How to develop a rock-solid writing habit

Reading time: Less than 3 minutes

Establishing the writing habit will pay you big dividends into the future. It doesn’t matter how many words you produce each day. What matters is that you DO it….

When you read the subject line to this post perhaps, you thought, “Nah, it’s summer. I’m taking some time to relax and enjoy the beach. I’ll get serious about writing in the fall.” (I realize you don’t have this excuse if you live in the Southern Hemisphere, but stay with me. I’ll be addressing your concerns, too.)

And, just for the record, I’m a big believer in vacations. In fact, I’ll be out of town when you’re reading this post. But I didn’t let holidays get in the way of establishing my writing habit. And you shouldn’t either. Here are four reasons why you might want to work to turn your writing into a habit rather than a goal:

1-Habits are relatively easy to maintain. Once you’ve established the habit of brushing your teeth before bedtime, for example, you don’t likely have to argue with yourself about the merits of doing it. You just do it. The same can be true of writing.

2-Habits require time, but they don’t demand willpower. As researcher Roy Baumeister has demonstrated, willpower wears out each day.  You wake up with lots of it, but the willpower dribbles away as the day wears on, like sand running through an egg-timer. But if you’ve established a habit, you don’t need to exercise your willpower (and you can save that commodity for something else).

3-Habits can be small. If you have a big goal (for example, I want to improve my fitness), you can create a super small habit that’s really easy to maintain. (For example, I do the plank for one minute every morning.)

4-Habits can last a lifetime. Research by writer Charles Duhigg, author of the excellent book The Power of Habit, reveals that habits make up 40 percent of our waking hours. Don’t let mundane habits — like brushing your teeth or making your bed — reap all the glory. Instead, ensure that a few of your habits help you achieve your most important goals.

So, the question remains, how do you set up a writing habit? I’m glad you asked!

  • Start right now. It doesn’t matter whether it’s summer or fall. There’s no magic associated with the changing of the year. A habit is a habit. If you want to write, start today.
  • Set a daily goal. This goal can be the amount of time you want to spend writing, or it can be the number of words you want to produce. Ignore those lists showing that Stephen King writes 2,000 words per day. In fact, if you’re just beginning, start small. Really small. I’ve worked with dozens of writers in my Get It Done program and some of them start with as little as five minutes. There is no shame in starting small. The only shame is in not starting. 
  • Identify your best writing time. There is no magic with being a morning lark or a night owl. Don’t believe the people who tell you to wake up at 5 am to write. (Unless you’re already a morning person. Then, and only then, it might be a good idea.) Instead, figure out what time will work for you. This habit is one you want to build for a lifetime. Make sure you’re happy with the timing and be certain you’re going to be able to continue doing it over the long haul.
  • Write, even when you don’t feel like it. NEWS FLASH: There will be days when you don’t feel like writing. Ignore those feelings. Being able to put your unhappiness and doubt aside — while you continue to do the work — is what separates the professional from the dilettante. Understand that you are not committing to being a great writer every day. You are committing to writing.
  • Give yourself some signs that you are writing. I write in 30-minute bursts, to the sound of a ticking clock. (I use the Pomodoro method.) I write in the same place and at the same computer. Further, I do my personal email and social media on my laptop, in a different room, so I am never tempted to fall into the pit of socializing while writing. You don’t have to follow my example, but develop your own symbols to yourself that you’re engaging in the writing habit.
  • Reward yourself. Our society doesn’t offer nearly enough rewards. For this reason, you’ll need to honour yourself. You can do this with time (watching Netflix or browsing Facebook, perhaps) or with money (buying yourself a latte, an ice cream or a magazine) when you’ve maintained your habit. Start with making the reward daily and gradually tail off, so you reward yourself weekly or monthly.

I imagine this project sounds rather mundane, as indeed most habits are. No matter. If you want to be a writer, you need the habit of writing. Doing it daily for a short amount of time is far more worthwhile than doing it irregularly. Or not doing it at all.

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My video podcast last week answered a reader question about the meaning of STET.  Please consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email, daphne@publicationcoach.com  Twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.

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Do you have your own writing habit? What do you do to make it work? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section, below. And congratulations to Jim Homme, the winner of this month’s book prize, Business Writing and Communication by Kenneth W. Davis for a July 18/17 comment on my blog. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Aug. 31/17 will be put into a draw for a copy of  The Email Warrior,  by Ann Gomez. To leave your comment, please, scroll down to the section, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest.

 

Posted August 1st, 2017 in Power Writing

  • This is a very timely post. I’m currently reading the Writers Productivity Crash Course by Nicholas Eric. It’s on Amazon and I think it’s free. It really expands on the ideas that you talked about above in your post.

  • Alexandra Graßler

    To establish a writing habit is one of my biggest struggles. I guess I’m not the only one who is writing differently with my pen vs with my laptop. And I don’t want to fix myself to one of the solutions. But to establish an ongoing routine I feel I have to. But maybe that’s an excuse. I’m not sure. What are you thoughts about this? Do you always write with you laptop?

    Thanks in advance and greetings from Germany 😉
    Alexandra

    • I remember switching from writing by hand to writing on a computer. It took me about three months to feel comfortable, but, once I did, it was transformative! You can write so much faster on a keyboard. In any case, I think establishing the HABIT is the most important part, so start with that first. If you find it easier to write with a pen and paper, then do it that way. Once you have the habit established, you can make the transition to keyboard later.

  • Jagadish Kumar

    I am thinking about rewarding myself while writing by seeing and replying messages on my Whats-app.

  • aurore

    Hi Daphné,
    Actually I never managed to settle a lasting Writting Habits.
    When you speak abt writing habit, is it only Writing or does it includes research and mapping?
    I cannot write without a mind map…And quite often I spend my writing time in research and mapping. ….And I do not write 🙁
    Have nice holidays.
    Aurore, your French fan.

    • It’s true, you usually cannot write without doing some research first. But the secret is not to regard research time as your writing time. I think you might need to use a timer for all three steps in the writing process. Allow yourself the MOST time for researching and the LEAST time for mindmapping (5 minutes should be enough) and a moderate amount of time for writing (say, 15 minutes?) Safeguard this writing time as if you are a mother bear protecting a cub!!!

      • Aurore

        Thanks for your answer, Daphné!
        When you have a big day such as giving a training for 10 hours or travelling a lot and giving conférences, do you still keep your Writting time ?
        Actually, I’m a trainer and, sometimes, I have 3 àr 4 days of training per week and it takes me a lot of energy and I just cannot sit and write as I’m exhausted (and before training, I need to concentate to be fully available for my trainees).
        I know…It’s an excuse !!

        “as if you are a mother bear protecting a cub!!!” , I love this image 😉

        • Aurore, as a trainer you are lucky enough to understand the value of practice! (Musicians fall into the same category.) Writing is no different. You need to safeguard the time for it. I do this by writing first thing in the morning (I don’t get up any earlier than normal to do this; writing is simply the first thing I do.) Actually, now that I think about it, writing is the SECOND thing I do, because I do my back exercises first. I know you want to be fully available to your trainees but if writing is important to you, then I suggest you find a way to work it into your day, first thing, before you become too tired..

  • LJ

    Maybe everyone already knows this who uses a Mac–but I went under their ApStore and bought T-timer–think it’s free but not sure. It’s now on my laptop task bar and can be set for certain number of minutes. I’ve tried using timer on my iphone but too distracting and/or the microwave timer in kitchen but hassle to walk back and forth. We’ll see how this technique works. Thanks for reminder!

    • I’m on a Mac as well although I’ve never heard of the T-timer, so I don’t know how it operates. One thing I’d urge you to keep in mind is that “noisy” timers (ones that make the tick-tock sound as they operate) are more effective than silent ones.

      • LJ

        Do you have a make that you’re happy with?

        • I do but I’m on holiday now and don’t have it with me (and can’t remember the name.) Back home this weekend and will post it then.

  • bvgm

    I loved the quote of “habits require time, but they do not demand willpower”. I think what has worked best for me is that I have developed the habit of putting a Pomodoro timer to write. Once I pass the 20-minute mark in the timer, I’m on a roll. If I ever I start without the Pomodoro timer it feels weird; the power of a habit!

  • Wendy Kalman

    There’s a group called Tiny Habits which gets you to create them and stick to them, usually by attaching them to other things you already do. It’s a nifty way to try an work things into your daily routine. http://tinyhabits.com