Creating a Writing Habit and Keeping it
Set yourself up for success by creating writing routines that will keep you consistent.
Writing a novel is a major accomplishment and requires hours of writing time. Authors who write around full-time jobs may find it difficult to fit writing into their schedules. But even full-time writers can struggle with time management, juggling plotting, writing, editing, publishing and promoting their novels. With competing priorities all vying for a writer’s time, setting aside dedicated hours to write requires preparation and consistency.
In addition, when a writer does find time to sit down and write, it is helpful to “prime” the creative juices and train the brain to in gear for your writing process.
Let’s push aside the excuses that may be keeping you from finding time to write. We all have busy schedules, day jobs, and limited free time. Successful writers have developed good writing habits that keep them consistent. Take the time to figure out yours! You’ll be a better writer for it. The following tips will help you avoid procrastination, and figure out how to set aside a consistent amount of time for writing, and make the most of the time you have.
Finding Writing Time
Make it a habit
Most writers dream of attending a writer’s retreat for a weekend or week, spending hours locked away in a secluded location, just them and their laptop, typing away. While this strategy has worked for many authors and the focused time is a great way to make headway with a book, most of us don’t have the money or the time to dedicate to such an endeavor.
“A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.” - E. B. White
The reality is, if you dream of becoming a bestselling author, and want to make a living from book writing alone, you’ll have to establish writing routines that will keep you consistently writing. To make progress, you need to determine a time of day and location where writing works for you. Find pockets in your day or week where you can “close the door” to other competing priorities and dedicate time to write. This will look different for everyone. Do you like early mornings? Or are you a night owl? If you know your creative writing flows most easily at a specific time of day, try to juggle other tasks around to accommodate that, as much as you can. New writers may not yet have a sense of when they’re at their creative peak. Feel free to experiment, writing at different times of day to see what feels most natural.
For some, finding time may be a few hours once a week. For others, it might come down to half an hour on weekdays, with longer sessions on weekends. The goal is to find a time to write you are able to consistently commit to that fits in with your schedule. J K Rowling wrote on her lunch breaks. Ernest Hemingway wrote at dawn every morning. I’ve heard of writers doing dictation into their phones during their commutes to and from their day job (using hands-free options, of course).
Identifying writing time may mean assessing your priorities and making some decisions. One trick to discover potential opportunities is to look at your schedule and color-code your responsibilities. Choose one color for must-haves, another for want-to and yet another for not-as-important. Life can’t stop because you are writing a book, but maybe something can give a little. Can you spend an hour less a week on Netflix? Can you skip the coffee run and write at home instead? Can you go on a social media hiatus for a month? Assessing priorities can help you locate time to write.
Stick with it
At first, this newfound time dedicated to writing will feel daunting and awkward. But don’t stop. Once you’ve determined your new writing schedule – be constant. Block that time in our calendar to create your writing habit, let your family, friends, dog-walker, etc. know that is your writing time and you are not to be disturbed. At first, your new schedule may feel awkward or cumbersome. However, it will get better, especially as it becomes part of your daily or weekly routine.
On average, it takes a little over two months for a new behavior to become automatic, so give your newly discovered writing session time to settle in.
Part of the success of a writing retreat is due to seclusion. By eliminating the general interruptions of daily life that often take us away from writing, like laundry, food prep, or social media, it becomes much easier to focus on your writing projects.
“You can’t do big things if you’re distracted by small things.” -Anonymous
Some writers like to remove themselves from their home to better focus, and write in a café or a park. Others put on noise canceling headphones, listen to white noise, or write when the house is quiet. Turn off your phone and any alerts on your computer. If you can’t completely cut out your notifications, put them on Do Not Disturb. Most phones have an option to add contacts that can override the Do Not Disturb. With that opinion, at least your writing time is only interjected by real people needing your attention, and not the latest YouTube video from your favorite group.
While nothing can take away from productive just writing time, stacking is an option that can help you find more time for your writing. Instead of rearranging your schedule or pushing aside other tasks to suss out time to write, consider pairing your writing with another task as an option. In his book Tiny Habits Program, BJ Fogg created the method of stacking or anchoring a new habit with an established older one.
The concept is to pick one thing you already do and add writing to it. In the example above, JK Rowling already had a lunch break, so she used that existing time to a) eat lunch and b) write her book. Find time in your day where you can add writing to something you are already doing. Tag it on to an already established routine. Jog every morning? Add twenty minutes of writing to your post-work out routine.
Writing Tips To Set Yourself Up For Success
Set up a writing space
With a room or designated area devoted to writing, you are training your brain that when you enter that space, it’s time to write. This writing habit doesn’t have to be a beautifully decorated office with a stunning view, a coffee maker and a mini fridge full of healthy snacks (though that does sound awesome). What is essential here is that it is functional, offers some sense of privacy from other parts of your life, and is workable. That means keeping the area clutter free. Perhaps the space includes room for inspirational items like books, research materials, or something aligned with the genre of your writing.
Pro-tip: Try a space for seven days in a row and document how much you write each day. This can help you determine if this is the spot for you.
Now you have a spot picked out, find other items you can use to trick your brain into turning on the writing flow. For some people, that’s a favorite drink or snack. Some people listen to music to set the mood. For me, it is an article of clothing. I have a writing sweater. When I put it on, I feel creative. It’s another writing habit.
Pro-tip: Use your sense of smell. I have a distinct scent for each of my characters. If I am writing a scene from one character’s point of view, I light a candle or find an item with that scent and inhale to get into the right headspace.
Set a word count goal
One of the reasons so many authors flock to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) aside from the support from other authors is the daily challenge to write 1,667 words a day. If writers meet that goal, at the end of the month, they have a 50,000 word book.
“It is not enough to take steps which may someday lead to a goal; each step must be itself a goal and a step likewise.” - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
While you may not be able to maintain a daily word count like this all the time, setting down a goal per session or per week pushes you forward and keeps you actively writing. Numbers add up. If you write 100 words a day, that’s 700 words a week, 2,800 words a month, and 33,000 a year. If you can write an average of 500 words a day, every day, that would be 182,500 words per year. (That’s just 17 words a minute for a half hour.)
Set the table
At the end of your writing session, prepare what's coming next in the first draft. Write a few lines on what to start writing with when you pick up with your next scheduled writing block. Think of it as setting the table for dinner. These few indicators will help you get back into the flow by reminding you where you left off and what concepts you had in mind. This way, you can hit the ground running, instead of needing to spend time brainstorming where the scene is going.
Like most animals, we humans react well to rewards. We are also motivated by them. By setting out a goal and then assigning an appropriate treat for yourself when the task is complete, you may find that your writing time is more productive. Start with little rewards for smaller tasks and work up to a big reward for the ultimate mission — finishing your book.
A popular productivity booster is the Pomodoro Technique, which chunks up your writing sessions into bite-sized portions. These bursts of energetic work are then rewarded with a five-minute break. Just enough time to grab a drink, a snack, or a quick round of exercise. Then the process is repeated. By tracking your word count in these sessions, you’ll be able to see how your productivity increases. If it’s not working, try longer or shorter sessions between breaks.
Pro-tip: If you write in short sessions with breaks, look for ways to make your breaks both restful AND productive. For example, reading a chapter of a book in your genre between sessions can be both fun and educational, as you enjoy a story and can study how other authors structure their stories and characters. Another idea would be to listen to a podcast about self-publishing during a writing break.
Make a game of it
Yes, have fun. Look for ways to turn the writing into a competition. Track your work count and see if you can beat yourself in the next session. Sign up for an app that gamifies tasks like:
Habitica Defeat dragons and unlock levels as you meet your goals. Fail and your health suffers.
Write or Die This site has three modes to use to motivate you to write: Consequence, Reward or Stimulus
Written? Kitten! As the title promises, meet your writing goal and you get a picture of a cute kitten
Find a partner
When you are accountable to someone else, your productivity soars. There is a NaNoWriMo group that sends each other 10 presents, one to open after every five-thousand words written. NaNoWriMo does an excellent job of this when you join their site (it’s free) by giving writers badges along the way. There’s even one for writing every day.
"If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself." - Henry Ford
Create a daily writing habit
You read that correctly. Stephen King attributes some of his success to his habit of writing every single day. On his birthday, he writes. Christmas, he writes. The days he doesn’t feel like writing, he writes. Not all of his writing is his current book. Sometimes it’s simple journaling. Writing is a muscle which atrophies when not used, so regular writing can help ensure your writing skills remain sharp.
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.” - Stephen King
Pro-tip: If you’re feeling writer’s block with your current project, or are for other reasons just NOT in the mood to touch your work-in-progress, it’s OK to take a break to avoid creative burnout. Consider using writing prompts for writing practice, with no pressure or expectation that those words are ever used for anything you publish.
Even if your goal is to write a 400,000 word trilogy, you have to start somewhere. Starting small helps us overcome what some might consider a daunting task of completing a novel. By craving up your book into more manageable and easier to achieve goals, the success you have at each stage will bolster your confidence and help you keep going.
Leave yourself prompts
As odd as it sounds, Ernest Hemingway would stop in the middle of a sentence so he knew where to start the next day when he sat down to write again. If this technique seems a bit drastic to you, take the last few minutes of your writing time to jot down the ideas or thoughts about what happens next. This way, you only have to reread a few sentences to get back into the flow of writing and have an idea of what to write.
Keeping your body strong and physically healthy not only helps combat the hours spent sitting at a desk hunched over a keyboard, but it also helps your writing. Run, exercise, take a yoga class or walk around your bedroom. Move your body. Physical activity is good for your muscles and bones and writing in pain is a hindrance to the creative process. Moving your body is also good for the brain, improving cognitive health. This helps you think, learn and problem solve.
It’s more than just writing
You’ve found time in your schedule, you’re ready to write every day. But what do you write? Without some additional details, you may not be able to sit down and write your five hundred words per twenty-five minutes. Writing can take preparation. For some writers, plotting is an essential element of crafting a book and there needs to be time set aside for it. Even if you are a panster, there may be time needed to research elements of your book as reality checks, character backgrounds to create, world-building to form. Don’t discount this as productive time you should add to your schedule.
Henry Miller’s Writing Commandments
In his book, Henry Miller on Writing, Miller offered these tips for creating a work schedule.
Work on one thing at a time until finished.
- Start no more new books, add no more new material to “Black Spring.”
- Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
- Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
- When you can’t create you can work.
- Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
- Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
- Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.
- Discard the Program when you feel like it—but go back to it the next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
- Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.
- Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.
Making time to write
Coming up with the idea for your short story or first book may be the easiest part of the process. It takes a massive amount of effort to finish writing a book. Finding time, committing to regular writing, and gathering the right elements together into your dedicated workspace are all aspects of a plan for success. Remembering that forming a habit and setting smaller goals, with fun rewards, will help get you from “In the beginning” to “The End.”