As a writer, you’re probably well aware that you need to write every day. But knowing that and doing it are two different things. While it’s possible to force yourself to write every day through sheer willpower, the more effective approach is to create a habit — something that you do without thinking. Habit-building is a process, but here are steps for how to develop a daily writing habit that will help you build a routine that you can sustain for years to come.
- 1 Choose a spot
- 2 Shut out all distractions to start
- 3 Set a realistic daily word count
- 4 Plan ahead
- 5 Start writing at the same time every day
- 6 Try word sprints
- 7 Find a writing buddy
- 8 Force yourself to write by hand
- 9 Take breaks
- 10 Reward yourself for consistency
- 11 Treat writing as a job
- 12 Join the Commaful Storytelling Community
Choose a spot
When you sit down to write every day, you don’t need a 24-karat gold laptop case, pitch-perfect lighting, and a costly ergonomic chair. And you don’t need to work in a trendy boutique hotel. Just find a quiet place with a comfortable chair. Avoid a desk with a computer. You want to encourage your creativity, not worry about email, social media, and the myriad other distractions that come with a computer.
Yes, there’s a lot of written material out there about what kind of chair or computer or lighting the greats used in their daily writing. Ignore it. You should probably have plenty of time and money to buy what you need. But you don’t have the luxury of unlimited time, energy, will, or focus. What you need is the best place you can keep, and spend fewer dollars for it.
The point is to make it as comfortable and easy as possible. Write wherever you want. You don’t have to worry about interruptions or distractions or other creative issues if your office is a hot dog stand. But you do need to promise yourself that you’re going to write.
Shut out all distractions to start
Developing a writing routine means dropping the habits and activities that distract you from writing. For some, this will be simple – if you keep your computer in a different room, or if you turn off your cell phone when you’re beginning, for example, you can minimize distractions quite a bit more easily than if you were carrying out those same activities right next to where you write. For others, this will be harder – are you heavily vested in social media, for example?
A slowly-growing habit of writing might be more effective than thinking of your daily writing session as a big checklist of items you must get through – are you settled and focused enough to write the next scene by the time your allocated time slot is up? If not, give it five more minutes.
But regardless of how much time you have in your writing session, you should be critical of yourself – does your mind immediately start to wander if you try to sit and write for five minutes? If that’s the case, do something else you can do for five minutes, and try again. Are you distracted by self-doubt, or by bad thoughts that you simply must get into your writing document immediately, or by the urge to start rapidly reading over your document or an old chapter? Once you’ve managed to lower those distractions, it’s time to get to work.
Set a realistic daily word count
In order to make writing a daily habit, you have to make it easy for yourself to commit. A good way to do that is to develop a daily writing quota, and set a realistic expectation for what you can do. This basic formula will ensure that you write every day, but don’t try to do too little, either. Chances are, you need to write around 1,000 words per day to stay on target, and if you’re battling through resistance to write that much, there’s a good chance you’ll give up.
A good way to set that quota is to divide up your writing time into individual sessions of 30 minutes or an hour, set your timer on your computer, and try your best to stay focused all the way through. Quite often, writers get distracted by the Internet or start thinking about other things while writing. To prevent this, avoid writing your quota outside your scheduled writing session.
Decide when you’re going to write. Make sure that your goals justify the amount of time, effort, and scheduling disruption that daily writing will require. If you’re a full-time employee, you may need to devote a few hours in the morning before work begins, or on your lunch break. To create the solid time structure you’re after, blocking out regular times to write is essential. Also, you need a spot you can call your very own, where, as much as possible, you won’t face distractions.
Create a rock solid writing schedule. Next step, check your schedule, and decide on a time that really works for you. If you already know a time in your day for work, this is ideal. If not, acknowledge that being a professional writer may require you to make sacrifices. Over time, you may be willing to take on more clients and make further changes to your schedule, but you need to take it slowly at first. And keep in mind, 15 minutes can be “not enough for anything” if you don’t write consistently. Ten minutes, on the other hand, might be more manageable, then work your way up.
Start writing at the same time every day
Choose a relatively stable time of day during which your entire day will not be affected. For example, don’t choose first thing in the morning, because you may sleep through your alarm, or you may be flooded with emails and phone calls early in the day. Early in the evening is likewise risky, as you may run late or feel the need to delay bedtime activities such as getting your kids to bed. Aim for a slot between late morning and lunch, when your day has just begun and before urgent requirements start taking over. You can restart the habit by saying to yourself that at such-and-such time, you will write. Say it out loud, if it helps you to start thinking of it as real rather than just a good idea. But the key is to make setting a writing time before starting to write a habit.
Try word sprints
One recurring problem for writers is feeling paralyzed by the size of a writing project that looms ahead of them, often leading to inaction or procrastination. A great way to write every day is to set a small sprint for yourself. For example, rather than making it your goal to fill up a workbook full of writing prompts, set aside twenty minutes a day and see how much writing you can do within the time limit. Better yet, allow yourself one writing sprint a day and see if you can keep up the habit! Just remember to return to your daily writing sprint the next day when it’s time to get your writing done.
One of the gifts of writing sprints is their consistency. If you have the habit of doing your sprints the same time every day and in the same place, you’ll find it much easier to develop the habit of writing every day. Some sprints you might choose to write at home, or at the library, while others might require that you go to a cafe. Make it a point to keep your writing materials in the same place every day, and keep showing up until the habit becomes a habit. And when it does, you can always adjust the amount of time you do your sprints each day.
Find a writing buddy
We’re sure you know someone who writes every day. They’re probably making writing a habit, and running a successful blog, book, or other piece of art as a result. If you can’t find someone close by, you may have to settle for social media. Virtual friends can be ideal writing buddies — you don’t have to hope they actually answer your emails, and you can share resources and advice that aren’t limited by your real-life schedule. How you find your writing buddy doesn’t matter as much as the fact that they exist for you. If you start to slack off from your writing every day, or need a little inspiration, you can ask them for their support. Your writing buddy won’t judge you if you miss a few days — or a week — and they can help pick you up after a few rejections.
While you may not know someone who routinely writes every day, chances are you know someone who writes well. Be it a poet, songwriter, blogger, or another writer, go to them for advice and tips on how to be successful as a DIY-writer. This is also a good opportunity to kick off the concept of writing buddies. Your peers will be great sources of encouragement as well as able to point out your bad habits, and give you advice on how to change them. Whether it’s just an email correspondence, or a writing group of actual, live people, this support is key to developing a writing habit of your own.
Force yourself to write by hand
Nothing beats digital tools to help you get in the writing habit, but sometimes that habit can lose steam over time. One easy fix for a flagging fondness for writing is to reintroduce — or to begin — writing by hand. Hand-writing your thoughts may feel like a hipster affectation, but if you’re looking for a way to bring your love of writing into your every day, then there’s no better way than rethinking how and where you put character to paper.
Hand-writing your daily ideas won’t just keep you in touch with your creative side, it will also help those ideas come into fruition. Feel free to be obsessive — keep writing words by hand, and after you’ve finished your to-do lists, crazier projects will rise to the surface, gradually lifting you out of the rut of mundanity.
When you’re writing, you’re bound to get distracted, and even fatigued at times. While a good way to tackle this problem is to build up your work ethic and discipline through sheer force of will, it’s more effective to incorporate breaks into your writing schedule. A break can be as simple as taking a ten-minute walk around the block, but as long as it was enough to make you forget about the task you were working on — that’s enough. Breaks can even be multiple, but it’s more effective to get a lot of short breaks rather than one long one. Only incorporate short breaks, because longer breaks can significantly decrease your motivation to continue working afterwards — they reaffirm that it’s not time to write, even though it’s time to write.
Writer’s block is a complicated phenomenon. Taking breaks can help you avoid getting stuck, but when it comes right down to it, that feeling of short shelf-life that makes it feel like “you don’t have enough time to do this” is often not a sign that you’re unprepared — it’s a feeling you can reprogram with routines and focusing, instead of worrying. By committing yourself to a writing schedule that includes multiple breaks throughout the day, you can significantly reduce your stress about not getting everything done that day, because you know there will be time to finish it tomorrow and the next day. The guilt about what took you too long, or what you didn’t get done, will become a thing of the past.
Reward yourself for consistency
Consistency is key in forming a writing habit. Research has shown that the most important factor in keeping up habits — including healthy ones such as exercise — is the reward after you’ve gone to all the trouble to do them. That’s how it is with writing. You can choose whatever motivators work best for you, but you need to reward yourself for doing your writing. No matter how small the doses you give yourself, resist the temptation to blow it all off in one go. It’s the small steps — consistency — that you need to focus on to see real success. The sooner you write, the more you write, the easier it will be to keep going.
Reward yourself when you’ve finished, but start small. Setting a big goal you know you can’t reach won’t motivate you — you’ll just end up giving up before you even start. While you might start out hoping to write every day, give yourself the mental space to adjust your goals along the way. Forcing yourself to meet a certain word count on Day 3 won’t inspire you to meet your best writing day, so focus first on batching writing time. Set achievable goals and consistently meet them. When you’re satisfied, work up to bigger quotas slowly, not all at once. Schedule your daily writing a few times a week, for instance, until you feel happy writing pretty much every day. The best writing habits aren’t set in stone — they’re flexible.
Treat writing as a job
Your relationship with writing has to be akin to your relationship with your most important job. If it isn’t, then you’re never going to get your writing done. This means that your time for writing has to come first — never sacrifice it for some other chore. Once you’ve carved out the time, use it wisely. Avoid distractions like Facebook and games, and if you can’t do that, set an internet blocker to keep you away from them. Find the one that works for you. Finally, treat your writing sessions like you would a job. If you were the boss and you knew someone was slacking, you’d likely call them out on it. That’s what you need to do to finish your writing. Respect your time, and it will pay off in the long run. Remember, respect breeds respect.
It seems strange to believe that you ever could go from a place of no writing at all to write 1000 words a day consistently — even more, that you could do it for the rest of your life. That’s how it’s going to feel at the outset. The key to action is to focus on the process and enjoy writing the words, even if at first they come slowly. This isn’t about daily word count, but about daily writing, and about doing your writing habit every day, even if you don’t have a lot of time to do it in. So, give it a try!
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