How to Start Writing Regularly... And You Don't Have To Journal

I hate journaling.

Oh my god I said it. Is the sky crumbling? I don’t trust people who say they wake up each morning and spend 30 minutes writing longhand in a notebook. Okay, that’s not really true. My dear friend and mentor Rosemary Daniell has used journaling most of her career and swears by it. I respect and appreciate her guidance.

Still, as far as I’m concerned journaling is crap.

Between rubbing out eye boogers and trying to get my mouth unglued, the last thing I’m equipped to do is churn out words first thing. My morning routine is based on more practical pursuits and if you’ve got kids to push out the door or a job to hurry off to, that practicality probably applies to you, too. 

Trust me, I’ve tried doing it. I’ve bought beautiful notebooks and set time aside to start journaling. But I usually only manage long rambles about breakfast.

When morning journaling didn’t work, I switched my writing to the evening. I would get going for about 3-4 days before I’d start falling asleep, forgetting about it. I have a stunning collection of mostly unused journals!

I’m not saying journaling isn’t good for you. All I’m saying is that the prescription for being a consistent writer that works for others doesn’t work for me. And I’m okay with that.

My writing brain works in stories and in projects. I have a theatre degree with a philosophy minor. In order to get some gusto behind my writing, I need a narrative or a problem to solve. I know it sounds a bit mad scientist or masculine, but that’s the way my brain is built.

Speaking of…

Online writing pros and coaches are now telling us to write rough drafts in longhand. Have you seen this advice?

More often than not, these experts DO NOT own a vagina. I’m not really sure if there is a gender difference here or not. All I know is that the man in my house also adheres to this longhand writing rule for rough drafts. He’s a good writer and has been published, so it works for him. But he also can’t multitask to save his life.

If I ask him a question while he’s sorting through a computer issue or bleaching the sink (yep, he does that!), there is this huge pause in conversation until he can finish his activity and return to me.

For me, multitasking is a must.

I have been a high school teacher and a flight attendant. I have had 30+ kids in a classroom threatening to riot while I’m also cranking out a letter of recommendation. I’ve also done the octopus tango in an aircraft: holding drinks on a tray and my tablet in one hand, while I’m making a PA announcement with the other, closing the bathroom door with one foot, and listening to a pilot briefing.

Science says this multitasking is bad for us, but I haven’t found a way around it.

And if I had to scribble stuff out in a physical notebook by hand at a regular time of the day or night, I’d NEVER get anything down.

But the words are what matters.

Here are suggestions on how to develop a consistent writing practice:

1. Get shit down

Day or night. Flying or grounded. If I get struck with a thought, I write it down. I’ve got napkins and airplane sick bags loaded with ideas.

2. Let it be messy

Those half unused journals seemed like a nice idea to keep all my writing organized, but organization is for structuring your ideas, not for getting them out of your brain. Who cares if you’ve got writing on everything from your old vinyl record collection to your coasters, as long as it’s finding its way out of you and into the world to later be shaped and organized.

3. Use technology

My brain blows up with so many ideas that I cramp my hand when I try to write longhand. I scribble some of my best ideas in my iPhone Notes. I manifest whole stories in my head and then pour them out rapid fire on my computer. If using technology means you’ll actually write, USE IT! Get words on a page—either a piece of paper or one that glows from some techno gadget.

4. Don’t stop

Once you get a flow going, don’t censor yourself. I learned this by using the NaNoWriMo approach where you signup to write a (short) novel in a month. Here, you never edit AT ALL. If you have one idea and then think of a way to rephrase it, just write the new idea after the old. Don’t go back and erase that first one. Don’t modify your words in any way. It will slow you down. The ideas you are most eager to toss may actually be the catalyst for future writing projects.

5. Nothing has to make sense

Form doesn’t matter. Fragments are fine. Spelling is irrelevant. Don’t mix up brainstorming and free writing with revision and editing. The act of getting it out is enough at this point. It doesn’t matter if your grammar is bad, your spelling is off, and if your sentences look something like this, “I got alotaporkchops.”

6. Fear of forgetting works in your favor

Ahhh—behold that alliterative statement!

You probably already have a consistent writing practice and don’t even know it yet. If you write down to dos or make grocery lists because you worry you won’t remember to pick up those lemons for the dinner party or Fluffy from the vet, you are well on your way to a daily writing habit. List making is, indeed, an introductory writing technique. 

7. Everything is an idea

Even if you think something isn’t that poignant or profound, write it down. Don’t critique anything. One idea can lead to many, so never assume that your fleeting thoughts can’t generate stories, blog posts, or bits of conversation that can be revised for later use.

8. Don’t fall prey to the Paris café fantasy

You know that cute guy I mentioned before? The one that lives in my house, cleans the sink, but can’t multitask. Yeah him. He actually goes out to a bar or coffee shop to write. I think this makes him a weirdo, but I don’t judge. If I sat at a bar to write, I’d probably end up so distracted that I’d just get drunk. I can brainstorm IDEAS anywhere, but when I start to structure a piece of writing I need quiet. Home works best for me. That’s when I no longer need to multitask and accept the role solely of writer.

Sure, we all have visions of sitting in some French café with our baguette, sipping a latte, and penning the next great novel, but for me it doesn’t work like that. Even when I was in Paris, I’d spend the mornings getting some writing on the page, before venturing out and studying the city. To me, writing is a familiar act, a cozy one that provides comfort. Going out into the world is never cozy. If life doesn’t go as planned, there’s traffic, or there are people talking loudly, my structure for a story goes out the window.

But you should get used to taking all those bits and pieces and sitting down to craft them into something MORE on a regular basis. For me, a blog once per week does the trick. I’ll be diving into how to structure writing in my upcoming posts. Watch for those. 

For now, get that writing flow going.  

Do you have any unconventional techniques for journaling or brainstorming ideas? Discuss in the comments.