Creating a Writing Habit — 6 Simple Tips

writing habit

One of the big secrets (hint: it’s not actually a secret) of finishing that novel you’re writing is to get into the habit of writing regularly. There’s an adage of sorts about how if you write 100 words every day you’ll finish a novel in a year.

Once you sit down to write, adding 100 words to your story doesn’t take very long. The tricky part is to sit down and actually do it, and to do it every day.

I’m in the fortunate position where I have plenty of time to write, and once I sit down to do it I usually end up writing quite a bit more than 100 words. Even then, it’s been difficult for me to get into the habit of writing daily. At any given time there are just so many other things that seem more interesting/important/entertaining/whatever.

Don’t get me wrong. I love writing, I just have a hard time getting started.

There are a few tricks that help me get going though, and once I’ve begun, it’s usually quite easy to just keep at it.

1. Set a starting time in advance.

When I have the opportunity to plan ahead I try to do so. Before I go to bed in the evening I decide on what time to start writing. It’s a trick to give the task of writing more importance than whatever other distraction I have going on at the moment.

If I’ve decided that I’m going to start writing at 1 pm I have a better idea of how much time I have for other tasks, and I can get them done ahead of time, or skip them entirely if there’s not enough time left.

2. Go somewhere else

I quite enjoy writing away from home, and I find it very helpful in getting started. Coffee shops, pubs, park benches – anywhere I can sit down and not have to move for a while is good by me.

To help me concentrate and block distractions I listen to music in my headphones. If this isn’t your cup of tea but you still want to try getting out of the house, check out the local library. They’re usually calm, quiet places.

3. Do it again. Go back there.

If you’re setting a time to start, set it to the same time again the next day, and the day after that. Perhaps a while after you get home from work, or an hour before bedtime, or just after you wake up in the morning, or a little bit during lunch?

The same goes if you’re going somewhere else to write. If you like the spot, go back there. You’ll come to associate it with your writing, and being there will help you get into that writing mood.

4. Find your trappings

I mentioned earlier how I listen to music in my headphones while writing away from home. It’s a near constant accompaniment for me. I’ve recently found that I’m more productive and get more writing done when wearing my headphones even when writing at home.

That’s right – despite being at home in my own apartment and not bothering anyone I still listen to music in headphones rather than on the speakers when writing. I don’t know if it’s because the headphones shut out all the other sounds, or because I like the feeling of them over my ears, but I know it works.

The headphones are one of the trappings of my writing sessions. I also like to wear a hat and finger-less gloves, and to wrap myself up in a warm blanket.

writing trappings
It’s not pretty, but it gets the job done.

5. Measure your progress

With writing, as with many other things that happen over an extended period of time, it helps to keep track of how you’re doing. It gives you a way to measure your success and to see how far you’ve come.

Recording the number of words you write every day, or every session, is a good way of doing this. Just don’t compare your word counts with anyone else. Writing is more than knocking out a certain number of words per hour, and we’re all different in how we approach the craft.

Some days a few quality words may be more productive than a ton of filler words you’ll end up throwing out in the next draft. Keep in mind that no writing is wasted writing though. There’s always room to learn and improve, and to adjust your story when you find that what you’ve just done didn’t quite work out the way you expected it to.

I use an app on my phone to fill in word counts (Writeometer), but it can be as easy as jotting down numbers in a notepad, or as complex as making your own spreadsheets with graphs and trends – if that tickles your fancy.

6. Make yourself accountable

This may not work for everyone, but it works for me. I’ve told my friends I’m writing, and every now and then I post an update about how I’m doing on my Facebook page. It’s not that I believe anyone is really interested, but it keeps me accountable.

If I tell people I’m writing I have to make sure I really get some writing done, or I’ll be one of those people who just talk about their stories without actually writing them down.

Your Methods?

The above are the tricks I’m using the get myself to sit down to write every day, and to get the words on the page. We’re all different though, and I’m sure many of you have your own methods for getting into the habit and staying productive. What methods are those? Feel free to share your tips and secrets with the rest of us.

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Cu Mara
Cu Mara
4 years ago

I definitely agree about the trappings. I prefer to have a yellow legal pad with me to write, even when I am working on the computer. Something about the color of the paper just seems a little less ominous than the daunting blank white page.

And I love the 100 word starting point per day. I feel I can accomplish this goal even when life gets chaotic.

4 years ago

The ear-buds even when alone is a big one for me. Instead of music, I have an hour-long thunderstorm track that I play whenever I’m trying to focus. It’s a fabulous Pavlovian technique – if I hear rain I do work.

My favorite way to measure progress is a habit tracker. I have a streak on the app, and I know if I miss a day then that streak will go to zero and it will take me a long time to get back to it.
I like to pair streaking (pun intended) with making the barrier to entry as low as possible. 100 words is a great goal because you can even knock it out on days when you’re feeling really out of it and have no motivation to write. This low barrier to entry helps keep the streak alive, and I learn to make room for myself every day.

The thing you mentioned that I wish I were better at was #3 “Go Back There.” I don’t write at the same time every day because my days are so open-ended. I have noticed the writing in the morning is superior and more creative than the writing I do after 3 pm.

4 years ago

This actually worked for my art so why shouldn’t it work for my writing…

Gabriella L. Garlock
Gabriella L. Garlock
4 years ago

I did it! Finally walking the walk. I used the time change to keep waking up at the same time but actually an hour earlier on the clock and have spent at least 6 mornings a week–an hour before work minimum–the past month at the coffee shop revising my novel. I love the ‘me’ time and how well I can focus away from home and chores needing done and electronic gadgets. I never want to not do this again.
I’m convinced writing only gets avoided because you don’t give yourself the time and place and permission to do it.

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