6 Simple Tricks for Building A Strong Writing Habit

    strong writing habit

    “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.

    For instance:

    1. 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.
    2. Open up your work-in-progress document. (For some people, just opening the document is enough to break through resistance.)
    3. Write down what you want to accomplish during your writing session. This gets you focused and gets you writing!
    4. 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.

    About the author

      Ali Luke

      Ali Luke’s free mini-ebooks Time to Write and The Two-Year Novel are for any writer who wants to fit in some extra writing (and enjoy it more)! You can download them here when you sign up to her weekly email newsletter – which includes writing tips, discounts, and more.

    • manoj says:

      Thank you so much, i found this quite helpful. But academic writing is something more challenging to master. But there are helpful tools as well. Who else wants to get second to none academic writing? http://essaywritingservicesguide.com

    • Ana says:

      Nice post, I’m still trying to find the best time to write since I’m a working from home mom who’s surrounded by children. There’s always a kid who says “Mom I want this … I want that”, and it’s hard to finish one post with this kind of situation.

      The only quiet time for writing is when they are at school or sleeping, but it may change at anytime. For now I still don’t have exact time to write, I just follow my children’s rhythm and steal time to write when they are not around. I think along with the time when they start to grow up, I will have more time for myself and writing moment 🙂

      Thanks – Ana

    • I also begin my blog now, maybe I have adapted the started hardle.It’s really useful insights to writing, I hope can have a wonderful blog for myself.

    • Great post, lots of good advice. I think rewriting helps one learn a lot about the craft of writing. I took a year to finish my first novel and another eight months working on the rewrites. It was those rewrites that taught me so much about good writing. When you write something, leave it for a couple of days, then come back to it with fresh eyes.

    • Pat says:

      I keep trying to write a comment here but I keep ending up with great stuff I would rather post on my blog. Thanks.

    • Edent says:

      Great information, thanks so much for share

    • Miranda says:

      These are great! The second one, in particular, really resonates with me. I’ve found that I can work on some types of writing in the morning–mostly articles and other types of more technical writing–but with fiction, I work best in the mid-afternoon and in the evenings. I just don’t seem to have the right type of creative juices flowing in the morning to be able to work on fiction.

      Thank you for the post!

    • Kim Cataldo says:

      My husband and I have a business which allows me to work from home. Initially, I thought the office we had in a separate room would be a great place to write as well. My husband is usually out in the field and I have lots of time to myself. WRONG! The vibe in that room is so business like, plus all I could see was work that needed my attention. I finally invested in a small desk for our bedroom that looks out over the water (but truth be told, when I get “in the zone” I rarely see beyond my writing world). This changed everything for me. And if my husband is home, head phones are the way to go.

    • Kellie-Ann Russell says:

      Great post! Scheduling in time to write is a big one, I think. I keep a weekly schedule and stick to it. It’s harder to get back into a writing routine when I’ve taken a bit too long of a break. But once I set time aside for it and plunk myself down on the sofa to do it several days in a row, it gets easier and easier. The inspiration kicks in a lot quicker, too. A couple other things that really help me is to brainstorm some ideas before you start and outline. It works up the brain and gets the creative juices flowing, making writing a lot easier.

    • Pat says:

      Great post. I talk ideas. To comment on #1. I can write anywhere. You can too. The reason is ideas are everywhere. We develop this idea that we can only be inspired using our favorite pen, our writers desk, heating scented oils, having the window open and listening to the birds-that these things help us come up with ideas to write. However, we only need ideas to write. Ideas are everywhere.

      The reasons not to write our ideas number very few compared to the ideas we can write. Write down every idea you have and you’ll be able to write all day and everyday.

      It sounds pretty ambiguous. I don’t know and no one knows what you are experiencing right now. You could be happy as a lark. You could be in the midst of depression, you could be confused, angry, bored and with every one of the experiences, and every other experience comes an unending flow of ideas. Ideas are everywhere. I talk ideas. Check out my blog. I saw the writing on the wall in the form of a ghost that looked like me talking.

    • Pimion says:

      I think when you’re inspired it reflects the quality of your writing and no writing habit will manage that.

    • Linda Freedland says:

      This is for Lynda Panther – I’m the wife of a retiree so I understand the frustration of not having time to oneself. I’m blessed that my husband’s a golfer! My first suggestion would be to 1. join a writer’s group, or form one yourself. If you can’t meet in your home, meet in a coffee shop or the library – anywhere you can talk and not disturb the other patrons. 2. Join your local writer’s guild or any local chapter of a writing group. I belong to our local chapter of Sisters in Crime as well as a Writer’s Guild. 3. Find a place you can go to write that welcomes writers. Once a week i escape to Panera’s and sit in the back and write. I always buy something out of courtesy. They have wifi, and outlets – and great pastries. My husband does;t read what I write. I have a beta reader – a person who reads and critiques your work and who does it at no charge. Good luck – don’t stop writing.

      • Ali Luke says:

        What excellent tips — thanks for posting them, Linda! I hope they help not only Lynda but also any others reading (wives or husbands) who are in the same position.

    • Jireh says:

      As a new writer, its not difficult for me to get started. I write for Ultius and a few others like it, right now the challenge is finding time to work on my personal blog, however we are about to enter a slow down and thankfully I have a writing coach that is been a great help with getting things set up and going in the right direction.
      however the tips here are great, kind of help to confirm some habits I have or some things I have considered changing.
      Thanks!!

      • Ali Luke says:

        Sounds like you’re going well, Jireh — and great that you’ve got a coach to work with for support and accountability. Best of luck with your personal blog!

    • Oooo, that starting hurdle is the worst!

    • Krystal says:

      I’ve definitely incorporated some of these tips lately, and they’ve helped me form a habit and improve my daily word count.

      Personally, not writing daily would make the habit easy for me to break–either I could forget the day or let other things drag me away from the task. Writing daily could be anything from writing 50 to 10K words.

      I started going to the library for a few hours in the morning and listening to music as I wrote–the music drowns out what little background noise there is, but I also can’t get distracted singing my favorite songs. I also joined a forum where members post daily progress, so that keeps me motivated and writing daily. Now, writing is a habit!

      Remember, habits can easily be broken! I took a tiny writing break after finishing a manuscript (as in I spent three days writing a short story and one day of no writing)–where I easily wrote 4-5K words a day towards the end of my manuscript, I’m now back to 2K and building my way back up.

      Unintentionally breaking a habit can be draining, so do keep that in mind when forming habits. It can be motivation to keep it up!

      • Ali Luke says:

        Good point about keeping up the momentum with a good writing habit! I think daily works well for lots of writers, and of course if you can manage it, it’s a great way to build a brilliantly strong habit.

        Sounds like you’re going impressively fast on that manuscript (2k/day is still really good!) — hope the next few days and weeks go brilliantly. Good luck with it!

    • Chan Huu says:

      Thank Ali for your tip about the writing environment. I definitely have to switch to a new writing place where I could be more focused on the projects at hand.

      For me, having a writing partner does the trick. She holds me accountable by painstakingly editing my crafts and positively nagging at me when I missed the deadlines. Her work inspires me a great deal so that I won’t stop striving to write better.

      • Ali Luke says:

        Writing partners are wonderful! Sounds like you have a brilliant one (and I’m sure you’re just as valuable to her). 🙂

    • Renayle says:

      This post was awesome! I definitely use #1 as a way to write consistently. I signed up with a website called Focus at Will, where they have a variety of music you can listen to that fits your mood. So if I need to write something by a certain deadline, I click on the “uptempo” tab, and if I am writing my blog or novel, then it can be “alpha chill.” Definitely upped my productivity and keeps me from doing a million other things.

    • David Bley says:

      If you would like to submit your story anonymously for critique and read others stories and offer criticism, join Literature Sunday by sending an email to [email protected] and request to join.

    • Being accountable to someone else really helps!

    • I really, really, really like writing at the same time every day. For a long time I was writing from 1:00 to 3:00 every afternoon. But I kept getting interrupted so I was constantly frustrated. I recently switched to mornings from about 10 to 12. It’s working better – fewer interruptions – but I HATE writing at this time. I want to clean up my house and get my chores done and then sit and write in the afternoon when I don’t feel like doing anything physical.

      But . . . I guess you have to do what works and writing in the afternoon doesn’t.

      I also liked your comment about inspiration. I took piano lessons when I was a young adult and my piano teacher told me that they really great pianists often didn’t ever succeed because it came too easy for them. The ones who worked really hard were the ones who succeeded. It’s awesome when you have the gift and the motivation but if you have to pick, motivation is better.

      • Ali Luke says:

        It’s a tough one — trying to find a time of day that you write well AND a time when the rest of life isn’t impinging upon you! Good for you for carrying on even in your non-preferred time slot. Is there anything you can do about the afternoon interruptions or are they the unavoidable (e.g. child related!) kind?

    • Hi Ali,
      Great advice for getting over the inspiration myth. Productivity as a writer is a process, not a burst of energy that comes when it wants. Inspiration is great at the idea level, but is a horrible device to rely on for productivity in my estimation.

      In regard to Tip #2, I read somewhere that our brain is most active and at peak performance 4 hours after waking up, which explains why so many writers work in the early morning. If true, then getting up early and writing, then taking a mid-day nap and writing would double your brain’s peak performance window and make you twice as productive!

      The best advice I’ve heard about getting started is from the guys at Self-Publishing Podcast, I’m going to paraphrase here and most likely butcher it, perfect is the enemy to publish. They claim all the time to get something written, and get it out there, you always have time to rewrite it.

      Thanks again for sharing!

      • Ali Luke says:

        I hadn’t heard that before about being at your best four hours after waking up, David — but it definitely sounds plausible — thanks!

        Great point about “perfect” — you could spend your whole life on one short story or poem if you insisted on it being absolutely perfect before putting it out there in the world. Published is better than perfect!

    • Evolet says:

      I could never do #6. I’m superstitious in that I don’t let people read my WIP until at least the first draft is done. I did that one time and promptly ended up with writer’s block for three months. So, yeah, #6 would be a no go. LOL

      • Ali Luke says:

        If you wanted to do something similar, you could report your wordcount to friends at the end of a writing session — rather than actually sharing what you wrote. I’m leery of sharing a first draft too — I always edit at least a little bit before letting anyone else near it.

    • Just knowing when I’m supposed to do something goes a long way toward breaking through the “getting started” barrier.

      For example, I know that in the morning, I’ll spend an hour reading and commenting on writing or writing-related blogs (like this one). Because I know automatically what I’ll be doing each morning I don’t have to spend “think time” deciding what to do next.

      I also know what I’ll be doing on Monday and Wednesday afternoons (writing my own blog articles) and on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons (writing freelance articles) and on Friday afternoons (writing books, yeah!).

      I also use a timer so I not only know how long I’ll be writing, but so I know when to stop and take a break.

      • Ali Luke says:

        That sounds like a great schedule, Carrie, and a great way for any writer to divide up the week — having different themes for different days or half days can really keep you on track. Thanks for sharing!

    • Hi, Ali,
      Thanks for this interesting blog post. I am very new to this trade. I am trying to soak up as much as online as possible and form some kind of strategy writing habit. Your article has shed some light on this issue which will be helpful in this regards.
      Thank you.
      Respectfully,
      Deepak Mehta

      • Ali Luke says:

        Thanks Deepak, glad to help and best of luck with your learning and your writing journey. 🙂

    • ABBAOUI SIHEM says:

      IT’s incredibly astonishing how inspiration is fertile when you sit down infront of the sea I ‘ve tried that many times and I think it is one of the most inspiring spots .Coming back after a happy trip
      also is a wonderful flow of splendid inspiring ideas .

      • Ali Luke says:

        One of my writer friends loves being by the sea too, and I definitely agree that a seaside break is very restorative — great for coming back to work with renewed vigour!

    • My problem is a retired hubby! He thinks he can interrupt my writing whenever he chooses, he criticizes my work to conform to his ideas about the books he personally likes & when I disagree he becomes abusive. This demotivates me – it would demotivate anyone – & he regards my writing time as eating into his time. It’s a bugger. When he was working I could write eight hours straight, now I struggle for thee odd half-hour. Short of criminal activity, I can’t see what I can do to stop this.

      • Ali Luke says:

        Lynda, how frustrating and demoralising that must be. Maybe you could encourage him to take up a time-consuming hobby (golf..?)

        Can you get out of the house to write? I know it can be distracting just having family members around — but especially so if they tend to interrupt or want to see what you’re working on.

        Do you belong to a writers’ group or circle? If not, it might provide some encouragement from people who “get” it, and might also be a good reason to get out of the house and focus on writing for a bit.

        Hope things improve (and that you don’t have to resort to anything criminal…!)

      • Ali Luke says:

        Lynda, that must be really frustrating and demoralising. Can you get out of the house to write? Or tell him that you’re writing for a certain length of time (e.g. the next 3 hours).

        If you’re not already part of a writers’ group, you might want to join one — for emotional / practical support, and for a good excuse to get out of the house and focus on writing.

        Hope things improve for you — and perhaps other Write to Done readers will have faced the same problem and have some advice.

        • Ali Luke says:

          Excuse the double reply, internet connection was playing up!

    • Anne says:

      All these suggestions work well for me, especially the calender. 🙂

    • Ashley says:

      Great post! I have had a really hard time going back to the momentum I had in December, but as my schedule changes I need to be more realistic about my writing goals. I’ll be posting once a week and trying out writing times throughout the week. These are great tips!

      • Ali Luke says:

        Thanks Ashley! Hope you can get back into a great writing and posting rhythm. 🙂


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