1 hour of writing per day. That was going to be my new writing habit.
It was hit or miss and I wasn’t entirely sure it was going to be successful. But I did realize one thing. An hourglass won’t help me get there.
Why did I think an hourglass would help you ask? Well I’ll tell you. I was deciding the best way to measure this hour without a clock I would stare at, or a phone nearby to distract me.
In my infinite wisdom, I got the vision of an hourglass sitting on my desk. How cool and eccentric I thought, as I imagined turning the hourglass over and seeing the yellow sand descend with a faint pitter-patter as I hammered away on my keyboard.
Enthralled by this idea I began researching hourglasses. I checked the time on my laptop and an hour had passed.
I realized my mistake.
Only Time Spent Writing Will Improve Your Writing
I’d used up my whole writing hour and the only words I’d written were “buy old-fashioned hourglass” which I’d typed into google.
I didn’t buy one in the end as it finally dawned on me that I was procrastinating. That hour should have been spent producing something, editing, redrafting, you know, doing actual work. Besides, my laptop has a timer I can minimize. Problem solved.
Procrastination isn’t always sitting on social media. Sometimes you can be procrastinating on something that feels like it will further your craft. But the fact is, only writing will make you a better writer.
Yes, setting up somewhere to write is important. Yes, reading articles and books can improve your writing. Yes, even planning out your writing schedule can be an important task. But these are only important if you are actually writing.
A way to check if you’re on the right track is by taking a moment to think about how your day has been so far. If you can say “Today I wrote and…” then great work, you’re on the right track. If instead you say “Oh I was just doing xyz but I’m going to get to writing” then there’s a good chance you’ve been procrastinating.
An even better way to catch yourself procrastinating is by asking yourself: Have I written today and can this wait till after? I can research hourglasses to my heart’s content, but only after I’ve got my words on the page.
Swallow the Frog
Here’s a story a friend told me about facing uncomfortable tasks that you have to get done.
Imagine this. Your boss comes to you first thing in the morning and says to you:
“Today I need you to eat this frog”.
You of course say yes, because he’s your boss, but you start to worry. You don’t want to eat the frog but you know you have to. You wonder about doing it now but no, a little later, you have some emails to send first, maybe after that. You write your emails wondering how the frog is going to taste.
Email done. Time to eat the frog. Oh no, wait, it’s lunch time. You don’t want to spoil your lunch so you decide you’ll eat the frog after. Meanwhile, dread starts building wondering what the texture of a frog is like.
Lunch done. Time to eat the frog. Dang it, you were supposed to call your friend to see how her project is going. Better call her, then eat the frog. Anxiety starts to creep in wondering how long the taste will linger.
Call done. Time to eat the frog. Aww man, it’s quitting time, you better call it a day and eat the frog tomorrow. You head home for a guilt-filled night wondering if you’ll have to eat two frogs tomorrow to catch up.
Here’s a better alternative.
First thing in the morning you suck it up and eat the frog. It’s uncomfortable, it doesn’t taste great but you know what? It wasn’t nearly as bad as you thought it would be. And hey presto, 5 minutes later it’s done. Anxiety gone, relief washes over you, and you can get on with your day.
For me, writing is a frog that has to be eaten. I love it but sitting down to do it can be painful and difficult at times.
However, if I don’t sit down and do it, I end up on Amazon looking at hourglasses. I tell myself that maybe an hourglass will make the frog taste better. It won’t. Only eating it will.
Writing is Hard
Whether it’s writing articles, books, tweets or Reddit threads writing is the hard part. In fact, writing can feel so hard that our brains think it must be a dangerous task that we should avoid for our own safety.
And as thankful as I am to my brain for keeping me out of dangerous situations sometimes you need to step out ahead. You can realize your brain is wrong and make sure you are actually doing the work that needs to be done.
Whether you get there through a disciplined routine or… Well to be honest I think routine is the only way a writer will regularly write. But however you find your routine make sure that what matters is at the heart of it.
Isn’t that why we all started writing in the first place?
This post originally appeared on https://writingcooperative.com/dont-buy-an-hourglass-to-become-a-better-writer-2ea16e392dfc