Many of us dream of being successful writers: the Instagram-worthy photos of the desk where we release our creative genius, the legions of adoring fans, the critical acclaim …
There’s just one problem. The process of actually writing can feel scary as hell.
With all of the information and advice available online, it’s not surprising that we get overwhelmed. That sense of having no clue exactly where and how to start is why many of us never turn our dream of being a writer into reality.
But don’t despair. There are simple actions you can take today to change your writerly status from “it’s complicated” to “professional author.”
Here are our top three picks.
#1: Get your inspiration on demand
Michael LaRonn has kept what he calls “a notebook full of inspiration” for the past decade. It’s how he generates “inspiration on demand” whenever he has time to write.
So, Michael says, “If I’m talking to you, and you come up with something that’s a really interesting idea, or a really interesting image, or an interesting idea for a story, I capture it in the Evernote app on my phone.”
At this point, he’s got hundreds (if not thousands) of different notes that serve as inspiration whenever his muse isn’t in a creative mood.
We all lead busy lives, and it’s easy to use the excuse of feeling uninspired to skip writing for the day and do something—anything—else instead.
The difference between a wannabe author and an Author with a capital A is the discipline to sit down and write every day, whether they’re feeling inspired or not.
Keeping a notebook of inspiration is an excellent way to capture those little moments that make you think, “what a great story,” and to bring them to mind when you need them most.
#2: Create an atomic daily writing habit
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it bears repeating: the thing that makes someone a writer is the act of writing.
Writing regularly—ideally, every day—is what separates writers from people who just talk about writing.
Author J. Thorn recommends the book Atomic Habits by James Clear as a great place to start with building your daily writing habit.
Clear writes that making small, incremental changes is the key to building a new habit. By removing as many decisions as possible from the mix, you lower the barrier to entry between your current self and the version of you that’s writing daily, going to the gym, or participating in any other desirable habit.
For example, if you want to write first thing in the morning, you could lay out everything you need on your desk or dining room table the night before. Put out your notebook, pens, coffee mug, laptop, favorite cardigan, headphones . . . Whatever gets you in the zone and ready to write.
That way, when you get up the next morning, you don’t have to spend time deciding whether or not you’ll write. If you put your gear in the way of something you know you’ll do (like eat breakfast), you’ll even have to make a conscious effort not to write by moving your writing supplies out of the way first.
The idea is to eliminate decision fatigue and make it as easy as possible to get your behind in that chair every morning without deciding to do it.
“There’s a misconception that you need willpower, and willpower will then create these systems,” says J. Thorn. “James Clear says it’s the opposite. If you put the systems in place, that’s what builds your willpower.”
#3: Start a newsletter
It’s never too early to start building your author platform—even if you haven’t written anything you can sell yet. BookFunnel’s Damon Courtney advises new authors to set up a newsletter and start adding people early.
Maybe you’ve never published a thing, and the only people who’d opt to join your newsletter are friends and family. That’s okay! You can still send something out every week or everything month to remind them (and yourself) that you’re a writer now, and you’ve got irons in the fire.
The first piece you’ll write will be what the marketing world calls a “lead magnet”—a free downloadable short that serves as both a sample of your work and an incentive for people to subscribe to your newsletter.
The lead magnet doesn’t need to take very long to write, either.
“It can be a short story, 2,000 or 3,000 words,” says Courtney. “It can be a novella … Something that you can write in just a day or two. Even if you’re slow, you can write a short story in a day or two.”
Then offer up your short piece of prose for free, whether that’s on BookFunnel, on social media, or anywhere else you can think of. The goal is to accumulate email addresses and start building a newsletter readership.
It may seem too small to matter now, but every person who reads your newsletter knows other people who also read. Before you know it, you’ll be well on your way to reaching hundreds or thousands of people who enjoy reading your work, and—by the time you write that novel—will gladly pay for the privilege.
Sarah is a freelance writer, full-time nomad, and husky mom. Learn more about her work (and see a picture of her dog) at www.flourishwriting.com, or say hello on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/flourishwriting/.