“I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately, it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”
– W. Somerset Maugham
Do you ever feel like your writing life would be so much easier if only you could stay inspired?
Maybe you had an initial burst of enthusiasm for the project you’re working on, but it quickly faded and now you’re struggling.
You haven’t blogged for weeks and weeks.
You’re stuck on Chapter 3 of your novel and have been for months.
You can’t even seem to finish a short story.
The truth is, inspiration will only get you so far. Of course it’s wonderful to feel on fire as a writer—words flying from your fingers, the world vanishing around you. When you’re in the zone, you can’t wait to get to your desk.
But, for most of us, that’s not really our daily writing reality.
Simply getting yourself at your desk ready to work might feel like leaping a pretty huge hurdle.
This is where habit trumps inspiration.
If you’re in the habit of writing, sitting down and getting on with it is as natural as brushing your teeth. It’s part of your daily or weekly routine.
(I don’t believe you have to write every day, though some writers swear by it. If you want to build up any momentum, though, you do need to write regularly, though, which – for most writers – means at least once a week.)
So how exactly do you form a writing habit?
Here are six easy tricks to try right now. You don’t need to sit around waiting for inspiration to strike, and you don’t need superhuman levels of willpower.
#1: Make Your Writing Environment Work for You
If I could only give you only one tip, it would be this one: make the place you write work for you. Your writing environment matters more than you might think.
If you sit on the sofa with your laptop, but always find yourself picking up the TV remote ten minutes into your writing session, try sitting at the kitchen table.
If you write at home but feel constantly distracted by all the chores you need to get done, try writing in a coffee shop. (Or even better, in a library.)
If you find that noise intrudes on your thoughts, put on headphones and listen to music or white noise.
These probably sound obvious… but so many writers don’t make the small tweaks to their environment that could make all the difference.
#2: Experiment with Different Times of Day – then Pick One
Chances are, your productivity levels wax and wane throughout the day. You might find yourself writing page after page almost effortlessly in the mornings, but you struggle to string together a sentence after lunch.
Even if you think you know when you’re at your best, try writing at different times of the day. You might surprise yourself.
Once you’ve found a good writing slot, try to stick with it for most of your writing sessions. Of course you can (and should!) write at other times if you feel moved to do so, but having a regular writing slot makes it much easier to build a habit.
#3: Work in Timed Bursts
This is my favorite trick for getting anything done – simply set a timer. I’ve got one running right now. I normally use Tomato Timer, which is designed to fit with the Pomodoro technique – 25 minute bursts. Tick Tock Timer is a good one for other lengths of time.
While the timer is running, write. Don’t check email or chat on Facebook. Just write.
If you’re not used to doing this, it can be surprisingly hard: you may well find yourself having to resist, almost every minute or two, the impulse to stop writing and do something else.
Setting the timer sets your intention. It’s a promise to yourself that you are going to write for 25 minutes (or 15 or 40 or whatever works for you).
It helps you focus and resist distractions – there’s an end in sight.
This trick works especially well if you know you’ll struggle to be as focused as usual. Right now, my teething baby son is asleep in the pushchair next to me. It’s been a busy day (and a rather sleepless night) and I know that, without a timer, I’d have written a couple of sentences of this post and then been distracted by Facebook.
#4: Mark Your Calendar
One very simple habit-forming tool is your calendar. Not just to plan ahead for writing time, but for tracking what you’ve done.
Put a check mark, an X, or even a smiley face sticker or shiny gold star on each day that you write. (I like to do this with a physical calendar, but there’s no reason you couldn’t use a virtual one instead.)
Many writers find it helps to build a “chain” of successes, where they’ve written every day, or every target day, if they’re not writing on a daily basis.
You could also look for a sense of progress: perhaps in the first week of marking your calendar, you only write on one day, but by the end of a couple of months, you’re consistently writing three days a week and sometimes managing five.
Accountability can come into play here too, if you make your calendar visible to other people – hang it on the wall in your kitchen, stick it on the fridge, or if it’s the virtual sort of calendar, share it with writer friends online.
#5: Get Over the Getting Started Hurdle
What’s the toughest bit of a writing session for you? For me (and I think for an awful lot of writers), it’s the getting started bit.
You may well find that once you actually sit down, put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, make a plan and get a few sentences into your work-in-progress, the writing flows pretty easily.
But getting going can be tough. I know writers who find themselves engaging in all sorts of displacement activities – even tackling the chores – rather than writing.
If getting started is a big hurdle for you, make it easier. Come up with a simple, consistent routine that you can use at the start of each writing session. It might only take a minute or two.
- Put on a particular album, track, or playlist that you like to use when you write—music can be a great cue to get into the writing zone. If you’re not keen on writing with music playing, try Noisli.
- Open up your work-in-progress document. (For some people, just opening the document is enough to break through resistance.)
- Write down what you want to accomplish during your writing session. This gets you focused and gets you writing!
- Start your timer.
Once you’ve done the three or four little steps of your routine, you may find that you hardly notice yourself starting to write.
#6: Share Your Work with Other Writers
In my own writing life, there’s nothing that’s helped me more than having a circle of writer friends to share work-in-progress with.
Setting my own deadlines for finishing a scene or chapter leaves far too much room for renegotiation: committing to a weekly or monthly meeting means I have to meet an external deadline, one that involves other people who’re counting on me to get my work done.
You don’t have to join a writers’ group, though. Sharing your work could also mean:
- Posting regularly (e.g. once a week) on your blog.
- Asking a spouse or friend to read what you’ve written each week.
- Paying for an editor to review your manuscript.
- Publishing excerpts from your novel-in-progress online, perhaps on a writing-related forum.
- Emailing each session’s work to a writing buddy.
It could even be as simple as sharing your day’s or week’s word count with your friends on Facebook, rather than sharing your actual writing.
If you’ve already established a strong writing habit in your life, I’d love to hear what’s worked well for you – do you have an extra trick to add to my list?
And if you’re still working on that writing habit, drop a comment below to say which tip you’ll be trying out this week.