Monday, May 7, 2012

Developing a Daily Writing Habit

So.  You want to be a writer.  The bad news about that is that now you're actually going to have to sit down and write.  But that's easy.  You'll just sit down at your computer tomorrow morning and write for the next six hours or so.  And you start to do that, but then the phone rings, or you are gripped by a burning desire to check your email or Facebook or Twitter or whatever, or your cat walks across your keyboard, or your kid or significant other or room-mate or parent or arch-enemy demands your attention, or an alien spacecraft lands in your front yard, or...  You know how it goes.  Suddenly, it becomes easier to do just about anything other than actually write.  And the next day is much the same.  Soon, you feel so guilty about not writing that just thinking about writing becomes painful.  The solution?  You need to develop a daily writing habit, easily and painlessly.

I've been focusing on developing my own daily writing habit over the last few weeks, and I've already learned quite a few important lessons, from past mistakes, from what I'm doing differently this time, and from the excellent Zen Habits blog, an excellent resource if you're looking to develop any new habit in your life.  Here are the basics of developing a daily writing habit.  I've been following these three simple steps myself and so far, they have worked amazingly.

  1. Start small.  Sure, you want to be able to write for an hour or more everyday, but chances are you won't be able to maintain that habit for long because it will just be too much, too soon.  A better method is to start with just 5 minutes a day and gradually increase that time.  I've been adding 5 minutes a week, but you could do whatever works for you.  Not only does this help you to develop a habit that is easy to maintain, it also creates the desire to write for longer periods, which is a positive feeling that will keep you motivated.  When I was writing for only 5 minutes a day, I felt very limited by what I could write in that short time, and so, instead of dreading to force myself to write for an hour every day, I was looking forward to writing for 10 and 15 minutes a day.  Today, I wrote 580 words in 15 minutes; if I maintained that rate for an hour every day, that would be 2320 words a day and 846,800 words in a year!  My goal is to work up to an hour a day in two 30-minute session, but right now I'm still at 15 minutes.   (And even only 15 minutes a day would still give 211,700 words in a year!)
  2. Don't commit to writing at a specific time of the day, because schedules change, but tie your writing habit to another daily habit that is already established.  You could decide to commit to writing every day at 10AM, but what if one day you sleep in or you have an important appointment then?  Your schedule will be disrupted and you may very well end up not writing at all.  Instead, tie your writing habit to another habit, one that you already do everyday without fail, such as getting up, going to bed, eating a meal, brushing your teeth, etc.  Write just before you go to bed or as soon as you wake up.  Write right after breakfast or just before lunch.  Instead of turning on the TV right away in the evening, write for 5 minutes first and then turn it on.  I currently write for 15 minutes as soon as I turn my computer on after breakfast.  I don't eat breakfast or turn my computer on at the exact same time every day, but I still do those things every day.  The advantage of this is that not only is it easier to fit writing into your schedule, but also you will be less likely to forget to write, since one habit will remind you of the other.
  3. Finally, if you miss a day (for whatever reason), don't worry about it, and just move on.  You'll probably miss a day now and then.  This is perfectly all right.  But don't feel guilty about it or allow your guilt to prevent you from getting back to your habit the next day.  Also, don't feel that you have to "catch up" if you miss a day.  If you miss one day of writing for 10 minutes, don't try to write for 20 minutes the next day to catch up.  That will just increase your stress and make it harder for you to motivate yourself to write the next day.  If you miss a day, just acknowledge it and then move on.  However, if you find yourself missing many days, take a closer look at what you're doing and see if some changes are necessary.  Are you trying to do too much?  Do you keep forgetting?  Are you trying to write in the evenings but you're finding that you're too tired to even think straight then?  Make adjustments, and try it that way for a week.  If even 5 minutes seems like too long, try writing for just 2 minutes.  Or commit to writing just one sentence a day.  Maybe that one sentence will turn into ten sentences.  Or maybe it won't - but at least you'll have one more sentence than you had yesterday.  The important part is developing the habit of writing daily, however small it is.

As I mentioned earlier, I've been following these three steps for the last few weeks and have been very successful with them.  Not only have I been writing every day, I have been enjoying it as well and feeling good about myself for not just saying that I want to be a writer, but actually writing!

What do you do to get yourself writing daily?


  1. Good advice. As Paul Simon advised in a song, if you wish to become a writer, use "a humble pen."

  2. Thanks for the tips! I am currently writing my thesis, and these tips will come in handy! Since I take longer than average to finish up, I usually chug along. Instead of writing for a certain period time, I usually set numbers of page as a goal, and increase increment as I go.

  3. I agree, great tips!
    My rule? I feel I owe it to myself to write every day. When you love smoking you smoke a lot each day...well, I love writing, so I allow myself to write. When it's a habit it becomes something you miss when you skip one or two days. I NEED to write to function properly!



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