I've long admired my fellow writers who can crank out thousands and tens of thousands of words in a day. When writing was not one of my main focuses, I had to carve out time to write in between my main gig, family, and life in general. Most likely this is your situation, too.
Something I know for sure: developing a daily writing habit will help you to A) consistently produce content, B) hit your goals, and C) ultimately make more money and eventually a living from your writing.
Let’s discuss what a habit is: a habit is an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary. I can imagine you have several daily habits you do automatically, such as looking both ways before you cross the street, taking your multivitamin, and brushing your teeth. At first, these habits were conscious actions you had to remind yourself to do (or, let’s face it, mom reminded you). Eventually, these desired actions worked their way into your subconscious mind, and now you do them as easily as breathing.
Imagine how amazing it will be to sit down to write every single day because it is a habit! A writing habit removes the guesswork and ensures you get your word count in automatically. While there is no “secret” to success in writing (you must put yourself in front of your keyboard with no other outcome in mind than to write) there are several things you can do to engineer your success and develop a writing habit.
How to Develop Your Writing Habit
- Form a new belief. The goal is to go from “I would like to write consistently” to “I write consistently every day.” We become what we repeatedly say (a.k.a. “affirm”) to ourselves, so take a moment and write your personal writing affirmation. Science has proven if you say something to yourself long enough (at least thirty days), you will act in accordance with your words because you cannot hold a personal belief and act in opposing fashion. The Power of Consistency by Weldon Long is a terrific read and provides a detailed process for creating any desired habit.
- Start with why. Why you are writing is almost more important than what, when, or how you are writing. I write every day so I can consistently publish content that is helpful for others and allows me to stay a full-time writer. I know if I miss too many days in a row, no soup for me! A strong why will encourage consistent writing, even when you’re sick, tired, or experiencing a busy or stressful time in your life.
- Set a goal, so it’s easy to succeed and hard to fail. You’re developing a new habit, which means most likely you aren’t going just to decide to write every day and do it. In fact, the minute I decide something is usually when the Universe laughs and throws me a curveball. You might want to write for five hours a day, but that would be like deciding to run a marathon before lunch today even though you have never run even a mile before today. You’ll fail miserably, and reinforce your belief it isn’t possible for you to run a marathon. Set an easy-to-achieve short-term goal, such as “I write for 15 minutes every work day this week.” Once you hit that goal, you’re off to the races. You can slowly and intentionally increase your time and days from there.
- Set a daily appointment and put it on your calendar. I write every morning between 6-7 a.m. There’s an alarm to remind me at 5:58 a.m. (in case I need more coffee), and I set a second alarm for 7 a.m. I write until the second alarm goes off. Most days I’m able to write more, but some days not so much. Getting my writing out of the way early, and every day provides a sense of accomplishment and reinforces the habit as it develops.
- Develop a habit trigger. Speaking of coffee, the moment I wake up and smell the freshly brewed pot is my trigger it’s almost time to start writing. I do a quick meditation, brush my teeth, put on my workout clothes, and pour a cup of coffee. Those four actions precede my writing. By the time my appointment reminder goes off, I’m ready to go. Design a pre-writing ritual that rolls you right into your writing habit.
- Keep track and focus only on progress. If numbers are your thing, start a simple Excel spreadsheet. Use one column to keep track of the number of words you write every day, a second column for your cumulative number. My 2016 goal of 1,000 words a day for at least 300 days is the equivalent of at least six full-length non-fiction books. Write 300,000 words? That’s a lot! Write 1,000 words a day? Totally doable. Even 100 words a day over a year’s time is 36,500, and you texted someone 100 words before you read this article. (Smile.)
- Always be ready to write. I always carry an iPad with a keyboard and a Moleskine notebook (my Bullet Journal) in case I find myself with time to write. You never know when you’ll have an extra long wait at the dentist’s office, your plane will be delayed, or you get stood up for a meeting. Be on the lookout for opportunities to squeeze in some extra words.
- Sprint! Who says you need an hour to write? Not this girl. In fact, I’m the queen of the fifteen-minute writing sprint. You’d be surprised how many words you can write in fifteen minutes, and you can’t tell me you don’t have at least fifteen minutes every day to write. Even a daily sprint of 5-10 minutes will help develop your writing habit. Several of my books have been written in some pretty interesting places, fifteen minutes at a time. You can learn more about this in my book on the same topic, The Nifty 15: Write Your Book in Just 15 Minutes a Day.
- Get a buddy, or a coach. If you’re more of a stick than a carrot person, finding someone to hold you accountable can ensure the development of your writing habit. You’d rather write than wash the car by hand? Find someone who will check in and hold you to the task. A buddy is free; a coach will cost you. Know yourself and get what you need to get it done. Also, give yourself rewards (big and small) for doing your writing. Finished a chapter? See a movie and get the large popcorn. Published your book? Schedule a weekend getaway and have a massage.
- Don’t feel like writing? Too bad, Sparky. A professional shows up and does the work, even when they’re sick, tired, busy, or dealing with personal issues. Along with your habit trigger to get you to write, you can develop a “peak writing state” trigger. I use music, affirmations, and a quick review of my production schedule to encourage productivity, even when I’m not in the mood. I love writing, but I don’t always feel like it. You know what? I do it anyway, and so should you.
- Eliminate distractions. It’s time to write, but you haven’t been on Facebook yet? Don’t do it! Write first, then Facebook. If you must, close all other windows so you can focus. Use an app like Focus@Will to give you something to listen to while you wait for the timer to go off. Put your phone on Do Not Disturb or airplane mode. Create a clean, clear path on which you can most easily write.
- Make it fun. Being a writer is incredible, and writing should be fun! I mean, can you believe you can write and get paid for it? How cool is that? Writing is work, yes it’s true, but it’s also supposed to be fun. Do whatever it takes to make it, and keep it, fun. You’ll be much more likely to write more and write more often if you’re truly enjoying the process.
- Enroll your people. While it’s rare my family makes an appearance during my writing hour, sometimes they do. They also know it is not their best idea to interrupt me (two exceptions: blood loss or fire). Tell your family and friends you are serious about your writing and ask them to help you write more words. You can promise to dedicate your next book to them (or threaten to kill them off if they don’t comply!).
Developing a writing habit will take some time and effort on your part, and I promise you it is worth it. The world needs your words! Do yourself, and your readers, the good service of writing. We’re anxiously waiting!