Published authors. Expert doctors. Accomplished musicians. Legendary athletes. Successful business owners.
What do all these people have in common? They made the intentional decision to regularly put emphasis on and effort into improving and developing the skills needed to specialize in their respective fields. This trait is otherwise known as consistency.
Although everything I wrote about for the last two weeks, and everything I will discuss in the coming weeks, has played an important role in my novel writing progress over the last year, consistency has been one of the most valuable skills that I’ve learned. Setting and sticking to a consistent writing schedule is one of the biggest reasons I went from spinning my wheels on a perpetually in-progress first draft for almost two years, to completing not only that first draft and a second, but also the start of a third draft all in just under a year. (As of the writing of this post, I am eighty pages into that third revision.)
But consistency isn’t only a necessary piece of novel writing, it is also a key aspect of most goals and habits. Whether it’s getting in better physical shape or spending more time in prayer or meditation or learning to play the piano, none of these things can happen without consistency. You can’t show up at the gym twice a month and expect to develop washboard abs, just like I couldn’t show up at my desk whenever I felt like it and expect to write a cohesive, bestselling story.
So how do we create consistency?
- It starts with determination. If there is something you want to accomplish, something you’ve been meaning to or wanting to do, you have to decide that you are going to Make. It. Happen. Until I determined with absolute certainty that I am going to finish writing this novel, I would have never made progress. Because if we approach our dreams and goals with a laissez-faire attitude it is easy to brush them aside the second we hit a road block or life interferes.
- It takes honesty. Take a good, long look at your day-to-day life. How much time and energy do you really have to dedicate to this goal? Are there blocks of time that you could be putting to better use? Pay special attention to time suckers such as social media and TV binges. Be honest without being critical. It is also important to realize that in an already jam-packed schedule, something else may have to give a little in order to create consistent space and avoid burnout.
- There’s a little trial and error involved. These days, there’s a wealth of information available regarding just about every topic. If you want to become a writer, there are oodles of books and blogs and podcasts on how to do it. Want to minimize your belongings? Chances are good you can find a detailed step-by-step process from a former pack-rack consumerist who now has less than 100 belongings to her name. But although these resources are helpful and definitely a good jumping off point, it is important to realize that what worked for someone else may not always work for us. When I first started writing, I thought all I had to do to bang out a book was emulate the writing routines of people like Stephen King or Jodi Picoult. But I couldn’t make them stick. Several years later, after a lot of trying, tweaking, and tuning, I settled on a regimen that fit me and my life. So if something isn’t working for you, figure out what the issue is, try something else, and be patient with the process.
- Be firm but flexible. This goes along with last week’s discussion about finding balance amid life’s busyness and unpredictability. Things often pop up that are out of our control, throwing us off schedule for a day or two here or there, but incorporating a consistent time to work on a goal doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition. Just because a family emergency impeded your writing today or you slept through your alarm and didn’t make it to the gym two days in a row, doesn’t mean you should throw in the towel. All progress is not lost. If it’s possible on those days, sneak in a shorter writing session or work out at a later time. If it’s not, get back to your regular schedule as soon as you can.
If you find yourself struggling to move forward and make progress, I encourage you to ask yourself if consistency is the issue. If it is, take a few days or even a week or two to really pay attention to your daily schedule and responsibilities. Be honest with yourself about how you’re spending your time and it might even be helpful to jot notes in a planner or calendar as sometimes seeing things in writing can be completely revelatory. Determine what works best for you, decide to guard that time, and you are well on your way to creating consistency.