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A question for those who somehow made writing into a habit...

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Twook00, Dec 30, 2013.

  1. Twook00

    Twook00 Sage


    And by that I mean, how did you form a writing habit? What steps did you take? What sacrifices did you make? What was the hardest part? How long did it take you? What has been the benefit?

    I want to write every day, but my peak writing hours seem to be from 8am to about 11am, which is when I work. At night, when I am free to do such things, my brain more or less turns to stone and is usually worthless. I want to train myself to write regardless, but it's very hard.

    This last year, I did manage to make running a habit and it has been one of the few (successful) attempts at forming a GOOD habit that I've had in my life. Now I'd like to do the same for writing. So, any tips?
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  2. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    1) I forced myself to write at the same time every night, for a set amount of time.
    2) I set a daily word count goal & I kept at it until it was reached.
    3) I tracked my production on a spreadsheet. Don't underestimate the impact of this. It helps to keep yourself accountable but it also reinforces the value of your efforts by showing the additive effects of discipline.
    4) I learned not to accept self-delusional excuses for avoiding writing time.

    Primarily sleep. When tired, I write anyway...until I hit my daily goal.

    The period of time it takes to turn daily writing into ritual. Discipline to do it everyday isn't easy, but given enough time, it'll eventually feel unnatural not to write. That's what you want.

    About three months of forcing myself to write a minimum of 500 words a day. Five hundred isn't that much, but I learned that sustained effort at that level beats inspirational binge writing every time.

    Writing has now become a part of daily life. It's still work, but now it's as natural as needing meals. If I don't write for some odd, & unavoidable reason, I feel it the same as if I missed dinner.

    You have the power to change this if you choose to do so. It takes dedication & discipline. You are the only person that can change behavior & attitude. Don't accept excuses like "my brain more or less turns to stone and is usually worthless". That is exactly the type of self-delusion that inhibits a successful change in behavior. Those thoughts keep you from developing good habits. Do not allow them space in your head. It is a choice to write. It is a choice to avoid writing. Choose writing & be disciplined. Create a habit. If you want to be a professional, then be one. Professionals show up for work everyday. Professionals don't accept excuses.

    I feel a plan for success is the same regardless of the endeavor. It's all a matter of discipline, determination, choice instead of excuses, & habit.
  3. Telcontar

    Telcontar Staff Moderator

    Personally, I believe the biggest obstacle for a lot of people is perfectionism. They don't just want to write - they want to write brilliantly.

    If you want to make writing a habit, you need to let yourself write badly. Bad writing can be improved, or compared to good writing later on and discarded. Something is better than nothing. I know that I used to spend a lot of time sitting in front of blank computer screens and doing nothing because I couldn't find the right way to start.

    Any way is the right way. Loosen up the filters.

    As to sacrifices... I try not to sacrifice too much of any portion of my life. It's really just a matter of juggling priorities. Perhaps I don't play video games as often, or go out as much, etc etc. I tend to relax less on my lunch hours as I often write then, too.

    Benefits? Increased productivity, and increased ability. All writing is practice, and the more you practice the better you get. To return to the initial point, you've gotta let yourself be bad before you can be consistently good.
  4. buyjupiter

    buyjupiter Maester

    If you're already jogging, I find that about twenty minutes or so after exercise my brain is all amped up--no matter how brain dead I felt before exercise. It might help to shift your jog to before you write. I always feel brain dead again after I spend two hours slamming out two to three thousand words.

    Another trick that I force myself to use is if I get "stuck" or really want to figure out a name or a specific detail for something, I make a note of [insert whatever here] and move on. This helps my productivity, as I'm not stalled after three hundred words when I need a new character name. It also gives me something to think about when I'm not writing. I can also do quick research about it when I'm on a break, waiting in line at the grocery store, etc.
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  5. Twook00

    Twook00 Sage

    Yes, this is certainly an issue for me, and one that I kick myself for because I know better.

    I do this as well. I'll even throw in something like <enter witty retort here> or <describe character here>.
  6. The Dark One

    The Dark One Auror

    Interesting topic. I've been writing seriously for 21 years and I'd estimate that for maybe the last 8 years I've been a habitual (every day) writer. Before then I was as dedicated as reasonably possible given the needs of a professional job, a Masters degree and another post grad certificate, and two wives, so would spend periods of frenzied activity punctuated by months of nothing. It never bothered me, but if I did want to put myself in the mood, as it were, I developed some rituals which certainly assisted the process. There is a threshold question though - do you love your work? Do you crave time to write? (This doesn't have to be all the time.)

    If yes, you will find a way. When I was writing long Masters essays (I had to do 8 essays of about 8000 words each) I used to go for a run and wallow in my meditative juices. Then I'd come home, shower, and with my brain swimming in sweet endorphins get stuck into my essay for a couple of hours and then reward myself with one hour on my novel. This was fantastic for both my academic brain and creative brain, and I reckon there was some excellent cross-pollination between the two. My academic work became more creative (and therefore distinct from my peers) and my creative work became more disciplined and coherent (and therefore distinct from my peers).

    The point was I really valued that hour reward and sucked the juice out of every second. I would then do another hour or so on the essay until I felt like I'd achieved enough for the day. Then, I'd pour myself a glass of wine (or three) and work on my novel until I felt like stopping.

    These days I don't need rituals. My habits are so ingrained (and there is some call for my work - I write for two commercial publications plus a blog) that every spar moment is spent writing.

    Post Script - my recently published novel features a main character who regularly runs at the park where I used to run whenever he needs to clear his head. I had the first vague ideas for that novel while running around that park - which I think is pretty cool.
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2013
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  7. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

    I also find that whether I'm writing in a rush of inspiration or dragging it out word by word, the quality is the same. To butcher a quote by Maya Angelou, the muse will find you, but usually she wants to find you working. So get in the chair, stay in the chair, and make those pages.

    Honestly, what really made the difference for me was finding this community. I work every day, all day (this is my day job), with Scribes up in the background. I find the "shared" workspace with other writers to be very conductive to not only helping me think but to keeping me on task. Yes, sometimes the chat can be very distracting and I do post on the threads as a periodic brain break, but my overall productivity has skyrocketed. Now my writing partner and I are on track for finishing the first book in our series and having it ready to submit in the Spring!
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  8. Quillstine

    Quillstine Troubadour

    I’ve written every day for a minimum of 2 hours since I was about 13 (although this December for the first time since I broke that streak!).
    I decided I wanted to make writing a habit very early on and read somewhere that if you do something for 21 days in row, it becomes a habit. I have no idea of the scientific validity of that statement, but it sounded fair to me. Coupled with the “A year from now you’ll wish you had started today” quote, I thought I best get swinging. I upped to three hours a day at about 18.
    Usually, I DRAG myself out of bed, drink some grainy coffee (having a bad cup of joe in the morning always makes me feel like a hard working chap!) and grab my pen, notebook and spend 30 minutes jotting. Then I switch my computer and spend 2 or so hours writing.
    I figured if I can dedicate myself to work for 8-12 and 16 hours at a time or more, why can I not write few as well!
    Repetitive action. Just biting the bullet and getting up and doing it regardless of all the crap in my head that makes me want to skip it, just for today! When I had holidays, when I was travelling, when I was sick and when I REALLY DID NOT WANT TO. I got up and wrote for three hours.
    Lots, mostly though I did….and do Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way, find it invaluable. Also I do a time in motion style of study, look at just how many hours there are in a day, week, month, year and see how easy it is to fit just 3 hours in. I look at what most people set aside for t.v., gym etc… I take to relax, consider and think too, this keeps me creative and makes it easier for me write. I read a lot, and try to eat foods that don’t suck away my energy. Anything I can do to stay enthused essentially!
    I guess I never saw them as sacrifices! Usually it is just whatever else I would have been doing if I was not writing. Hanging with friends, sleeping in, snuggling my wife, watching a movie or some other equally appealing time spender.
    The experience of writing and also the sheer amount of words you get written!
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  9. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    Not to be flip, but I just decided to write every day. Whenever I didn't feel like writing I ran this bit of internal monologue through my head. I used something similar to keep me going in university. "Do you want to do this? If not, then go watch TV or play a video game, but don't ever bitch again about not having any time to write. If you want to be a writer then write. Otherwise, stop deluding yourself, stop beating yourself up about not writing because you really don't have the desire. You only think you do. Write or don't. What's your choice."

    I left home and went to the library for a set time period. I couldn't leave until the time was up. So I could surf the net or I could write. The time was spent anyway. Another thing about leaving the house, we as people IMHO tend to associate certain types of behaviour to certain spaces. Home is relaxation space. When I'm home I have a tendency to want to relax. You know that feeling when you step through that door after a hard day, and all you want to do is get something to eat and take a long relaxing whizzz (sorry for the bit of TMI).

    But when I go to the library, from my university days, the library is associated with a work place, so I have a tendency to want to work there. It's quiet and the only distractions are the ones I choose. I've since expanded my workspace to include McDonalds, since they have free wi-fi. My recommendation is find a workspace, at home or outside of it.

    For a period of a year or two I gave up a lot of TV and video games. Writing took precedence. That's a choice we all have to make prioritizing one thing over another. Either writing is a priority or it isn't. There's nothing wrong with that, but you have to be honest with yourself about it.

    Learning to write when you didn't want to, when your heart wasn't 100% into writing that day. Part of what helped me through this was telling myself that I could make it better in the next draft.

    I'd say six months to a year. It's hard to pin point. You do it long enough and it becomes part of your life, a part of the things you do like brushing your teeth, and you miss it when you don't do it.

    Too many to count. Most of it is subtle, but one of main ones is knowing I can write without being inspired and have the writing be good. I can complete any project I set out to do. Writing became less about finishing and more about making it good, because I know I'll finish.

    Nothing worthwhile in life is easy. The times I like to write are between 11pm and 3am, but I rarely write during those times any more. It just doesn't fit my lifestyle. I write in the morning, and I'm not a morning person, but it doesn't matter too much. You find the time to write or you don't write. I heard a interview with an published author. He said he worked a 9-5 job, had a hour commute each way, has a wife and young children, and still managed to produce three novels in a year. If he can do it under those circumstances, me being single, I can certainly do it too.

    For me, it's all about asking yourself if you want it or not. If you want it, you do it. If you don't, you don't.

    On a side note. As hard as it is to form good habits, it's very easy to fall out of them. I wrote almost every day for a period of about 5 years, with a small break to take care of a family emergency. This past July I got diagnosed with a hyperthyroid. Long story short, I couldn't write or do much of anything for about four months. Since my recovery, it's been hard getting back on the horse. I'll write for several days in a row then nothing for a few more. As someone dishing out advice, I thought it only fair to reveal that.
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2013
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  10. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    There's some excellent advice here--on a par with anything you'll find in a commercial book. Read it and take it seriously.

    I can only add something specific about writing and having a day job. I was in your position when I decided I was serious about writing (as distinct from being serious about wanting to write). I had little success writing at night. What I did was bring a physical notebook to work, small enough to fit in a coat pocket. I never used to take breaks, but I started taking the break. Walk out of the office and get a cup of coffee. Sit down and write. Anything (see posts above). At lunch, rather than sit at my desk as I had for years, I went over to a nearby restaurant, ordered something quick, sat down, and wrote.

    I didn't produce much. A lot of it was awfully fragmented and frankly I'm still trying to put the pieces of that novel together. I don't recommend it as a way to write fiction. But something happened along the way. It became habit. As others have said, somewhere --longer than 21 days for me, but less than six months--I got to where if I didn't do those short writing spells, I'd get anxious, fretful. The analogy with skipping dinner is a good one.

    And I haven't stopped. I'm retired now, and I write for longer stretches. I have to force myself to take one day a week off.

    Just write, and you will find it's just right.
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  11. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    I basically decided that writing on one project (a novel) wasn't going to necessarily happen every day or be feasible. I know some people can do that, but I found that there are just some days where I can't work on a novel. I need to do something else. So my plan was to write something every day. Whether it be working on a novel, editing, writing short stories, blogs, articles, etc. By making the goal to at least write something every day, I got in the habit of doing so.
    Since I'm not working full-time at the moment, my sacrifice was making money. That of course is one of the biggest sacrifices you can make. Luckily, my wife allowed me to have some time off after a pretty rough year, so it's allowed me to do more. I'm going back to work full-time again in a couple of months, so the sacrifice won't be money anymore, it'll be time. I always found writing after getting off work could be hard, but as long as I dedicated at least one hour a night, that was enough. You have to make writing like taking a shower, brushing your teeth, or any other nightly habit.

    This part is still the hardest for me, but allowing myself not to get wrapped up in the internet too much. There are loads of other things I like doing besides writing, many of them are visiting forums, playing games, and watching videos. These are fun distractions for me, but I have know when to cut them out and get to work. There's a little part of me that feels guilty every time I visit Mythic Scribes because I'm not writing. However, coming here reminds me of the goals and structures I've put in place for myself. In some ways, I benefit a lot from others knowing my plans that way I feel more obligated to complete them.
    Years, I'd say. I can't say I took my writing super serious until maybe about five years ago. That's when I decided it was something I wanted to do more with and not just be a hobby I kept to myself. I would say getting in the habit of writing every day at least hones my skills, I think. Getting feedback is very beneficial as well, but I think there has to be a time when you just write and don't worry with how it's turning out until later.

    The benefit of writing every day is that I don't feel like a hobbyist anymore. The old term "writers write" motivates me a lot. I actually feel like crap the days that I don't write. Like physically feel like crap. Since I've been writing every day, I'm seen a lot more of my work get published. These are small steps, but it's amazing when you produce something, polish it, and send it out, by Jove sometimes people actually like it!

    Writing, polishing, and submitting is really the only pattern writers should be doing in my opinion. If you're just working on the same things over and over for years, there has to be a point where you either send it out or let it go. That's how I feel like I progressed. I quit stewing over projects that weren't working and focused on the ones that were by using methods I've picked up that work for me. Namely scene-sequel, the Snowflake Method, pre-writing, and giving my characters clear goals.

    I'll echo what some others have said. Writing is work. It can be fun work or rewarding work, but it still takes time to get right and put your best foot forward. The key, for me anyway, is to find the audiences that enjoy my work. Something can always be improved, but it's your job to make the perfect story for that point in time. Write, polish, submit.

    By giving yourself daily goals such as "finish Chapter 4" or "get 2,000 words" you can give yourself something concrete to work towards. Sure, the best advice is "just write" but I feel like some people don't work well with abstracts (including me). By having concrete goals to work towards each day, it makes it easier overall. Same with running or jogging. You probably have a goal to run for 30 minutes or 2 miles or whatever. Treat writing the same.
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2013
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  12. psychotick

    psychotick Auror


    For me the writing is never hard. It's a passion and what I like to do. Essentially I'm just telling myself stories. My main problem with this is staying on track for one story.

    Where it gets hard is the editing and polishing. That's the stuff that I have to force myself to do a little. My strategy is simple for this. Motivate myself by thinking about the finished product - doing book covers, playing around with blurbs, tracking sales reports, things which focus me on the end result. And of course the final external edits I do by getting someone else (my sister) to do most of the heavy lifting.

    But to help, I watch little telly. If I like a show I'll buy the dvd, watch the whole lot and glut myself out, then return to the computer. Also having no family helps (not that that is a recommended strategy).

    Cheers, Greg.
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  13. Twook00

    Twook00 Sage

    I crave it all day long. And then 10 PM rolls around and I have the time to write and suddenly I crave Doctor Who and a Sam Adams Cream Stout. :D

    I like this. I also like Neil Gaiman’s analogy of building a dry stone wall by putting one rock on top of the other. (And his take on muses. “If you write only when you’re inspired, you may be a fairly decent poet but you will never be a novelist…”)

    Good on you for being able to do this. I think you really capture just how much effort goes into making yourself do this every day. Sure it’s fun, and it’s certainly worth it, but it’s not always something you want to do. And I would argue that in many ways, it’s much harder to make myself work on a story than it is to do my actual day job kind of work. Because that stuff is simple. Run reports, write some code, troubleshoot an issue, send an email… these are all very simple things. But writing is much more akin to exercise for me. You start off jazzed and ready to go and then two minutes in you’re sweating and trying not to throw up.

    I thought of this scene from Liar Liar. It’s exactly what I need to be doing.

    This is exactly what I want to accomplish, right now. Forget being published, forget making money, just complete projects and write good fiction even when I don’t want to.

    I think part of my issue is that I don’t have a set writing space. I always try to write while doing other things. If I’m at work, I’ll leave a word doc open on the side and occasionally throw a few words at it. At home, I have my couch in the living room at night with the lights down and some soft music playing and ZZZZzzzzzz….. (I really should stop trying to relax while writing. I think it’s very counter productive.)

    It’s funny you mention that. I read an article yesterday (the science of good habits) that touched on macro vs. micro goals, and how being too vague can really hinder your efforts. Planning is key. I actually jotted down some specific goals for myself as a result of the post.

    Surprisingly, this is the part I really enjoy. Can’t wait to actually finish something so I can edit the crap out of it!
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
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  14. Malik

    Malik Auror

    The best thing for my writing was getting a good chair. Seriously. My wife found an Aeron chair on Craigslist for $90. It's a $1000-chair. My writing chair is the most comfortable chair in the house. I sit my butt down in this chair, and I don't want to get up. So I write.
  15. Malik

    Malik Auror

    I should add, too, that this falls into the way I'm wired. I'm in the military. I can force myself to sit down and bang out X number of words every day, or edit X number of pages, or what have you. I'm really good at that. But I don't particularly enjoy it.

    I run every morning. I don't enjoy running but it's a professional necessity. I can either run every single day, or eat only salads and protein shakes. One or the other. Those are my options. I like food, so I run. Tofu makes me angry. But I digress.

    So I keep the room where I lay out my running gear warm, with the heater on, in the winter. When my alarm goes off at Oh-My-God O'Clock, the room where my running gear is laid out is the only warm room in the house. I like going in there. I put on all my running gear, and step outside, and then there's no turning back. I'm already outside and down the street before I realize what a stupid thing I've done. Again.

    The chair is the same thing. I like sitting here. When I sit here, I write. This is a small, quiet room and there's nothing else to do except read and write.

    I hope this helps.
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  16. danr62

    danr62 Sage

    This is a good topic. I also struggle with writing. Ever since self publishing broke into the mainstream I've spent a lot of time thinking about being a writer, but precious little time writing. So I think my goal for 2014 is to establish a daily writing habit and get at least one novel published, or at least completed and to start revising it.
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  17. Motley

    Motley Minstrel

    This is an extremely helpful thread.

    I haven't actually found a time of day that is more conducive to writing fiction for me yet. I picked a time that fit into my schedule and make myself write during it.
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  18. Bansidhe

    Bansidhe Minstrel

    I am, by nature, a lazy writer. I love to be entertained myself, whether with books, movies, TV, and games--and I find easy to get myself lost in any of these things. I can tell you from experience that making yourself accountable to yourself--or even other people, like in a writing group--is a strong motivator. Before I was published, I was accountable only to myself, but once I got out into the world, I because accountable to my readers, as well as my editor and publisher. Getting paid for this very cool gig is also a strong motivator, let me tell you. Here are a couple of hat tricks I've learned along the way, and that have kept me sane as well as disciplined:

    ~ Word Pool: I have a daily word count of 1,000 words a day, because this will allow me (theoretically) to complete drafting a novella in thirty days and a novel in ninety. Every word I write over that goal goes into a pool; conversely, every word I miss comes out of the pool. When the pool reaches 1,000, I get a day off.

    ~ Spinning Down The Page This is essentially a beat sheet of action/image/dialogue I do for the day's writing during my lunch break, or while my reports are running at work. You could do this during your prime writing time, in the morning, by keeping a notebook or word doc open. (The word doc could then be copied/pasted into Evernote for syncing so you can access it when you get home.) By knowing exactly what I need to write when I get home, I can get my daily words out of the way fairly quickly.

    ~ White Noise I live in a small condo with a noisy husband and two Ninja Katz. I've found a pair of noise cancelling head phones and a white noise generating website like Moodturn helps block out the mayhem so I can focus--you get storms, beach noises, falling rain--whatever suits your fancy.

    I hope all this helps, and you hit upon the combination of elements that help you meet your goals!
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  19. Snowpoint

    Snowpoint Sage

    I find doing some writing First thing in the morning helps me stay productive all day. I've only just started though.
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  20. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    I simply don't force myself. I guess it's working for a lot of people, to set aside time every day and get into a routine, but for me, that's not a permanent solution. However, that being said... I write most days. As an example, I've written every day for the last four weeks. But, Sundays, I go to fencing practice from 11am to 2pm, and Saturdays are usually my day to sleep in till 11 if I feel like it, and then I clean my house, so weekends are less productive as a whole.

    For me, I have a lot of things that demand immediate attention. So, on a given day, I might have to write late at night because I was busy taking care of other things ALL DAY. But I let that go. I give it a try, see where I get to, and if I'm tired, I go to sleep (usually after 2am). I get up around 8 or 10 and first thing I usually do is open my computer and see what I did in my sleep the night before. Then I do a quick edit and keep plugging away until things get too busy.

    I firmly believe the days I don't write are as productive as the days I do. Okay, not in measurable word count obviously, but sometimes I call friends to chat and unwind or vent, sometimes I actually work for my small business and make money... sometimes I just blow off a whole day and play video games, or more likely, board games with my great kids who tolerate me spending so much time writing.

    I went to Las Vegas over Thanksgiving and my computer came with me. I actually edited a really good scene after a day of riding roller coasters. The days I take off, I often give my brain just enough of a rest, to get it really excited about thinking again. It surprises me sometimes by coming up with a solution to a problem.

    So, I think for me, being a touch less rigid is the way to go. I know I have a more flexible system than most "every day" writers, but it's another option if it's too difficult to do the other way. The thing is, even if I take a two week break and write nothing during that time, I'm fired up when I return to it and my brain and nerves are rested and firing on all cylinders again. It's important to give yourself a rest occasionally.

    Another thing you could attempt to do (because it's never worked for me as a rule) is to combine your run with writing. Use your exercise time to sort of meditate. So... say you need a way for a character to escape a dungeon... think about that before you exercise. Then, while running, let your brain do whatever it does (stays blank, has rapid little thoughts of randomness, contemplates difficult problems). My brain functions differently on different days. Not sure why, but sometimes I'll be in the middle of bleaching the shower and I'll be like, "Oh! How did I not think of doing this scene from this other perspective... Perfect!" The point is, sometimes just the act of thinking about your writing before you exercise (or sleep, for that matter. Sleep is a very powerful tool if you can harness its creativity), results in a clearer, more constructive creative session right after. Worth a try, anyways.
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