As an ambitious student seeking your Master of Fine Arts, you have big plans for your writing career. Perhaps you dream of publishing a groundbreaking novel or book of poetry, or maybe you want to compile your deepest thoughts in written form.
First, you must start writing. It sounds simple, yet many students struggle to develop a consistent writing routine. Below, we explain why this is so important and how you can get started.
Why is a Writing Habit Important as an MFA Student?
The modern image of the writer feels quaint, even romantic;
: struck by inspiration, a naturally gifted writer locks themselves away in a secluded cabin, sits at a desk lit by lamp or candlelight, and scrawls page after page of divinely inspired passages.
The modern reality looks a lot different, particularly for busy MFA students whose writing is more likely to involve electronic devices and small windows of time. As a student, you must also contend with online or in-person classes, not to mention work, family, or even military demands. With so much to juggle, you can't assume you'll be available to pen your thoughts whenever inspiration strikes.
Writing is not an innate talent; it's a skill built through years of hard work. To develop this ability, you must regularly set aside time to hone your craft. Along the way, you'll face a myriad of distractions. These are easier to handle upon building a purposeful yet flexible schedule.
The ultimate goal is to develop a habit of writing that will promote consistent skill development not only through your journey as a graduate student but also far into the future. Start writing on a daily basis now, and you'll reap the rewards in the years to come as you slowly and methodically improve your skills. If nothing else, you'll come to find the daily practice of writing fun or even calming. Writing is a life skill that can take you far, no matter where you ultimately take your career.
Best Practices for Establishing a Writing Routine
The first and most important rule for creating a writing routine is to simply just begin. It's easy to procrastinate with writing itself, as well as creating a schedule for when you will actually write. Remember, as with your poetry or prose, your schedule will never reach true perfection. Simply having one will be beneficial, so don't delay. Follow these suggestions to set up a writing routine that's easy to follow:
Set Realistic and Achievable Goals
What do you want to get from this experience? Without goals to guide your MFA journey, you may find it difficult to continue your writing habit when the going gets tough — or you may struggle to establish this habit in the first place. A few clear goals, however, can make a world of difference.
To begin, determine your “why.” What compelled you to enroll in an MFA program? What do you hope to gain from the experience? If you're not sure how to find or describe what drives you, look to writing as your solution. Jot down your thoughts without censoring yourself, and you will stumble upon your main source of motivation.
Guided by this overarching goal, you can proceed with smaller objectives that keep you moving toward your ultimate mission. Set broad writing goals for each class, followed by smaller goals for every week or each writing session.
Break the Process into Smaller, More Manageable Tasks
When you have a major project to tackle, it can feel too overwhelming to even begin. Guided by targeted goals, however, you can navigate the writing process a little at a time. This will ease your stress and keep your motivation going strong day by day.
As you divide your work into small tasks, remember that sometimes a state of flow or a bout of writer's block will dictate how much you accomplish. On some days, you may feel as though an inner force is guiding you, allowing the words to flow without any major effort on your part. On other occasions, every sentence will be a struggle.
Don't be afraid to adjust your plans to account for these differences in flow; scheduled tasks are there to keep you consistent about writing regularly. After all, if you never sit down to write, you may not realize that you've stumbled on one of those effortless days.
Use a Calendar to Schedule Your Writing Sessions
A visual cue can prove powerful, especially if your writing sessions tend to be haphazard. A calendar is always a safe bet, and a sizable whiteboard or chalkboard calendar should do the trick. Place it near your desk so you have a constant visual reminder of both scheduled writing sessions and impending deadlines.
As you schedule blocks of time for writing, consider when and how you're most likely to flourish. If you typically feel more motivated at a certain time of day, schedule your writing time accordingly. If you struggle to take time off, plan for breaks as well. Again, your schedule will require some flexibility, so think of it as a guide rather than a rigid plan.
Develop a Writing Routine with Habit Stacking
Many people rely on the practice of habit stacking to slowly develop routines that might otherwise feel out of reach. This concept draws on the power of association: If you're already committed to a particular habit that feels almost effortless, you will find it easy to tweak it slightly.
For an MFA student, habit stacking might mean building your new writing routine into something you already do every day. You can also precede a daily habit (for example, your typical Instagram scrolling session) with a small writing objective.
Find a Writing Environment that Works for You
Where you write can be just as influential as when and how often. Some locations lend themselves better to creativity and productivity, while others are bound to cause distraction. Unfortunately, no one location will be equally helpful on every occasion. You must be self-aware enough to realize when you require a fresh setting.
At the outset, it may take some trial and error to determine which spots work best
— and when. For example, when distraction is a big issue, a quiet library with private study areas will make a world of difference. When you feel lonely or disconnected, a writing group or coffee shop can provide much-needed social interaction. Outdoor writing sessions can be downright magical when you crave fresh air.
While you may eventually find several spaces you adore, you'll still want a stable writing environment prepared in your home or apartment. This means setting up a distraction-free space with quality lighting, an ergonomic chair, and limited distractions.
Many writers thrive as they let the words flow — but struggle when asked to edit their work. There's no escaping this dreaded task; editing is where a disconnected jumble of thoughts becomes a cohesive and compelling end product. Thankfully, a variety of resources promise to streamline this process.
School resources provide a strong starting point when every aspect of editing feels overwhelming. MFA faculty members are a crucial source of insight, but you'll also benefit from visiting a writing center or getting involved in student and alumni groups. The library provides a wealth of academic resources, as do modern digital solutions such as editing apps, podcasts, and even YouTube videos from real-world writers and MFA students.
Utilize Writing Prompts or Other Creative Exercises to Overcome Writer's Block
Writer's block is a familiar problem that strikes even the most talented and prolific individuals. When this dreaded phenomenon occurs, you may start self-censoring excessively or simply feel blank,
— as if you have nothing worthwhile to say.
Taking a break is often the best solution, but you can also use writing prompts to break through. Invest in a book of writing exercises or check out the many ideas available online. You can even create your own writing prompts to use later. Add these to small slips of paper and place them in a box to be drawn randomly when you most need inspiration.
Track Your Progress and Reward Yourself for Milestones
Motivation is a lot easier to come by when you recognize that your efforts are paying off. This means tracking your progress and recognizing when you've accomplished something meaningful and could be as simple as scrolling through everything you've written in the past week or month.
You could also compare a piece you wrote months ago with a more recent composition. You'll be amazed by how much your work has improved. Don't hesitate to reward yourself for these accomplishments, no matter how minor.
Take Breaks when Needed to Maintain Focus and Motivation
MFA students who have a strong tendency to overwork must take the advice to “sharpen the saw” seriously. You'll eventually have to accept that some writing sessions will be far more productive than others — and those productive sessions will be easier to achieve after you've enjoyed a well-deserved break.
Breaks — even short ones,
— give your brain more time to process details. This time is more productive than you might think; everything you observe could ultimately play into your writing. If possible, enjoy some fresh air and get your body moving. Many of the world's most prolific writers cite nature walks as their chief sources of inspiration.
Solicit Feedback from Trusted Sources
Writer's block is often a symptom of overthinking. When this happens, it's best to remove yourself for a time and let somebody else review your work. Constructive criticism is great, but in these moments, what you really need is a reminder that your work can truly have an impact. Distribute your early drafts to trusted individuals who know what constitutes great writing and will readily let you know how your work makes them think or feel.
Connect with Other Writers in Your Program
Writing doesn't always have to be a solitary endeavor. Fellow writers can be a wonderful source of inspiration and support. You’ll gain a lot from classroom interactions, but these relationships will be far more meaningful if they extend beyond the classroom.
This means reaching out and making an effort to get to know the other writers in your program. A weekly gathering outside of class can make a world of difference, even if you never actually discuss your writing. As we've mentioned, you can also join established student and alumni groups. The MFA community is closely connected, so you're encouraged to get involved early on and build strong relationships.
Pursue an MFA in Writing Online to Further Your Skills
As you develop your skills and style as a writer, consider enrolling in the MFA program at Lindenwood University. Available entirely online, our MFA in writing includes a rich community of students and faculty, along with powerful workshops and events that promote introspection and personal growth. Request info to learn more about our curriculum and our supportive environment.