It’s one thing to call yourself a writer and quite another to actually write. So what separates the pros from the amateurs? Is it God-given talent? Natural skill? Or something else?
Listen to the audio version of this essay here:
Is writing a discipline?
Something I often hear writers say is they’d like to write more frequently but lack the discipline. But is this true? It raises an important question: Is writing a discipline or a habit?
The definition of a discipline is:
The practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience.
Wow. Does that sound fun or what? This, however, epitomizes the way many writers treat their craft. They subject themselves to a set of rules, and when they break those rules (i.e. not writing every day), they punish themselves. Can you relate? I sure can.
Contrast that definition with that of a habit:
A settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.
Now, imagine that. Imagine that your writing was so ingrained into your daily set of practices that it was hard to give up. Not something you had to force yourself to do for fear of punishment, but rather something that you enjoyed so much it was difficult to avoid. I submit to you that this is a choice. You can choose to treat your writing like a discipline, another daily chore to be endured, or as a privilege that it is. You can write for the love of it, not the dread of it. You can write a little bit today, just because you enjoy it. Then, do the same tomorrow.
This is what real writers do: they write every single day. Don’t worry about that now, though. Just concentrate on what you will write today. Before you know it, you will have created a habit. A writing habit. One that is hard to give up.
But you still have to work
With that said, don’t get any funny ideas in your head about writing being some kind of mystical process that doesn’t require effort on your part. Forming a daily writing habit isn’t easy. It forces you to give up your misconceptions about writing and embrace the truth. This takes work.
Of course, we all have skills we’ve inherited and opportunities we didn’t deserve. But what we do with these gifts and opportunities is what separates the outliers from the rest of the pack. The difference between a professional and an amateur is simple — it’s practice. The amateur quits; the pro never gives up.
That sounds a lot easier than it is. So how do you get up every day and write? This is the question that plagues those of us who struggle to stay motivated in our creative lives. We know we have something to say. We’re just not sure how to say it. Fear is often what holds us back. The solution, though, is not beat the fear but to trick it. To outsmart fear.
You do this by forming a habit of writing every day. Do it so frequently that you don’t even have to think about it, so much that your brain doesn’t have time to feel fear. That’s what the pros do. They don’t beat the fear or fight through it; they do the thing afraid. And it’s what you and I must do, too, if we’re going to get serious about our craft.
3 steps to starting a daily writing habit
So here’s how it works. There are three steps, I’ve found, to starting a daily writing habit.
- Pick a space. You need an environment that is conducive to your writing. It can be your dining room table or a desk, even the couch. But the idea is that this is special, sacred even. It’s where inspiration happens. Try to set it apart.
- Set a time. It can be 5am or 11:30pm. Whatever it is, just try to make it consistent. You need to show up every day at this time and put your butt in the chair. It doesn’t matter if you have any idea what you’re going to write; until you commit to a time, you will never get into a daily rhythm of writing.
- Choose a goal. This can be a hundred words or ten thousand. Whatever it is, give yourself grace. Hemingway was renowned for writing 1500 words one day and 300 the next. In my experience, anything from 300-1000 is sufficient to forming a writing habit. I try to shoot for 500.
Do this over and over and over again, as often as you can. If it helps, join the My 500 Words 30-day writing challenge. Within months, you’ll be surprised how much easier writing comes to you.
Sounds good, right? But, you might be thinking, “What if I don’t know what to write?” Great question. Here’s the answer: It doesn’t matter. Write anyway. If you haven’t formed a habit yet, your writing probably isn’t that good. That’s fine. Expected, even. All you’re trying to do is show up, to be consistent enough to start practicing and get good. Still, if you need a prompt or two, here are some ideas:
- Write about your surroundings.
- Write about what you did today.
- Write a section of a chapter to that book you’ve been working on.
- Write a letter to your kids… or one to yourself.
- Write anything!
I’m not kidding when I say what you write about doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t. At the end of the day, there is one box you need to check, and it reads:
“Have I written?”
If you missed your word count, blew your scheduled time, and wrote a bunch of malarkey — but you still get to check “yes” — then consider the day a success. Get up tomorrow and do it again. The goal is to just get going and to get better and more consistent as we go. You can do this. Good luck. Remember: It’s one thing to call yourself a writer; it’s quite another to actually write. Do the latter.
Other writing resources
- Why you need to write every day
- How a daily writing habit makes you better
- The Secret to Developing a Regular Writing Habit
Sign up for the My 500 Words Writing Challenge and get a prompt every day for a month to help you stay on track. Click here to get started.
Do you write every day? Why or why not? Share in the comments.
I was going to write three pages a day from Monday to Friday for six months. I wrote three pages on Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday I didn’t write because I forgot to sit down. On Thursday I didn’t write because I felt so bad about not writing on Wednesday. And on Friday I didn’t write because I felt so bad about not writing on Wednesday and Thursday.
I was crushed. I thought, I will never be a writer. I can’t do this.
Then I heard Shaunta Grimes from Ninja Writers speak at the Tribe Conference in Franklin, Tennessee. She has been writing for ten minutes a day for thirteen years. She asked, “What is the minimum amount of time you can write a day so you won’t skip, and you can develop a daily writing habit?”
Wow, thirteen years of writing daily. I don’t even remember to brush my teeth before I go to bed every night.
6 (Sort of) Easy Tips to Develop Daily Writing Habits
Writers write. If you want to write a book or a story, but you only write once a week, or on every second Sunday when the temperature is between 72 and 82 degrees, you will never finish your book or your story.
The goal is to have daily writing habits so you can finish your book, or the story you keep thinking and talking about. And when that book is finished, you can write another one and one after that.
You probably already have the habit of brushing your teeth, flushing the toilet, and closing the front door when you come home so the cat doesn’t get out. Here are tips to help you write daily so writing becomes a habit. A habit you don’t have to think about anymore: you just do it. Every day.
1. Set a small daily goal.
Shaunta Grimes sets a ten-minute daily writing goal. Often she writes much longer, but her minimum is ten minutes.
The point is not the end time. The point is starting.
Maybe your daily goal will be smaller. It might be you have to write one sentence a day to keep your daily writing habits.
2. Lower the barrier to start.
Leo Babauta, the founder of Zen Habits and a speaker at the Tribe conference, said about building a running habit, “Lower the barriers —you only have to lace up your shoes and get out the door.” We don’t have to run for five miles when we walk out the door; we might just walk around the block. And if our shoes are right next to the door, we don’t have to run around the house looking for them before we leave.
Applying this to writing, we only have to sit down and write. We don’t have to write perfectly. We don’t have to write a novel in one sitting. And if the pencil and paper are already on our desk when we wake up in the morning, it will be easy to sit down and write a few imperfect sentences.
Well . . . it will be easier.
If we make the goal too big, or if we hide our pencils in the bottom of our closets, we may never start. Set a low barrier so that you can start writing daily.
3. Don’t break the chain.
On your calendar write an X for every day you write. Keep your calendar where you can see it to remind yourself to not break the chain of X’s.
Or even better than writing an X, use a sticker. I am going to go and buy stickers today and keep my calendar on my desk. I have been writing for ten minutes a day for twelve days, but I almost forgot to write yesterday. A visual reminder will help.
Oh dear, you might think you can’t start writing daily because you can’t get to the store until next Tuesday to buy stickers. Lower your sticker barrier, and start with a handwritten X on your calendar.
Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens.
4. Write whenever you can.
I have read suggestions to write at the same time every day and in the same place. I tried that, but if I couldn’t write at the same time or in the same place, then I didn’t write. My brain started to tell me, “You can only write in one place at one time, and if you don’t write first thing in the morning you will never get it done.”
Keep a notebook and a pencil with you. You can scribble down thoughts or even complete sentences with an actual writing instrument; you don’t have to have a computer to write.
Write when you are waiting at the doctor’s office. Write when you are getting the oil in your car changed. Stop scrolling through Facebook and write, even for only ten minutes.
5. Get off social media.
What? You don’t want to get off social media. But you just told me you don’t have any time to write. Do you know how many times you check your email or scroll through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram? How many episodes of a television show did you watch this week?
Find time in your day to write by looking at where you spend your time. Every day I have to clean the seven litter boxes, but I could stop scrolling on Facebook as often as I do.
6. Just dig.
I know writing can be hard. Some days I would rather talk about writing or buy another book about writing, but then I read this quote by Cheryl Strayed about coal miners.
“Writing is hard. . . . Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They do not. They simply dig.”
Let’s dig into our writing. We are writers and we have a job to do. Let’s write.
What Should You Write?
We should stop at red traffic lights, brush our teeth so we don’t get cavities, and call our mothers on their birthdays. There are no should’s to what you should write. Except for the one my father told me before he died: “Remember to mail your birthday cards on time.”
You can write in your journal; you can write a story to submit to NPR; you can write every day on a novel. Shaunta Grimes said, “If you write ten minutes a day for 365 days, at the end of a year you will have a novel.”
Do you write every day? What do you do to create a daily writing habit? Let us know in the comments.
Today at the Write Practice we only have to write for ten minutes. Yes, I know, Joe Bunting, the founder of The Write Practice, has the practice time set at fifteen minutes. But, today, we are following the suggestion of Shaunta Grimes and Leo Babauta, and we are lowing the barrier. Today we will write for ten minutes.
And if you don’t have ten minutes today to write, write for five minutes. Yes, five.
Write on your work in progress, write for five minutes about bacon, or write a letter to your mom and tell her how much you love her. Set your timer for the minimum amount of time it will take you to start. If it’s five minutes, ten minutes, or fifteen minutes, please write today. Start a daily habit of writing today.
Please be kind and comment on someone’s practice after you share your own in the comments.
Founder of Zen Habits and expert in habits building and goals achieving. Read full profile
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Somewhere after “lose weight”, “stop procrastinating”, and “fall in love”, “read more” is one of the top goals that many people set for themselves. And rightly so: A good book can be hugely satisfying, can teach you about things beyond your daily horizons, and can create characters so vivid you feel as if you really know them.
If reading is a habit you’d like to get into, there are a number of ways to cultivate it.
First, realize that reading is highly enjoyable, if you have a good book. If you have a lousy book (or an extremely difficult one) and you are forcing yourself through it, it will seem like a chore. If this happens for several days in a row, consider abandoning the book and finding one that you’ll really love.
Other than that, try these tips to cultivate a lifetime reading habit:
- Set times. You should have a few set times during every day when you’ll read for at least 5-10 minutes. These are times that you will read no matter what — triggers that happen each day. For example, make it a habit to read during breakfast and lunch (and even dinner if you eat alone). And if you also read every time you’re sitting on the can, and when you go to bed, you now have four times a day when you read for 10 minutes each — or 40 minutes a day. That’s a great start, and by itself would be an excellent daily reading habit. But there’s more you can do.
- Always carry a book. Wherever you go, take a book with you. When I leave the house, I always make sure to have my drivers license, my keys and my book, at a minimum. The book stays with me in the car, and I take it into the office and to appointments and pretty much everywhere I go, unless I know I definitely won’t be reading (like at a movie). If there is a time when you have to wait (like at a doctor’s office or at the DMV), whip out your book and read. Great way to pass the time.
- Make a list. Keep a list of all the great books you want to read. You can keep this in your journal, in a pocket notebook, on your personal home page, on your personal wiki, wherever. Be sure to add to it whenever you hear about a good book, online or in person. Keep a running list, and cross out the ones you read. Tech trick: create a Gmail account for your book list, and email the address every time you hear about a good book. Now your inbox will be your reading list. When you’ve read a book, file it under “Done”. If you want, you can even reply to the message (to the same address) with notes about the book, and those will be in the same conversation thread, so now your Gmail account is your reading log too.
- Find a quiet place. Find a place in your home where you can sit in a comfortable chair (don’t lay down unless you’re going to sleep) and curl up with a good book without interruptions. There should be no television or computer near the chair to minimize distractions, and no music or noisy family members/roommates. If you don’t have a place like this, create one.
- Reduce television/Internet. If you really want to read more, try cutting back on TV or Internet consumption. This may be difficult for many people. Still, every minute you reduce of Internet/TV, you could use for reading. This could create hours of book reading time.
- Read to your kid. If you have children, you must, must read to them. Creating the reading habit in your kids is the best way to ensure they’ll be readers when they grow up … and it will help them to be successful in life as well. Find some great children’s books, and read to them. At the same time, you’re developing the reading habit in yourself … and spending some quality time with your child as well.
- Keep a log. Similar to the reading list, this log should have not only the title and author of the books you read, but the dates you start and finish them if possible. Even better, put a note next to each with your thoughts about the book. It is extremely satisfying to go back over the log after a couple of months to see all the great books you’ve read.
- Go to used book shops. My favorite place to go is a discount book store where I drop off all my old books (I usually take a couple of boxes of books) and get a big discount on used books I find in the store. I typically spend only a couple of dollars for a dozen or more books, so although I read a lot, books aren’t a major expense. And it is very fun to browse through the new books people have donated. Make your trip to a used book store a regular thing.
- Have a library day. Even cheaper than a used book shop is a library, of course. Make it a weekly trip.
- Read fun and compelling books. Find books that really grip you and keep you going. Even if they aren’t literary masterpieces, they make you want to read — and that’s the goal here. After you have cultivated the reading habit, you can move on to more difficult stuff, but for now, go for the fun, gripping stuff. Stephen King, John Grisham, Tom Clancy, Robert Ludlum, Nora Roberts, Sue Grafton, Dan Brown … all those popular authors are popular for a reason — they tell great stories. Other stuff you might like: Vonnegut, William Gibson, Douglas Adams, Nick Hornby, Trevanian, Ann Patchett, Terry Pratchett, Terry McMillan, F. Scott Fitzgerald. All excellent storytellers.
- Make it pleasurable. Make your reading time your favorite time of day. Have some good tea or coffee while you read, or another kind of treat. Get into a comfortable chair with a good blanket. Read during sunrise or sunset, or at the beach.
- Blog it. One of the best ways to form a habit is to put it on your blog. If you don’t have one, create one. It’s free. Have your family go there and give you book suggestions and comment on the ones you’re reading. It keeps you accountable for your goals.
- Set a high goal. Tell yourself that you want to read 50 books this year (or some other number like that). Then set about trying to accomplish it. Just be sure you’re still enjoying the reading though — don’t make it a rushed chore.
- Have a reading hour or reading day. If you turn off the TV or Internet in the evening, you could have a set hour (perhaps just after dinner) when you and maybe all the members of your family read each night. Or you could do a reading day, when you (and again, your other family members if you can get them to join you) read for practically the whole day. It’s super fun.
Have any tips for creating the reading habit? Or any favorite books or authors to share? Let us know in the comments!
Table of Contents
This is my third post in the “Break the Block” series where I have taken up the personal challenge to write 15 articles in 15 days. To read more about the challenge click this link: Break the Block: A 15-Day Writing Challenge and to read the first post this challenge series visit: Secrets of Writing Productivity: Understanding the Time Management Loop. To read the second post in the series visit: Managing Your Writing: 5 Tips for Serious Writers. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.
Successful writing comes from writing consistently, and consistency comes from having the right attitude towards daily writing. Nothing can beat it. Before we talk about how to develop a daily writing habit, let’s start by talking about developing the right attitude.
Why is Daily Writing Important
Ask yourself, why would you do something daily? We do it either because we love doing it (like a hobby) or because we may be forced to do it (like a boss breathing down your throat). So if you love writing, chances are that you will write daily even without being forced or told to do so. As the Greek philosopher, Aristotle puts it; “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.” As much as we may agree that a daily writing habit is important, we must also admit that developing a writing habit, does not come very easily. You have to consciously and consistently work to build a daily writing habit.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
Keep Writing Goals Realistic
Probably the most important tip is to be genuinely realistic about the writing goals you want to achieve. Often, in our excitement and spur of the moment, we make overambitious plans and beyond our immediate capabilities. Very soon, they turn out to be unrealistic, and we end up being frustrated and depressed. On the other hand, if we are realistic about our goals, we can move from one peak to the next, much more confidently. Consider, for instance, you are an aspiring writer wanting to write the next bestseller, but you haven’t been writing at all. If you decide all of a sudden that you want to start writing 5000 words each day from the next day onwards, you may probably be aiming beyond your realistic reach. On the other hand, if you decide that you will work 500 words each day, you are being genuinely realistic about your goals. The point here is to understand and decide what a realistic goal is. A goal is realistic if it pushes your limits slightly beyond your comfort zone. It should not turn out to be an overreach. If the goal you plan is unrealistic, much beyond your immediate capabilities, it will lead you back into the vicious cycle of procrastination and frustration. So always ensure that you keep your writing goals realistic.
Writing is Not Easy
Writing is not easy – neither it is for you, nor is it for the most seasoned professional writers. It is not as easy as binge-watching Netflix or YouTube. Forget writing, even reading is not easy. Why else do you think is the publishing industry not able to withstand the onslaught of television. Look around you and you will realize what I mean. It all depends on the number of senses that you are required to put to work. Your eyes are good enough to stay attentive for television, and your mind stays alert to the light and sound. Reading is a hell lot different. It requires you to be mentally alert, use your hands and your eyes. You have to be fully conscious about what you are reading, move forward with every word. Once you are distracted, you have to make double to effort to return to where you left. You will agree that writing is multiple notches above reading. Writing will never be easy. It shouldn’t be. As the American writer and literary critic, William Zinsser says; “Hard writing makes easy reading. Easy writing makes hard reading.” So don’t write every day in the hope that writing will someday become easy. It will not. Rather write daily with the assurance that the disciplined push you show today will soon make writing a habit.
Make Writing a Priority
How do you make writing a priority? To begin with, let’s be clear that it will not happen overnight. There will be times when you fail, but you have to stay committed enough to get up and start again and stay put. How do you manage the other priorities of your life? Say the demands of your day job. It may not be easy, but you still make time for it. You may have to reach office at a fixed time, so you rush to work because you don’t want to be late there. So the first step to making writing a priority is to find time to do it, daily and without fail. How do you decide, what is the ideal time to write? The fact is, there is no perfect time suitable to all. You have to decide your ideal time. Your decision must be based on your writing productivity, the other priorities of your life, and demands on your time. Once you decide a time, stick to it and do your writing for a period long enough for you to judge its efficacy. Be willing to change your schedule if you realize that your writing efficiency is not what you expect it to be. There is always scope for improvement. If you want to make writing a priority, you need to repeatedly experiment with yourself, your writing productivity, and your efficiency. Never, never allow yourself to become dormant.
When You Write, Write
When you write, write. Your writing time is not the time for you to do research, or read, or take notes. These activities are part of the writing universe, but you cannot allow them to eat into your writing time. Often we sit down to write and end up surfing the Internet or reading some related articles. We wittingly convince ourselves that it is part of our writing endeavour. Let me be the one breaking this bad news to you. It is not! Research does not mean you are writing, reading is definitely not writing, and note-taking is not a disguise for writing. These are all separate activities even though they are related to the overall writing process. So when you plan to write, focus on writing and not on allied tasks.
What you have read are four tips that will help to develop a shift in your attitude towards the process of writing. None of all this is going to be easy. It also means that you are bound to fail repeatedly. Your success will therefore depend on your ability to endure. To rise again, and try harder even after you fail.
Do you have a daily writing habit or are you trying to develop it? How did you develop it or what is your plan of action? Let us discuss in the comments below.
Table of Contents
Habits; psychologists say, are a set of routines that we carry out repeatedly without putting much thought to it. A major part of our daily life revolves around these set routines.
From walking in the morning to going to bed, these subconscious routines define how we carry on with our daily life. A 2002 study by habit researcher Wendy Wood and her colleagues found that about 43% of daily behaviors are performed out of habit.
“We find patterns of behavior that allow us to reach goals. We repeat what works, and when actions are repeated in a stable context, we form associations between cues and response,” Wendy Wood is reported to have explained at her session at the American Psychological Association’s 122nd Annual Convention.
Habitual behavior often goes unnoticed in persons exhibiting it, because a person does not need to engage in self-analysis when undertaking routine tasks. Habits are sometimes compulsory.
Why Developing Writing Habit is Difficult for Writers
Writers (particularly aspiring writers) tend to overthink the act and process of writing. We hear of writers having to force themselves to sit down to work, having to force the flow of words.
Yes, writing is a creative activity and some may argue that creativity cannot be slotted into a set routine or pattern. We are not sure when the muse will come calling. It is near impossible for us to decide when to write, what to write and how successful our writing efforts will be.
Writing as a writer is an elective task. Unless you are forced to write as part of your job, the writing that you do is your personal choice. If you have to force the process, you will tend to avoid the act of writing at all costs.
Why Writing Habits are Important for Writers
Creativity & the Muse argument notwithstanding, it is known that people with good habits tend to be successful than those who fail to establish good habits. It is a fact that has been established not only among writers but also among people of any professional or enterprise.
Among writers, habits are seen in the way they approach their daily writing routine. Good writing habits are a key differentiator in deciding how structured and organized your writing life can be.
Given this fact, it is important that as aspiring writers we focus on establishing good daily writing habits which will help us in progressing our writing life and career.
As Lao Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher and writer is credited to have said; “Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”
Top 5 Tips for Developing Your Daily Writing Habits
If you are wondering how you can develop a healthy daily writing habit, we have the top five tips for you to put into practice. Understand that it is difficult to break your old behavioral patterns, but it is possible.
We find it hard to break old habits and form new ones because the repeated patterns of our behavior become imprinted in our neural pathways.
To break old patterns and form new ones, we have to repeat new patterns of thought and action. In due course, new behaviors because automatic through such process of habit formation.
As Charles Duhigg, the Pulitzer-prize winning American journalist and non-fiction author of the Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, writes; “Change might not be fast and it isn’t always easy. But with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped.”
Develop the Discipline to Write Daily
Successful writers sit at their desk despite their fears and write every day. Like an aspiring writer, they feel the fear of the blank page, but they refuse to be bogged down by these fear. They approach the process of writing as their job and not as a hobby. Developing the discipline to write daily is one of the most important habits you need to focus on if you want to build writing into a long-term career.
Stop Waiting for Inspiration
Writers who wait for inspiration to write are not the ones who can develop successful writing careers. Waiting for inspiration is merely another form of procrastination. Professional writers, on the other hand, get to work day after day without waiting for inspiration. They get to their desk and let inspiration follow.
Write with Goals in Mind
Each day when you are at your desk you need what and why you are writing. Amateur writers fall into the trap of writing aimlessly with no sense of direction and purpose. Such writing is fine if you are journaling or if your purpose is to practice developing the habit of writing each day for a certain period of time. However, you cannot stay contented with such writing.
If you want to develop your writing professionally you need to know exactly what and why you are writing. If not for anything, start a blog. It is a good way to start the habit of professional writing.
Cultivate a Habit for Reading & Research
Without the habit of reading, you cannot expect to go far with your writing aspirations. Good writing comes from good reading habits. As Stephen King points out, “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.”
Build a daily reading habit. Reading will enable you to open your mind to new ideas and thoughts. The more you read the more you will realize a difference in the way ideas emerge.
As American writer and Nobel Prize laureate, William Faulkner puts it; “Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.”
Improvise your Note-taking Skills
Note-taking is an essential life-skill for writers to develop. Taking notes is vital for your development as a writer. Good writers are by default, good note-takers.
If you are a non-fiction writer, good note-taking skills can help you to understand and assimilate your research better. If you are a fiction writer, research and note-taking will help you to carry out realistic plotting of your scenes and characters.
Good note-taking helps you to assimilate your ideas better. It will help you to evaluate what you read and be receptive towards new ideas that emerge. If you are looking to develop your writing professionally, you also need to improvise your note-taking skills.
Have you succeeded in developing a daily writing habit? Do you agree with these are the top 5 tips for developing a daily writing habit? What do you do to sustain these habits? Do share your thoughts and experiences in the comments help. It will be a great help for other aspiring writers.
This is my fifteenth (and last) article in the “Break the Block” series where I have taken up the personal challenge to write 15 articles in 15 days. Oh! What a 15-day journey it has been. To read more about the challenge click this link: Break the Block: A 15-Day Writing Challenge.
To read the second post in the series visit: Managing Your Writing: 5 Tips for Serious Writers.
To read the third post in this series visit: Tips for Developing a Daily Writing Habit.
This is the year you become a writer. And what do writers do? They write, of course.
There’s nothing mystical or magical about it. You just have to show up and do the work: place butt in chair, fingers on keys, and start typing.
And this is where most people fail. They never actually write a word. They talk about writing, think about writing, even read about writing. But they do not write.
Bonus: Join my free, 31-day writing challenge and get a daily writing prompt for the next month. Click here to sign up.
How writing (really) happens
You told yourself last year was going to be different, that you were actually going to do NaNoWriMo this time. That you were going to work on that book or get back into blogging.
But none of that happened. Why? Because you attempted too much. You tried to eat the whole elephant in one bite. And that never works when it comes to writing.
I’d love to share my method for effective writing with you in a free video course. It will provide you with a framework to be consistent in your own writing.
Here’s what I know about writing: It happens in small bites. Step by step. One little chunk at a time.
You don’t write a whole book. You write sentences that turn into paragraphs. And paragraphs turn into sections that, then, turn into chapters.
In other words, it all begins with words.
You don’t control the outcome, just the process
I’m in the middle of writing my next book right now, and it’s scaring me to death. It feels so important, so audacious, that I’m locking up, completely paralyzed.
I don’t want to mess this up (it’s supposed to be the best thing I’ve written so far). And because of that fear I’m having trouble starting. So what do I do?
Do I try to write the whole thing in one sitting or keep fixating over the book concept? Do I continue obsessing over getting the table of contents just right or worry about what critics will think of this sentence or that paragraph?
No. I just get up and write my 500 words. Turns out, that’s all writing really is — showing up. Not worrying about the outcome, just honoring the process. (You may tweet that.)
This is all writing really is: showing up. Not worrying about the outcome, just honoring the process. http://t.co/eSVkNnNlRf
Join the 31-day challenge
500 words is short enough that you can usually find time to do it daily, and it’s long enough that if you stick to a schedule, you’ll have something substantial in no time.
It takes me anywhere from 30-60 minutes to write 500 words. And if I keep up with that pace, I’ve got a book in 90 days. That’s my plan for finishing my next book: 500 words per day, every day, until it’s done. And I want you to join me.
If you’ve ever wanted to develop a daily writing habit or need help getting back on the horse, then you’ll want to get in on this.
My 500 Words is a 31-day challenge designed to help you develop a daily writing habit and become a better writer.
For 31 days, we’ll be writing 500 words a day. These won’t be great words, but they will be written. We’re not trying to reach perfection; we’re just trying to get more ideas out of our heads and onto paper.
And if you want to be part of this, we can keep each other company.
- Write 500 words per day, every day for 31 days.
- You can write more if you want, but 500 words is the minimum.
- Don’t edit. Just write.
- If you miss a day, pick up where you left off. Don’t make up for lost days.
- Encourage, don’t criticize (unless explicitly invited to do so).
- Blogging counts, but email does not.
- All of this is totally free.
How it works
- Leave a comment at the end of this post, saying you’re “in.” Feel free to include a link to your blog.
- Write every day, and record your progress.
- Join the Facebook group for extra accountability and encouragement. You can also follow along via Twitter with the hash tag #my500words.
- Sign up for the free challenge to get writing prompts and nudges sent to you via email. Just click here to sign up.
So… are you in for this free writing challenge? Share what you’ll be writing and where you’ll be writing in the comments.
I am the best-selling author of five books, including the national bestsellers The Art of Work and Real Artists Don’t Starve. Each week, I send out a free newsletter with my best tips on writing, publishing, and helping your creative work succeed.
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Being a starving artist is a choice.
Bestselling author and creativity expert Jeff Goins dismantles the myth that being creative is a hindrance to success by revealing how an artistic temperament is, in fact, a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
For centuries, the myth of the starving artist has dominated our culture, seeping into the minds of creative people and stifling their pursuits. But the truth is that the world’s most successful artists did not starve. In fact, they capitalized on the power of their creative strength. In Real Artists Don’t Starve, Jeff Goins debunks the myth of the starving artist by unveiling the ideas that created it and replacing them with fourteen rules for artists to thrive.
I’m Jeff Goins, the best-selling author of five books including The Art of Work and Real Artists Don’t Starve. Every week, I share new tips on creative work. Enter your email below and I’ll send you a free book.
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I’m Jeff Goins, the best-selling author of five books including The Art of Work and Real Artists Don’t Starve. Every week, I share new tips on creative work. Enter your email below and I’ll send you a free book.
Develop better writing habits.
There’s only one way to become a better writer, and that is through lots of practice.
Some people are born with talent. Writing comes easily to them, but even the most talented writers have to work at the craft. After all, nobody’s born knowing how to write.
Fostering good writing habits accomplishes two things. First, good writing habits ensure that you write regularly, and as we all know, the only way to become a writer is to actually get the writing done. Second, by writing regularly, you get plenty of writing practice, and your work improves.
In other words, good writing habits are essential.
Adopt These Essential Writing Habits
Below you’ll find a list of essential writing habits that will benefit your writing skills. Try introducing one habit into your routine each month. By the end of the year, you’ll be well on your way to becoming an expert in all things writing.
- Establish a writing schedule and write daily if possible: Whether you write for three hours a day or fifteen minutes a day, daily writing is the most critical of writing habits. It’s better to write for fifteen or twenty minutes every day than to binge for five or six hours over the weekend, but if you can establish a daily writing schedule with longer sessions on weekends, then all the better!
- Don’t forget to read: I can’t stress how obvious it is when a writer is not well-read. Lack of reading will be apparent in every sentence. The importance of reading cannot be overstated: read as much and as often as you can.
- Finish what you start: One of the worst habits a writer can acquire is to never finish anything. Shiny new ideas are always tempting us away from our current projects. Occasionally you’ll find yourself in the midst of a project that is so problematic, it should be set aside, permanently. But the vast majority of projects deserve to be finished. Even if they never get published, you’ll learn from the experience, and you’ll be rewarded with a sense of accomplishment.
- Show your work: Speaking of finishing what you start — once it’s done, share it with others. Post a scene on your blog, send a poem around to a few friends, round up some beta readers and let them assess your project and help you improve it. And if you’d like to be a professional author, always keep your eye on the goal: publishing your work to the marketplace.
- Know your craft and industry: As a writer, it’s important to understand things like grammar, spelling, and punctuation as well as the importance of editing and polishing your work before you show it around. It’s just as important to familiarize yourself with the industry — from publishing to marketing. Make it your business to understand the craft and trade by working good habits into your schedule: edit everything you write, consult grammar and style guides when necessary, learn to properly format your documents, study the publishing industry, and make sure you understand the many ways that authors can market their work to a reading audience.
What Are Your Writing Habits?
Improving your writing is hard work. Maintaining a regular writing schedule is even harder, especially with so many distractions that are vying for our attention. Adopting these writing habits might mean making major changes to your routine. If you love to write, the work will be fun at times. Other times, you’re just going to have to grin and bear it, knowing full well that the ends make the means completely worthwhile.
If you want to be the best writer you can possibly be and produce great writing, then commit yourself to these writing habits.
How many of these writing habits have you adopted? Are there any that you’d like to cultivate? Share your thoughts, ideas, and experiences by leaving a comment.
Writing is one of the most admired and respected artistic mediums. It?s difficult and underappreciated, but when done well, is certainly beautiful.
Writing is generally expected in our daily life ? be it for school, work or personal needs. Some people like to keep journals, others are professional writers and a few write only when it is required of them. Regardless of its purposes in your life, it is generally beneficial to develop a daily writing habit.
Why Writing Is Useful
Aside from being a required skill to have in almost any job, especially if you want to become a professional blogger, the ability to accurately and concisely communicate through the written word is a coveted strength. While it may take time to build confidence in your writing skills, once you do, you will see how valuable an asset it can be to write effectively.
- Get a pad of paper. It doesn?t matter if it?s a spiral bound notebook or a fancy moleskin journal. As long as it has paper, you are good to go.
- Get a pen. Pens are very important to writers. You can pick between blue and black, fat versus thin points, etc. Use whatever feels comfortable in your hand and writes the way you like.
- Write. Don?t think, just write. Write about the first thing that pops into your head and, without passing judgment on yourself, allow those thoughts to lead to other thoughts. Just continue this stream of consciousness.
If you develop a daily writing habit, you probably have found that you understand yourself more as time goes on. This does not mean that you spend all your time journaling about your most inner thoughts, but even writing about how you see the world around you or how you feel about specific topics can give you great insight about yourself. This is one of the best reasons to start a blog.
You may like to discuss politics, pop culture, or economics, and through that writing you learn what you think and feel about different topics. After all, your thoughts and opinions say a lot about who you are as a person.
Once you have begun to habitually write on a daily basis, it is always fun to go back and reread your old work and see how your grammar, vocabulary, writing style and perspective have changed.
If you?re having trouble doing this on your own, try these steps:
- Jot down ideas. Use a note-taking app on your smartphone or notebook/pen and start brainstorming some ideas for blog posts.
- Read. Reading other people?s work can be helpful in understanding the creative process. Don?t limit yourself to only that which you know you find interesting. Expand your mind by reading a wide range of subjects. You will never learn anything new if you don?t expose yourself to new concepts, philosophies or ideas.
- Do your research. Profoundly researching subjects that interest you gives you fuel to keep the fire burning. If you come across a blog post that is particularly stimulating, read 20 or 30 other articles on the subject to get a thorough understanding.
Use Your Brain ? Critical Thinking
Like any brain exercise, writing on a regular basis helps you learn to how to think better. While writing, you analyze and organize the relationships between facts and eventual conclusions. Because of this, the simple act of writing encourages you to evolve your critical thinking skills, which are vital if you want to become a better thinker, speaker and performer. The best part is that the final product may turn into something you can be proud, compelling you to continue writing.
Make time to write. Carve out some time each day to explain some of your strongest feelings, whether it is happiness, frustration, enthusiasm, anxiety, etc. You can start a blog and write about your political leanings, how you feel about religion, new technological advances affecting society, how you would theme a restaurant if you were a chef, or why you feel insecure about certain things in life. Whatever you decide to write about, keep an open mind and express yourself thoroughly. In addition to improving your writing, you will grow as a human being.
Once a daily writing habit is established, you will undoubtedly become a better writer. Your vocabulary becomes richer and you find yourself studying syntax, grammar and punctuation. Building this skill set not only makes the writing journey more exciting, but it breathes life into your words and creates a world in which you can creatively and effectively express yourself.
Just Do It – Write
Write. Ask any professional writer and they will tell you that the only way to develop your writing habit is to write. Write every day, even if it?s only for 10 minutes. Sit down, set a timer and write about anything. It won?t take long before you have a clear picture of where you stand as a writer, and what you need to work on to accomplish your goals.
One would-be writer asked me recently, “How do you stick with your writing plans for more than a week?” It’s a great question, and one that I asked myself for about a decade as I slowly made my way from wannabe writer to full-time writer.
How do you create a consistent writing habit? Even when you’re busy? Even when you lose your motivation to write?
So many people struggle with this, not just writers but everyone trying to do creative work, whether it’s painting, acting, songwriting, or writing novels.
However, this question is also incredibly important because your ability to make your passion a habit is the most important key to your success in that field.
How do you make writing a habit?
Are You Too Busy to Write?
Developing a consistent writing habit is even harder because if you’re like me, you’re busy. Very busy.
Most of the aspiring writers I talk to claim that they’re just too busy to write, or at least too busy to write consistently. Sound familiar?
While you know you should be writing there are so many other SHOULDs:
- You should spend more time exercising
- You should drink more water
- You should spend more time doing schoolwork
- You should spend more time with your family
- You should be putting more hours in at your job
- You should floss and brush your teeth longer
- You should learn a second language
- You should call your mother more often
And a thousand more shoulds.
That doesn’t leave much room for writing. How, then, do you make room for your writing in the midst of all these other important things you should be doing?
Are You Too Overwhelmed to Write?
Dan Blank says this, which I think is brilliant:
No Focus = Overwhelm
If you aren’t clear about focusing on your top goals, you will easily become overwhelmed.
There will always be too many shoulds. If you’re not very careful about choosing the goals that are most important to you, you will be overwhelmed by all the things you feel like you should be doing.
Ask yourself, What do I really want?
Is writing every day really one of those things your top goals?
It’s okay if it’s not. Perhaps writing only ranks tenth on your list, behind family, schoolwork, your health, and work.
But if writing consistently is toward the top of your list, you need decide what else can be let go.
Get clear on your focus, say no to the things that are less important, and then follow through.
Ready to start your daily writing habit? Read on!
5 Hacks to Create Your Writing Habit
How do you create a writing habit? Here are five more tips, many of which I learned from Dan Blank (learn more this subject and about the class he’s teaching exclusively for Write Practice members).
1. Write for Just Fifteen Minutes
I’ve found that professional writers rarely write for more than five or so hours a day. Why? Because writing is mentally exhausting!
However, this also means you can get a surprisingly amount done in a short amount of time.
To keep yourself focused as you write, consider writing with a timer.
Could you start your writing habit with one fifteen-minute story per day?
2. Stop checking email!
Too many of us use email as a to do list instead of using a to do list as a to do list. This leaves us reacting to life rather than living it according to goals.
Reaction is the opposite of creating. That’s why it’s so difficult to write when you’re checking email every five minutes.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t check email. Just don’t do it during your daily writing time.
3. Lower Your Expectations (for Now)
It takes practice, a lot of time, and some luck, to write a great story. Settle for a story (for now).
When you sit down to write your first story, it might not be very good. But later, you’ll rewrite. Then perhaps you’ll rewrite it again after that. Maybe you’ll rewrite it one more time, and afterward the story will be remarkably better than it was on your first, quick draft.
4. Make It Social
Humans are social creatures, and, as Dan Blank says, by making writing a social experience you’ll find more enjoyment in it and will be more likely to keep it up.
How do you make writing social? Here are a few ideas:
- Make friends with other writers, whether through this community, by taking a writing class, or joining a local critique group
- Publish your writing, whether that means printing out a story and giving it to a friend, posting it on your blog, or self-publishing your book
- Throw a party for your fellow writers. Who doesn’t love a great soirée with interesting people?
- Go to a writing conference to learn more about the craft and connect with other writers
Don’t buy into the myth that writers are solitary creatures who lock themselves in the attic to slave on their masterpiece. Every great writer I’ve ever studied has had a close network of other writers and creative people who would inspire, encourage, and support them.
5. Celebrate Progress
Too many of my friends—people who have written books, gotten published, even made the bestseller’s list—stop celebrating how far they’ve come.
These were people who struggled with the same problems you struggle with: not enough time to write, not being able to make writing a habit, feeling overwhelmed by all the other things they SHOULD be doing. They came so far, and yet they’re often too eager to move on to the next goal to celebrate their progress enough.
If you write today, you should feel proud and celebrate your progress.
If you’ve written every day for the last five years, you should feel proud and celebrate.
If you want to cement writing as a habit in your life, reward yourself each time you do it, celebrating the fact you are making progress, the fact that you are creating, celebrate that you are writing.
Do You Dream of Doing More Creative Work?
Most of us want to live more creative, more meaningful lives, but actually finding time to do creative work often seems like an impossible challenge.
That’s why yesterday we opened a writing class in partnership with Dan Blank to help you find more time to do the creative work that matters most to you.
The class is called Fearless Work, and it’s perfect for anyone interested in writing more and making their writing a bigger priority in their life. I highly recommend it.
Also, if you sign up for Fearless Work you’ll get an exclusive lesson with me about how I found time for my writing when I was getting started.
Hope to see you in the class!
Do you struggle creating a consistent writing habit? What hacks have you used to make writing a habit? Let me know in the comments section.
Write a story for fifteen minutes today. When your time is finished, make it social by posting your practice in the comments section. And if you post, please be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers.
Happy writing, and don’t forget to celebrate your progress!
In the last 3 years, I’ve written 3 novels. On one hand, this is fantastic and I am celebrating my achievements. But on the other hand, it just isn’t good enough if I want to make it as a successful fiction author.
NY Times bestselling author CJ Lyons is writing 4 books this year. Joe Konrath, Bob Mayer, Dean Wesley Smith and Kris Rusch all put out more than that. Nora Roberts / J.D. Robb produces a book every 45 days and shifts 10 million books per year (romance books are shorter but that’s still impressive!).
Also consider the list of the most prolific authors. Isaac Asimov wrote over 500 books in his life, Enid Blyton 600+. I’d better get cracking if I want to join them 🙂
Now watch the video below, or here on YouTube, about how I have increased my writing output.
In the video I discuss:
- How I’ve always been more of a binge writer, prefering batches of bigger word count and days set aside for fiction and other days for marketing, speaking and the rest of the entrepreneurial stuff. But this doesn’t cut it if I want to focus on fiction as my primary income (it’s about 50% right now and I am NOT earning like Nora!)
- It’s important to learn from the pros who are actually doing this, so when I read a post by Dean Wesley Smith on production schedules, I listened up! Dean and his wife, author Kris Rusch have some fantastic advices on their sites so I absolutely recommend you go check them out.
- Basically you need to decide how much you want to write e.g. 3 x 80,000 word books in a year = 240,000 words . Obviously there’s an editing cycle but the first thing is to get the rough draft done and Dean advocates a regular amount of new fiction writing in order to meet production schedules – so to meet that, I need to write
666 words per day, every day of the year. That’s not actually too much as it takes me about 30-45 mins to write 500 words (if I know what I want to write about).
- Then decide how you will accomplish that word count e.g. weekly or daily goals. I decided to break out of binge writing and make writing a daily habit, and through that to up my monthly output of words. But I have never managed this – until now!
- See my behavioral chart for January 2013 right. It works! It’s like the star chart you do for your kids to modify behaviour and adults can use it too! I only missed a couple of days due to traveling and being ‘present’ with my husband on a trip to Italy and then speaking in Zurich. But I want that pink tick every day and I want to see the word count and I want it to be at least 1000 words per day. In January I wrote 36,556 words on Hunterian, my current WIP, the best writing month I have ever had. So watch this space for whether I can keep it going all year!
- Yes, it is really hard every day to get this done and I don’t think writing gets any easier, but I definitely feel the need to do it every day now. I also have a sign by my desk “Have you made art today?” which challenges me. Read The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin and you will get your ass kicked too! Stop watching TV and write something!
Do you write every day? Or do you have weekly writing goals? What kinds of writing habits do you have? Please do share your thoughts in the comments below.