How to Write Smarter: 5 Basic Steps to Create a Writing Habit
If you want to get more writing done or improve your skills, there's no easier way than by creating a writing habit.
If you're starting out in the writing world or recently suffered from a dry spell, making a conscious effort to sit and put words down seems like a monumental overtaking.
But if you're anything like me, you probably procrastinate. I'm infamous for procrasti-cleaning my home, double-checking emails, and twittering before I write.
My point is that writing takes serious effort and concentration, even for seasoned pros. Over the years, I've learned a few tricks to making writing more comfortable. The biggest tip I've found yet is to create a daily writing habit.
No one obtains major goals overnight with nothing more than well wishes. Practice is how you can check off large projects from your to-do list with ease and reach your goals in no time.
Plus, it's much easier to get into your writing if it's fresh in your brain.
With a daily writing habit, you can practice without much effort too. Time will fly by while your skills improve, and you won't even notice.
Below you'll find my five necessary steps to create a writing habit so you can write smarter, not harder. Use these writing tips to create a pattern and stick with it - the easy way.
The same information goes for molding any habit you hope to initiate into your life, even though the specific scenarios I use are specific to writing.
1. Write a Little Each Day
Yes, every. single. day. Or, at least most days.
Since I realized the importance of writing habits, I started to write most days. I always take Sunday off. However, many famous writers claim you should write a little bit every single day.
Stephen King, for example, is well-known for writing daily. He claims in his memoir On Writing to have a goal of six pages per day. He says, "When I'm working, I work every day, three, four hours. I try to get those six pages, and I try to get them fairly clean."
How can you write a little each day? Set real, obtainable writing goals for yourself.
You may want to reach a certain number of words per day or write for a couple of hours each morning. Some people, like Stephen King, prefer to go after a certain amount of pages. Or, maybe your goal is more along the lines of boosting your vocabulary or dialogue.
Whatever you choose, write down your goal and create a plan to reach your goal. Break it down into small sections, thinking about what you can realistically get done each day.
For example, I start my writing days by focusing on my WIP for an hour. Even though I write for a living, beginning with a personal project allows me to focus on my mystery novel-writing goals before I get to work (and way before the end of a long work week makes words become mush in my brain).
The main thing is to write often. A daily action will become an established piece of your routine quickly, which can help you build momentum, motivation, and reach your project goals faster.
Bonus: Even if you have days where you fall ill, get too busy, or feel burnt out, writing a single sentence each day is enough. Keep a notebook or note section on your phone for the ideas that pop up while you're on-the-go.
2. Stick to a Schedule
By sitting down to write at the same time each day, your body forms the habit much faster. You no longer need to consider when you'll sit down to write, and nothing can come up to make you postpone your designated writing time if you write first thing each day.
At first, it may feel like work to make yourself write at a specific time each day, but after a while, it naturally happens, as if by magic.
Many writers, myself included, find the process of writing more effortless in the morning. After a good night's sleep, I rise with a fresh cup of coffee and a well of ideas teeming in my brain.
Research from Grammarly even shows that early birds (who write between 4 am and 8 am) tend to make fewer writing mistakes. Early birds don't just make fewer mistakes during the early hours of the day. They make the fewest mistakes after lunch and clear until 5 pm, compared to night owls.
That said, don't feel like the only way to meet your goals is to write in the morning. Everyone is different. Some people are much more productive in the afternoon or evening. Keep your needs in mind and work with what works best for you.
If you're feeling particularly motivated and don't have anything else to do, don't worry about sticking to your time slot. You can always write more each day. Write as often as you can to reach your goals faster or make sure you stay on track.
Bonus: A trigger can help you remember when it's time to start writing. For example, I get up in the morning and brew coffee. Making coffee is the trigger that tells me it's time to write next. Whatever trigger you choose, make sure it's something you know you do every day and can writer afterward without exception.
3. Repeat for Over Three Months
Now you must commit. Keep writing as often as you can for at least two to three months.
Contrary to claims that habit formation takes place after 21 days, science shows that writing a little each day becomes a habit after around three months for most people.
A study published from the European Journal of Social Psychology found a new behavior becomes a habit after an average of 66 days. The number can fluctuate more or less for various individuals.
Habit formation is different for everyone.
However, if you complete the same task each day at the same time for at least three months, you may notice you start to run on autopilot. Your hands will immediately reach for the keys and begin typing away before your brain even makes a conscious decision to get to work.
Bonus: Give yourself a three-month goal and reward yourself when you reach the three-month mark. Announce your plans/objectives to friends and family to help you stay on track. When you enter three months, let your social media following share in your accomplishment. Rewards are perfect motivators as well, so give yourself a small treat as you build the habit.
4. Hold Yourself Accountable
For a writing habit to form, you must make sure you actually write. Hold yourself accountable each day. It's up to you to reach your goals. No one else can do it for you.
Keep a log of your daily work to track your new habit. All you have to do is mark each day you write on your calendar. Serious writers may keep a spreadsheet with daily writing goals as well as the time, date, and any other notes.
In fact, my printable planner for writers includes a log to help hold yourself accountable.
Online forums are another excellent way you can consistently log details about your writing habit while you're starting out. After a while, you may want to maintain the practice only because it helps you manage your thoughts with every WIP.
Whichever way you want to track your habit, the important part is to maintain consistency. No exceptions.
Remember that mistakes happen too. Don't beat yourself up when you make a mistake. However, allowing yourself to make an exception every time you skip your designated writing time can lead to the opposite behavior than you're trying to initiate.
Bonus: Just keep going. One day at a time.
5. Use Motivational Reminders
Over time, staying motivated is challenging for many writers. If this is you, I find the best motivation is through inspiration.
Inspiration comes in many forms.
You may want to complete some reconnaissance reading before you start a new writing project or take notes on your subject to help you form ideas. Research can also help you later if you start to lose your motivation.
People often ask me how I handle writing every single day for a living and still have creativity for fun side projects.
My trick is that I find inspiration through my daily reading habits. Reading consistently fuels my writing motivation, so I don't feel drained every day. The more books I read, the more I can create.
Think about what motivates you. Consider your reasons for writing as well. Dig deep.
What makes you want to write? What reasons do you have to share your story? What do you hope to change or affect? What helps you feel motivated to write? What can help you hold onto this feeling?
Write down your answers to all these tough questions and refer to them each time you need a pick-me-up or don't feel like writing.
Bonus: Visualize what may happen when you reach your goal and post a photo of your goal someplace you can see it each time you sit down to write. Visible goals can help you find motivation and remember the actualities that come with meeting your goals.
Writing Habits Are Similar to Any Type of Habit Formation
Think about creating a writing habit for yourself like you would anything else, such as running. You can't jump up one day and run a 5k marathon, but you can start right now.
You can run a block, then two blocks tomorrow. Before you know it, you can run miles. The more you train and run, the more your skills improve over time.
Writing is the same.
You can improve your writing and start to accomplish more in a shorter amount of time by setting daily goals and making sure you stick to them.
As you go, you'll learn new techniques, literary devices, and vocabulary words to boost your skills. And before you know it, you'll become a better, more influential writer altogether.
Are you still struggling? Make sure you're not trying to accomplish too much too fast. Be patient and allow time to reach mini-goals, building up to larger projects.
Whatever you do, don't give up. You got this.
And I'm always here to help remind you. If you need me, check out my services or ask for a quote.