How to be sensibly “all in” with your writing

Reading time: About 4 minutes

Do you try to be “all in” with your writing, even though you might not have very much time to do it? It’s a great strategy to pursue….

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “all in.”

For example, you might say you’re “all in” with an exercise program. Or you’re “all in” with parenting. Or you’re “all in” with eating a healthy diet, meditating, learning another language or becoming better at tennis.

It’s a phrase we use when we want to demonstrate our overwhelming commitment to something challenging, in which we strongly (desperately?) want to see results.

There’s something about the beginning of a new year that makes us really want to be “all in,” but don’t go there too quickly. Consider what it means before you commit to it — especially if you’re thinking of going “all in” with your writing.

Did you know that the phrase “all in” comes from poker? It refers to when a player bets all of their chips on a single hand. It’s a risky move and one you can’t go back on.

In a recent New Yorker article on the phrase “all in,” writer Ian Crouch said, “Whereas ‘all in’ once referred to a scenario in which someone either wins a hand or loses everything in a flash, now it means that a person is simply generally enthusiastic or fully committed. It’s everywhere these days—business jargon, marketing catch phrases, sports mantras, and the idioms of religion and self-help.”

Crouch is right. The phrase is everywhere, and when people say it, they don’t usually mean winning or losing everything in a flash. Instead, they mean they’re no longer weighing the pros and cons of doing something — they’re trying to figure out how to make it happen. In other words, they’re “strongly committed.”

So, let’s use that as our definition. You want to be strongly committed to your writing. That means the next question is: How do you do that?

Here are five ways to be all in with your writing:

1-Write daily. People often suppose that being “all in” with writing is going to require great gobs of time. Of course it will require some time, but my hunch is that it’s less than you think.

Most people I speak with imagine that professional writers hunker down at their desks for six to eight hours a day. In fact, most of them don’t. And the ones who spend that long at a desk aren’t writing the whole time. Instead, professional writers will write somewhere between one to four hours a day.

And if you’re not a writing professional, starting with as little as five to 15 minutes is plenty of time. The whole secret is to do it every day. You want to develop a writing habit that’s just as strong as your brushing-your-teeth habit and your eating-your-dinner habit. If the time is small enough, you won’t procrastinate and you’ll actually do it. (You can always increase the time later.)

2-Make writing FUN. No one wants to do things that aren’t fun. If you enjoy writing, you’ll do it more willingly and more regularly, and the greater amount of practice you get will improve the quality of your work.

It’s exactly the same situation that grade 1 schoolchildren find themselves in: Kids who succeed at reading right away start reading a lot more than other kids. And in one of the classic unfairnesses of life (I say this as the mother of a dyslexic child), this makes them even better readers because they’re reading so much more than anyone else. Their natural ability not only helps them at the beginning but, in the end, it also gives them more practice — and that practice is what gives them the greater edge.

So, write about subjects that interest you. Take pleasure in learning more and expressing your opinion about those subjects. Use mindmapping to inspire yourself. Make writing P-L-A-Y instead of W-O-R-K.

3-Learn more about writing (but in a limited way). Some aspiring writers spend way too much time reading about writing. If you’re already familiar with every self-help book ever published about writing, perhaps you fall into that category. But if you’ve never thought about the mechanics of writing or the theories behind it, take the time to educate yourself a little.

Do you have good editing software to lend a hand? (I recommend ProWritingAid.) Are you aware that readers usually prefer writing that hits an average sentence length of 14 to 18 words? Do you know what the passive voice is? (Hint: it’s not a tense.)

Here are five of my favourite books about writing:

And, of course, I also recommend my own book Your Happy First Draft.

4-Read more, in more genres, and more critically. All good writers are great readers. And they don’t just read about writing. They read everything they can get their hands on. Make sure you cast a wide enough net. Don’t restrict yourself to one area. Read both fiction and non- and vary your authors and subject matter. If you’re interested in chemistry, you may be surprised by what geography can teach you. And if you favour historical fiction, see if you can also pick up a good memoir.

As well, read with a critical eye. Don’t just read for plot or for information. Think about how the writer has constructed the work and whether they’ve used any techniques that might be good for you as well. I also strongly recommend copying some of the work of writers you admire. I don’t mean copying to pretend the work is your own. I mean copying to learn how to write that way. See more instructions here.

5-Don’t worry about being good at writing. Just worry about doing it. Some writers fail to establish a sustainable writing habit because they worry too much about the quality of their work. (I think many people fail to establish a meditation habit for exactly the same reason.)

Trust that everyone sucks at everything until they get enough practice with it. So, for now, just focus on getting the practice.

Also understand that no writer is smart enough to judge the quality of their own work. (The great American writer Maya Angelou — winner of three Grammys and nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award — thought she was a lousy writer. “I have written 11 books,” she said, “but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’”)

This is why all writers depend on editors for help, guidance an­­d assurance. Trust me, this is not something you can do by yourself.

Are you all in?

I don’t want you to bet your house or your life on writing. But if it’s something you want to do, approach the task sensibly. Do a little bit every day. And make it enjoyable for yourself.


My video podcast last week addressed how to prepare for the tax person. Go here to see the video or read the transcript, and you can also subscribe to my YouTube channel.


Need some help developing a better writing routine? Learn more about my Get It Done program. There is turn-over each month, and priority will go to those who have applied first. You can go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours.


Are you “all in” with your writing? How did you manage it?  We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. If you comment on today’s post (or any others) by Jan 31/24 I’ll put you in a draw for a digital copy for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To enter, please scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!


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