People love talking about habits. They love reading about habits. And writers can be some of the worst offenders (hey, we’re dreamers, give us a break). We get so bogged down in the details – this habit, that habit, how to stack habits, how link habits, blah, blah, blah – that we often don’t even get to the most important part:
Executing the habit!!
So, for 2018, let’s dispense with those mammoth 100+ item lists of habits you absolutely must do before you die…..
Let’s just keep it simple and effective.
Here are a few habits that, if you do nothing but these this year, will give you the biggest bang for your buck. Get these habits sorted and you’ll have a book or two (or more) by the end of this year.
Writing Habit #1: Write to a weekly quota
I used to write to a daily quota of 2,000 words/day as per Stephen King’s advice.
But I found a problem with that:
A daily quota depressed the hell out of me.
A daily quote was too inflexible.
If I didn’t hit my 2,000 words one day, it would eat me from the inside out for the rest of the day.
It didn’t matter if I’d hit 5,000 the day before or just penned ‘The End’ when I finished a whole trilogy, if I didn’t hit 2,000 words each and every day, I’d get really upset.
Maybe I’m just a little bit Type-A OCD.
But I MUCH prefer James Scott Bell’s advice (check out his books, they’re all great).
JSB advices a weekly quota that takes into account the little surprises life throws at you.
Have a lucklustre day? No worries, make it up tomorrow.
Hit a home-run? Great, that’s insurance for the rest of the week.
JSB advices you find the amount of words you can comfortably write in a day, get a weekly amount from that, then add 10% to stretch yourself.
So if you can comfortably write 1,000 words in a sitting, that’s a weekly quota of 6,000 words (because you should also have a day off to rest and refill the creative reservoir) + 10% = 6,600 words for the week.
That’s 1100 words a day.
The key word here is comfortable because there’s no use pounding thousands of words a day if it makes you miserable. If you can’t sustain it, it’s no use.
Writing is a long-haul business.
So get comfortable and settle in.
Writing Habit #2: Find a routine you love
Building on from James Scott Bell’s advice to find a comfortable quota, another great habit for writers comes from Joanna Penn.
Joanna’s Creative Penn podcast keeps me inspired, motivated, and knowledgeable about all things publishing and Joanna is one of the people I look up to the most.
Joanna spoke on one of her recent podcasts about finding a routine you love.
A lot of us push this idea of a perfect day off into the future somewhere.
We think, if we just get through the slog of what we’re doing right now, in the future everything will be fun and we’ll be super happy.
It’s great to build towards a vision but we’re also living right here right now and we need to enjoy it.
So if banging away at keyboard isn’t doing much for you right now, switch your routine up so you look forward to it each day.
We’re more likely to adhere to our habits if we find them enjoyable.
Here’s a sample writing routine that you might find enjoyable:
- 2 hours scheduled morning time before everyone else wakes up.
- Nice strong coffee or maybe some relaxing herbal tea.
- Fun/motivating/mood-enhancing music while brewing your tea.
- Noise cancelling headphones on, give yourself permission to dream, and let loose.
Give yourself a treat to look forward to after your writing.
If you write in the evening, your treat might be long hot bath.
If you write in the morning, your treat might be a healthy juice or a delicious breakfast.
Spend some time thinking about how you can make your writing routine so enjoyable that you’ll be compelled to do it every day.
Writing Habit #3: Writing sprints
When was the last time you wrote 5,000 words in an hour?
If you’re like most writers, that figure probably makes your eyes bug out of your skull.
But it’s very possible to write that amount – and still have it good quality because you hit a flow state – if you learn to turn off your internal editor.
Writing time is writing time.
Edits and deliberation can come later.
Chris Fox’s excellent book 5,000 Words Per Hour really turned me on to the idea of writing sprints.
Basically you set a time limit, 5 minutes for example, and then you just write as fast as you can.
You note down your word count in a spreadsheet and, from that, you can see your words per hour rate (Chris gives you a tabulated spreadsheet that calculates that for you in his book).
Once you’ve learned to write without a filter for 5 minutes, you bump up the time commitment bit by bit until you can hit a 30 minute stretch of pure typing.
Think of how many more books you could finish if that’s how fast you write!
You don’t even have to write that fast all the time but it’s good to have some focused practice on the element of speed built into your daily writing practice.
I like to do little scene sketches and try to beat the previous days’ word count in the timeframe.
Even working a little slower for my main Work-in-Progress, I feel the benefits of silencing the internal editor.
Writing Habit #4: Celebrate the small wins
I’m convinced that the leading cause of demotivation and deceleration when it comes to writing is not celebrating the little wins along the way.
Finish a book?
Go out for pizza, crack open the wine, and relax for the evening.
Finish the first round of edits?
Treat yourself to a little Mario Kart binge.
Hit a good word count for the day?
Boom, make yourself a delicious cup of coffee, champ.
Banged out 10 measly words even though you were feeling ill and depressed?
Man, that’s better than nothing. Read something for pleasure to acknowledge your effort.
You get the picture.
Habit -> reward. Habit -> reward. Habit -> reward.
Reinforcement is a major part of building strong habits.
If you don’t celebrate little wins (and the big ones) how can you expect to keep your habits strong?
Writing Habit #5: Schedule dream and craft time
You should be studying the elements of your craft at least on a weekly basis.
You should also be reading (both inside and out of your chosen genre) on a pretty much daily basis.
On top of that, you need to experience life and fill that well.
We often neglect stuff like this – stuff like reading, going to the theatre, walking in nature, taking time off – because it looks lazy.
It doesn’t look like work.
But all of this feeds into our writing and makes us better writers.
Don’t feel guilty. You need this. It’s part of the job and, as such, you need to schedule it.
What writing habits did I miss?
I think those 5 writing habits are the most important but there are no doubt more habits that have benefits.
What are your writing habits?
Let me know.