Here are a few ideas.
1. Start small.
Baby steps are where it's at, my friend! I don't know where I'd be without them. And when I say 'baby steps', I mean the kind that make baby steps look like giant strides. Baby flea steps – baby amoeba steps, even. Let me tell you what I mean.
In one of my favourite self-help books, Finding Your Own North Star, Martha Beck talks about completing her PhD dissertation:
"When we got home, I set about breaking down the task 'write my dissertation' into smaller steps. This was one of the first times I noticed the feelings of my essential self saying 'Yes' or 'No'. I began by deciding I'd try to put in only about six hours of solid writing each day. This was much less than I thought I should be doing, but I could tell right away that my body and my brain were resisting even this level of effort. So I knocked my expectations in half: I'd write for just three hours a day. Still I felt as though I were trying to give a piggy back ride to a woolly mammoth. Ninety minutes a day, then? No go. An hour? Forget it? Half an hour? Nope. But when I got to fifteen minutes, I noticed a dramatic shift in my body and mood. My muscles relaxed and instead of numb resentment, I felt downright willing."
"I spent my first fifteen-minute workday just hauling out my notes and glancing at them. Then, true to my plan I punched the clock and took a nap. It wasn't much, but it was more work than I'd been able to do for weeks. The next day, I wrote a single sentence. The following day, I managed a whole page. And that is how I eventually managed my deadly dull, bulky dissertation: fifteen minutes a day, over the course of a year. Some days I'd write several paragraphs. Some days I'd get inspired and write two or three whole pages. Other days, the most I could do was look up the phone number of an adviser and place it near the telephone. But as long as I didn't bite off more than my essential self could chew, I kept inching toward my goal."
When thinking about your resolutions and goals, pay attention to your essential self: how does your body feel? Do you feel tense and anxious, or relaxed and willing? If your resolution is to 'write that damned novel', then no wonder your essential self is screaming in panic. Not only is it vague, but where to start with something so massive?
You don't have to change the world in a day; even tiny actions can be enough. For example, writing a one-item to-do list where the item might be, 'research online writing courses' or 'buy a notebook and put it by the bed'. And that's it. Some days – as I do – the most you'll achieve is a conversation with your muse. The point is though that the muses will approve – they will see your efforts, however small, and help. Whatever your goal, starting small is a smart psychological approach.
2. Step away from that blank computer screen.
If going straight to a blank computer screen to write from scratch does it for you, go for it! It might work from time to time. But experience strongly suggests that that comes later in the writing process. Instead of going straight to the computer, start writing on the go with a notebook, which can be fitted in to a busy life.
3. Redefine 'writing'.
What does the physical act of writing mean to you? Because it isn't just about pen and paper, or tapping at a keyboard. Writing can happen away from the keyboard just as much as when you're sat before it. Texts are 'grown' like plants, and they require good fertilisation, so getting out, talking to people, being energised and inspired as you gather ideas and material, reading and research – all of this counts. In addition, these methods also give you time for ideas to develop in the unconscious mind, which is a vital part of the creative process.
4. If nothing is coming to you, write anything.
Grab a notebook and write down every invading thought without judgement. Not only will this be cathartic, but it will also help create space for energy to flow, which in turn will create its own energy. All my writing projects begin with filling entire notebooks with scribbled thoughts, most of which are complete nonsense. So much so that I've burned some of them as they are so embarrassing.
5. Schedule time.
When you feel you've got enough material and have reached the transcription stage, you may need to schedule time and make a regular date with your computer. Whenever and however long this time is, treat it as sacrosanct. Block it on your calendar, then set a timer and write against the clock, whether in a notebook or with a keyboard. This will help make sure you temporarily forego the temptation to do something else.
6. Reward yourself.
Chocolate, a glass of wine, a TV programme, a cuddle with your cat... Whatever it is, give yourself an incentive to get your words down by rewarding yourself with something nice afterwards. Doing this may help you to forego temptation beforehand, and who knows, once you start, writing may become a reward in itself.
7. Say no.
"I'm sorry, I'm booked out at that time", or "I've only just seen your email": these are phrases I've found helpful in protecting my scheduled writing time and honouring my writing appointments. If writing is important to you, your scheduled time should take priority over anything that gets in the way of it.
8. Stay present.
When you sit down to write, breathe. Focus on your breath and commit to the present moment. This will help you to resist the lure of email, social media, your mobile phone and your ego, all of which are useful tools when used wisely, but which are powerful distractions from the most beautiful and productive place to be: the present.
When it comes to accessing the present, it may help to have a calming visual aid to help you connect with it – for example, a picture of a beautiful landscape or a Buddha statue (I find the one I have in my office most helpful in helping me sink to the place below the ego).
You'll know you're there when time has dissolved, hours have passed and you won't want to leave. When it comes down to it, creativity is foregoing distraction, and no distraction is as exciting as the feeling of having created something from nothing.
9. Enjoy the process.
Goals are great and it's good to have them. However, it's also good not to fixate on the end result at the expense of the process of getting there. Goals are distant and nebulous; they're 'over there'. Whereas the present is here and now, and it's where the process is.
Enjoy the process, fall in love with it, and the end result will take care of itself.
Why do you write? To inform, entertain, describe? To draw attention to a cause or help others? In his essay Why I Write, George Orwell also suggests 'aesthetic enthusiasm', 'political purpose', 'sheer egoism', or 'some demon that one can neither resist nor understand'. Your motivation may be a combination of all or some of these, and neither is wrong. But getting clear on what your why is – why you're doing anything – can help motivate you and keep you going.
Once I figured out that the reason I wanted to start running was to help raise money for animals, for example, the running itself became easy. All I have to do now is imagine animals suffering and I'm out the door: the challenge of running is nothing in comparison to what some animals have to go through.