Friday, February 11, 2011

Make writing your habitual fix

Writers write because we love it. That may be a slight generalisation, but it applies to most of the writers I know. We love our characters, we love our worlds, we love our stories*. But sometimes writing can start to feel like a chore. I'm not sure how this happens, and I know that every day that I don't write, I think about the fact that I haven't written a lot.

I hear a lot of writers say (and I know exactly how they feel) that getting themselves to write is the hardest part. Once you've made yourself sit at the computer, gotten rid of all the distractions like Twitter and Facebook and (squee!) new blogfollowers and comments, and finally gotten around to opening your story, it becomes easy**. The words flow.

The big hurdle for many writers is not getting the words, but making themselves sit and write the words in the first place.

I no longer want to feel guilty about skipping a day of writing. I want it to be easy to sit down and get past all the distractions and WRITE! And I never, ever, want it to take three years, or even more than a year to write a first draft again. I want writing to be my first priority of the day (other than, you know, the things that keep me alive).

So, I've decided to give myself a writing habit.
habit (from
1. an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary: the habit of looking both ways before crossing the street.

I want writing to be so ingrained in my daily routine that I start getting jumpy if I don't get my fix. Ok, that could be taking it a bit far, but you know what I mean.

I've designed myself a writing habit building schedule, to help me become a daily writer for life:

   1.  Commit to thirty days of writing at least 500 words in a row on fiction. No skipping days. No complicated goals. Just get the words. Habits take repetition over time to build. Thirty days is generally accepted as the point when you can stop thinking too hard about the action, but it isn't the end. It's a good start.
Instead of focusing on cultivating self-discipline, introduce rituals similar to brushing your teeth. Incremental change is better than ambitious failure. Success feeds off of itself.

-Tal Ben-Shahar, Happier
   2.  Make it a ritual. Do the writing first thing in the day. Don't do anything else until I've reached the 500 words. No blogging, no checking emails, no reading other blogs, no Twitter. Nothing else till I've got my words (other than making coffee - this is essential). This step doubles as a reward, because then I've got the other things to look forward to once I've finished.

   3.  If my self discipline really isn't doing it for me (it hasn't got the best track record), remove temptation. Since for me, the biggest blocker for writing is the interwebs, that means switching off the modem at the wall (which means no more while I write - hope it doesn't come to that).

   4.  Write it down and put it somewhere I can see it. This is what I made for myself to stick right in front of me on the wall. Feel free to use it too if you want.

   5.  Have a buddy. I think, at least for those of us writers who also blog and tweet, we writers like to share experiences. Writing itself is such a solitary thing that we reach out to other writers to see how they're doing. If anyone would like to join me on my attempt to create a writing habit, please do!

There you have it, five steps that are hopefully going to ensure I never have a problem with writing motivation again.

Do you think you could benefit from creating a writing habit? Do you have problems motivating yourself to write? Why don't you join in?

* Although love can surprisingly easily turn to hate sometimes

** Unless they're suffering from writer's block


  1. Uff, I know exactly what you mean. I think my biggest problem is I've gotten in the habit of thinking of writing like WORK. As in, "you have to write XXXX amount of words today. If you don't, you failed." So instead of a joy, it becomes a pressure. Darn. I need to work on that.

  2. I do think I could benefit. I'm in. Up until now, all I've managed is to make *saying* I'm going to create a writing habit, a habit. Time to act.

  3. Now that I've completed my rough draft I'm having a hard time hitting 500+ words a day. Hard for me to write new stuff when I know I have so much work to do on my draft.

    Anymore with all my obligations I'm going to have to start scheduling out specific time to do my writing. I've never had to budget my creative time like that, so I'm a little weary of it.

  4. Hi! I have found writing first thing in the morning to benefit me in three ways:

    1) no one else is awake.
    2) I'm not all stressed out and drained from a long day commuting and working
    3) when I'm not completely awake, my inner editor is still groggy. She doesn't get a word in until I'm almost done.

    All in all, I've found a lot of success writing in the morning. Good luck with your quest to build a writing habit! Oh and I forgot to mention occasionally you get to start the rest of your day on a writing high from that great scene!

  5. I definitely would benefit from getting The W Habit! In fact, I'm in the process of doing it. There are still days when I don't write...

    I can't start first thing because I'd just go to sleep over the keyboard. One hour of chores gets me alive and kicking and then I sit down to write, cup of coffee to hand.

    Good luck with your goal, Sari! You can do it!

  6. I've gotten out of my habits lately (on purpose, though-- I needed a break), so I may just jump in with you! Good luck on forming your new habits. :)

  7. I'm already writing a lot everyday, (no life outside of studies results in that...) but a lot of my writing happens forty minutes after I've broken curfew. ;)

    So I'm with you on number 2. *stares guiltily at all the different open blog posts in all the different tabs and slowly reaches to turn the internet off before realizing the internet needs to be on to comment*

  8. Jem, I know how you feel. I think my habit making regime could make that feeling worse in the short run, but I'm hoping in the long run the action of writing will become so ingrained that I don't have to think about making myself do it anymore.

    VR, yes I do that! "Ok, I'm going to write now. But wait, has anything changed on my blog? And oooh, what's everyone else posted about today..." and so it goes. That's why I want to do the writing in the morning so I don't get distracted before doing it :). And welcome! Glad you've decided to join me.

    Lindz, I thought that too, since I just finished my first draft. But I've just started a seekrit projekt so I'm going to try and get the words on that in the mornings, and revise in the afternoons. Maybe you could make your step one something else? Like 30 minutes of revising every day?

    Kari Marie, I love your number three :). I guess us writers gotta find any way possible to shut down that inner editor.

    Prue, sounds like you've already got a pretty good routine going on there. One of the tips I noticed when I was researching creating habits was to give yourself a trigger. Maybe the cleaning is your trigger?

    Good to have you joining in Shallee :). And sometimes a break is definitely necessary. I tend to have poor self-discipline though which is why I'm going for an everyday habit. If I skip a day that tends to be the end of it for me.

    Madeline, I know what you mean. Even when I am being good with writing I tend to put it off right till the end of the day when I should be going to bed. So trying to get myself doing it early, and hopefully that way I'll get more done too.

    Update on my habit building: Got up at 8am and got 812 words on my new Seekrit Project. Didn't open anything till I'd finished. Still got heaps of time to do some revision this afternoon!

    Thanks for the comments everyone, I love having you here :)

  9. I like the idea of doing 500 words a day. I squeaze most of my writing in on the weekend, but I think 500 words each day after work seems possible.

  10. Great post! Getting myself going is definitely tough for me, it seems like such a big hurdle to just sit down and concentrate. I find writing first thing is by far the best, otherwise it gets pushed back...and back...

  11. Hello...

    thanks for the twitter follow :-) have just followed your blog. Nice to meet another Aussie who is writing YA. I'm in Brisbane though.

    I would love to do as you say, however as i do shift work (on call) sometimes that just isn't appropriate for me. I do however like the idea of not sitting down to other things UNTIL i have written my words.

    great idea (And one that a few people have tried in vain to convince me of) i must be more diligent.

    great blog



  12. Heather, yea I picked a number that I knew I could reach, so excuses wouldn't have as much of an impact. Right now I'm just trying to build the habit, and once I've got that maybe I'll up the word count.

    Carrie, that's exactly how I feel most of the time. You're welcome to join me :).

    Hi Constance, thanks for the follow! Lovely to meet another Aussie blogger & writer. Maybe you could come up with a different sort of trigger, rather than it being a certain time of day? Although I can imagine how working shifts would make regular writing difficult. Good luck, and welcome :).

  13. This is awesome!
    Like ripples spreading out across a huge expanse of water.

    We should start a '500 Club' :D

  14. :-)

    might have to do just that.

    will figure it out. Just gotta get into it i say.

    There are quite a few of us Aussies about, i've found a few!

    good luck and good night!

  15. These are wonderful tips :)... I'm definitely far to prone to distractions.. I recently finished churning out my first draft, and while it didn't become a chore, it took me almost 2 years to get to that point.

    Granted, I had my own issues with the stories/characters to deal with, but there always seemed to be something cropping up, trying to keep me from writing.

    But you're right... we have to stop making excuses and just get down to it :)

    Thank you so much for stopping by my blog, great to meet another fellow crusader!

  16. Right now I am so into writing that I don't feel guilty if I don't write - i just miss it and look forward to the next time I get to sit down at my laptop! hehe

  17. Prue, it is awesome isn't it? :) 500 club sounds like a great idea. We could even have buttons! ;)

    Constance, yea I've met a few more Aussie writer/bloggers these last few days :). Good luch with getting a routine going.

    Hey WritingNut, welcome. It took me so long to finish writing the first draft of my current WIP. I hope that never happens again. Dragging it out definitely drains some of the love for the project.

    Trisha, I'm a tad envious! Wish my problem was missing writing :S

  18. Hey there, welcome to the Crusades!

    Good luck starting up this routine! I noticed your little ** note on writer's block. Jodi Picoult mentioned on her website (and I agree with her), that she doesn't believe in writer's block. Because if you're a writer, you WRITE and anything that comes out as crap can always be edited out later. She also only had 20 minutes at a time to write, so if she didn't get anything done writing-wise, she wouldn't have finished any sort of novel ever. Regardless, I always think of that when I hear someone mention writer's block: real writer's don't believe in it!!

  19. I have little snippets of time to write each day and I try to take full advantage of them. Sometimes I get 1,500 words in a day, sometimes only a couple hundred. But progress is progress!

  20. So did it work?  ;)  I too want to start a writing habit.  30 days, huh?  I can do that.

  21. I did the same thing by joining a blogathon. Also I found this great online tool at

    It keeps a track of writing daily and gives points based on how much you accomplish. Also it runs some analytics on the words. I use this mainly to practice freewriting :)

  22. I did the same thing by joining a blogathon. Also I found this great online tool at

    It keeps a track of writing daily and gives points based on how much you accomplish. Also it runs some analytics on the words. I use this mainly to practice freewriting :)

  23. Hi Pavithra, I've heard of 750 words. Has it worked for you? I'll check it out :)

  24. This was great! I suffered with the same problem, I'd want to write & then get distracted by everything else going on, like Facebook. Since I made writing a habit my books come along a lot faster & I think the quality is much better. Nice to know Im not the only who procrastinates though!