences together. It is no accident that the creative writing industry is booming in the western world. Everyone thinks there is a book in them and everyone is in a race to write the next bestseller.
While I had every excuse on the planet (full-time job, raising a family, looking after aged parents and in-laws) for not being able to write my book the truth is writing is a skill hard to master. It takes time and it takes old fashion hard work. Modern distractions (TV, mobile phones, social media) don’t help.
But as I became a veteran, I realized a simple strategy would have given me much better results and in much less time. I was so engrossed in making excuses for lack-of-time and lack-of-talent that I failed to see it.
Writing is not a god-given gift or attribute of geniuses. It is a set of habits you develop over time, just like a sportsman or a singer or a dancer does.
Rather than getting overwhelmed by all the learning, I believe you should concentrate on developing just three habits in your freshman year (or should say years because most of the writers spend many years as freshman writers).
1. Write Daily
No excuses. Full stop.
Write one page, or one paragraph or just one sentence, but write every day.
Write whatever. It doesn’t matter what you write. You are writing to learn to put your thoughts on paper. When you are starting out, it doesn’t matter what you write.
Write about your day, your mood, your surroundings, the tree outside your window, the smell in the air, the sound of the birds you are hearing or a conversation you overheard at the bus stop. If nothing else just write about the weather. You are not writing for others else but for yourself, to develop your writing muscles.
Your body has writing muscles, did you know that?
Neither did I.
But apparently it does. Just like it has drawing muscles, as my drawing instructor told me that mine was deteriorating unless I exercise them daily. Start exercising your writing muscles daily, you will be surprised by the result.
You can write online, on your computer or better still in a notebook. My preference is a notebook. Something magical happens when your fingers glide across the paper. They knock on the special area in your brain where creativity resides.
2. Read Daily
This is an easier habit to develop than the first one. If you are interested in writing it is quite possible you are a reader. If books inspired you to write, great, continue reading them. Rather double the amount of reading in your freshman year.
Read in different genres. Reading books in the genre of your liking will make you a boring writer. To be able to write you must be well-informed in other fields as well. That is called cross-pollination in writing. You will find that the novel you started writing had ideas from the gardening book you read years ago. This is exactly what happened when Elizabeth Gilbert wrote the Signature of All Things.
You need to read with a purpose. Start a journal and note down the paragraphs that inspire you or the quotes that you can refer to in your own writing. It is a very important phase of your development as a writer because all this reading is going to influence and infuse your thoughts.
There is nothing more frustrating when years later you want to refer to a story and you can’t remember which book it was from. Or worst still, you don’t remember at all. Which leads to habit number 3.
3. Organize your writing and notes
No writing book or article I ever read mentioned it yet it is one of the most important habits of beginning writers.
I have spent months in wasted time to find things which I scribbled somewhere or notes I took and forgot about them. A writer needs a system to organize and store their work and their notes.
Your system should consist of three things.
a. An easy but robust filing system. For both digital and paper-based. Save everything. Any writing which seems trivial at the moment will sound beautiful when read months or years later.
b. Easy retrievability. When you need anything, you know where to look for and how to retrieve it.
c. An Idea Notebook. This is to capture any idea you get at any time of the day. It should travel with you everywhere, even in the bathroom (especially in the bathroom to capture the ideas you are going to get in the shower).
Everyone is different. The way you will figure out your system will be different too. It is worth sharing mine here so that you can cherry-pick what you like.
My physical filing system is a string of diaries and journals. Separate diaries for separate purposes. In my daily diary, I write about my day. I have one page per day diary which is all I need to capture my day. My journal, on the other hand, is a registry size where I write about thoughts, ideas, and feeling as well as notes from my readings.
Digitally, I have moved from Word documents to Evernote to store everything under appropriate categories. Evernote is one of the best notes taking app and is available for free with lesser functionality. It has a very powerful search engine and as long as you can remember one word in the article or story you are searching for, it will dish out for you.
I also used 750Words, a digital app, to write daily. It gives me a blank page and 24 hours to fill it. My writing is stored on the cloud and is accessible at any time and I can write from home, work or bus-stop using my phone.
For writing novels and non-fiction books I use Scrivener, which an application for writers developed by writers. It takes writing tools from everywhere and bundles them into one application.
This is it. The three habits of freshman writer.
You don’t have to worry about characterization, plotting, great opening lines, and all that jazzy stuff so many books throw at you. Leave them for the sophomore year. First build these habits, which will set the groundwork for a serious writer.
Concentrate all your energy on developing and cementing these three habits and you will be on your way to become the writer you want to become. a bestselling author in not so distant future.