There is only one way to write, and we all know what that is. As much as all authors love to think about stories, plan stories in their heads and to fantasise about their novel finally making it onto the shelves at WHSmiths, there is one simple fact that none of us can ignore. If we don’t actually write, then nothing gets done. Building a daily writing habit is hands down the ultimate way to realise all of your writing goals.
You would think that something as simple as just sitting down for a small block of time each day and writing would be easy to do. However, the huge number of people with half-finished books laying forever undiscovered on their hard drives (is this you?) is testament to the fact that actually sitting down and writing is quite difficult indeed.
So, we know that writing daily is hard, but what exactly is it that’s so hard about it?
The Challenge Of Daily Writing
Writing requires creative energy. And creative energy is the kind of thing that pops up when you are least able to do anything about it. Ever sat in a meeting and known exactly how a chapter should evolve? Ever found yourself driving the car but suddenly able to hear the words in your head of the conversation between two characters?
Creative energy does this to fuel our motivation, but having our best creative moments when we are doing other things is incredibly frustrating. And then, when you get home from work and the kids are in bed and you’ve got maybe an hour that you might be able to dedicate to writing… where is the creative energy then?
Except it isn’t. It really isn’t. It feels like it is, but it’s just curled up sleeping while you’re relaxing. You see, the energy that plans out scenes and stories and novels is always there inside our heads. It tends to pop up when you’re busy with other things because you have a story inside you trying to get out. It wants to be told. When you’re relaxing at the end of a hard day the last thing your brain will do at that point is make you get up and do more work.
Daily writing requires constant effort for zero feedback
So, firstly, writing seems hard because it requires more effort than sitting in front of the TV, reading, chatting or surfing the net. And secondly writing seems hard because the reward is not particularly apparent. There is so little feedback. Particularly when you’re writing a novel. It amounts to months and months of work with nothing but hope to fuel it. Even losing weight – another highly difficult thing that so many people want to do – gives you some reward in the form of a hopefully dropping number on the scales as the weeks go by. Or take something like learning to play an instrument: with each week of practice, you can hear the improvement in the music you are playing.
But writing? Nothing. It’s a black void into which we chuck our faith, our hope and our best efforts at telling a story, and we may never get anything back from it.
In fact, when you look at it like that, there’s little wonder there are so many languishing half-finished novels out there.
Okay, so building a writing habit is what we’re here to discuss. Not the lamentable state of affairs that writing a book amounts to. Let’s see if we can get this habit up and running.
1. Accept that you’re in it for the long haul
Writing takes time. You don’t write a novel overnight, or become a success overnight. The first thing to do is to accept that writing is a long term commitment. Make peace with the process. Know that a year or two is not that long when it comes to producing books. If you lower your expectations to the medium term, then you will not suffer anguish and disappointment when a year from now you’re still nowhere closer to being the next Dan Brown.
2. Understand that consistency is king
NOTHING beats consistency. Writing every day for two weeks and then doing sod all for the next three months will do nothing for you. You are better writing only 100 words a day for a whole year (that’s still 36,500 words), than having crazy writing spurts followed by dry spells that go on for weeks or months. If you write AT ALL on a given day, you are winning. See number 3.
3. Sitting down to write is harder than the writing itself
The hardest part is not getting the words down. I would imaging that most of you can get something on paper once you sit in front of the screen with the sole intention to write. The hardest part is getting there in the first place. It is far more likely that you will procrastinate and not sit down to write, than you will face writer’s block once you do sit down. Most of us know what we want to write. We have a book in mind. We have an idea for a short story. The ideas are there, no matter how raw and rough around the edges. The struggle is getting to the blank page in the first place. What you have to overcome is the reluctance to sit at the desk and open a word processor.
Remember that the effort is more in sitting down and preparing than in the work itself. Talk yourself into just getting as far as a blank page on your screen. The rest follows naturally.
4. Routine builds habit
A habit is something you do without thinking. While it’s probably unrealistic to expect to ever write without thinking about it, you can create a solid routine that makes it easier. The human brain loves routine and familiarity because life in the constrains of these boundaries makes for less effort and less thinking. It is not always possible, but if you can tie your writing to something else that happens daily, then that is a great way to approach it. For example, perhaps you could decide that for the first 45 minutes after the kids are asleep, you will write. Or that you will always write from 1pm to 1:30pm. You could get up earlier and always write before doing anything else that day. Setting a regular time slot aside for writing takes away the decision to write and makes it something you know you need to do.
5. Without routine, try simple commitment
If you’re anything like me, fitting writing to a routine is almost impossible. I’m a single mum of three and my days are never the same because I have a toddler at home with me some of the time and I also still freelance from home, which tends to take priority over writing. There is no set time of day that I can commit to every day of the week or weekend.
Also, I cannot say that I’ll write after the kids go to sleep, because some nights my nine year old is awake until 10pm and most nights my three year old will cry out for something in the small hours. Sleep is a big priority that I can’t function without, so I’m not willing to sacrifice sleep time on writing. It’s not a long-term sustainable habit. Instead, I have a very simple daily commitment:
I track this, plus a number of other habits that are mostly health related, in the coach.me app which is completely free. Using this app, I can look back over the last few months and I can see if I’ve written most days in a month, or not very much at all.
But don’t get hung up on statistics
I have no word limit, no specific project, all I track is whether I write. Today, for example, I will tick this goal off because I wrote this blog post. Another day I might write a piece of flash fiction, a chapter of a novel, or even send out an email newsletter. If I’m communicating with the written word, I check it off. It helps to reinforce my idea of myself as a writer. And all writing is practice. All writing helps you improve your speed, your turn of phrase and your ability to get words down on paper. I can bang out 1,000 words pretty quickly these days, and that’s how I manage to freelance from home, run two blogs and write fiction.
I don’t track streaks, or worry about word count. These can be used for self-criticism and undo the good work of learning how to write daily. I just show up as many days as I can and I write something. Because I am a writer!
Commit to writing. Every day. You don’t have to do a set number of words, work on the same project or do anything that anyone else days. Just write, at some point, between waking up and going to sleep.
6. Learn to touch-type
Learning to touch-type is such a useful skill to have. At first it’s really hard. It’s horrible. It feels ridiculous. And then it starts to click, and once you get the hang of it, you’ll wonder why you didn’t learn years ago. It’s not only useful for writing, but for anything that you use a computer for. I learnt because I was studying software engineering at university and it just made working with computers easier. But being able to type without looking at the keyboard speeds up your writing so much, and it makes it less of a physical chore.
Touch-typing takes a little practice. Once you get the basics, force yourself to touch type EVERY time you use a keyboard. In no time you’ll be proficient and the words will be flying from your brain to the page like magic.
7. Think of yourself as a writer
It’s important to start identifying with the idea of being a writer. You might be a lawyer, or a mechanic, or a stay at home mum, but none of these things precludes you being a writer. Write like you mean it. Don’t write for a bit and then tell yourself you’re crap. You need to have a long term view (see number 1) and know that your writing will get better, and more importantly the volume of your written work will increase, slowly with time.
Some suggest joining online writing communities, local writing groups or other gatherings. If you have plenty of free time, this can be a great way to make writing more visible in your life. However, if you are already stretched for time and busy, then beware of spending time on writing-related activites that don’t actually result in you getting any writing done.
8. Clear out the clutter
A cluttered home and an overly busy schedule makes for poor writing commitment. Don’t let yourself drown in the constant busy-ness of life. Be intolerant of excess stuff and commitments. My writing has always suffered when I have been overwhelmed with life admin. This sounds utterly boring but keep on top of the housework, emails, shopping and other stuff. Daily writing is hard enough, so don’t give yourself any excuses to not do it.
A successful life requires a degree of discipline over how you run things. Don’t fall prey to the chaotic artist fallacy.
9. There isn’t a magic approach to building a daily writing habit
If you’re reading this article perhaps you are still looking for the one thing that is going to help you write 2,000 words a day from here on in. That magic things doesn’t exist outside of you.
It’s very common now to turn to the internet for help with every problem and every question we have. I think in some ways this makes us less self-reliant. The only person who can really help you to build a daily writing habit is you. You know when you can fit writing into your day, you know what stops you from doing it and what your excuses are. The key to building a daily writing habit that you can stick to is knowing that nothing but consistency is going to get you where you want to go.