Last week we talked about how writing was like going to the gym. Feels great once it’s done. Leading up to it? Not always.
But have you ever noticed that once you force yourself to go to the gym every day for a week or two, it doesn’t suck so bad? You even kind of crave it, need it as part of your day.
The same goes for writing. The more you write, the more you want to.
Getting to that point though can be a struggle. Science now says that it can take up to 66 days to form a habit. So how exactly can you do it? And how do you actually make it stick?
NOTE: In my opinion, a habit doesn’t mean you have to write everyday. That works for some people but not for others. Maybe it’s a certain amount of words or time each week instead. Lots of people only go to the gym 3-4 times per week. The goal is to write regularly enough that it doesn’t feel like a beating.
I gathered several different pieces of advice from other authors, around the internet, psychology journals, etc. And after listing it out, I realized the tips fell into two main categories: attitude and execution.
Start with an attitude adjustment
There’s absolutely no point in starting a new goal if you aren’t in the right headspace. Your project is doomed to fail if you don’t approach it the right way. So there a few things to take care of ahead of time.
Prioritize your priorities.
We all know there are only so many hours in the day, and we all tend to over commit ourselves. That’s why we have to decide what is most important to us. And the good part: there’s no wrong answer! It is completely up to you. But you gotta pick or everything will take the backseat.
Stop making excuses.
How often have you said, “Oh, I don’t have time to write today. Ugh I’m just so busy”?
I do it too.
But here’s the tough truth: you make time for what’s important to you. So is writing important to you? If it is, make the time. If it’s an hour each day or five minutes each day – there’s always a little bit of time to carve out.
Decrease time on filler activities.
Social media is a total time-suck! So is Netflix and email. Start paying attention to how much time you are spending on activities that are distracting you from priorities and decrease that time little by little. And when it’s time to write, turn off your phone, close your email and focus on nothing else.
Lower your expectations.
I don’t know about you, but one of the biggest things that keeps me from writing is the fear that whatever I write is going to suck. And guess what? It is! All first drafts sucks, and the scenes will never come out on paper the way they appear in your head. It’s a little devastating at first, but by lowering your expectations, sitting down to write won’t be so intimidating. That’s what later drafts are for!
Celebrate your streaks.
It can be anything from five minutes or one thousand words each day, but nothing feels better than when you are on a roll. Celebrate that! Be proud of yourself! The positive endorphins – just like the ones you get at the gym – will make you eager to return the next day. And make you happy!
But don’t be afraid to take a break.
Every workout plan takes a rest day, and you should do the same with writing. Otherwise, burnout will kick in and you will be right back where you started. But the key is to take an active break. For gym rats, that means taking a nice walk or a few quick yoga poses on their day off. Maybe for authors, it’s reading a good book or sketching out some world building. Just don’t fall back into the abyss of social media, fake busy-ness or mindless lounging.
Now, you can execute
So now that your attitude and mindset are in the right place, you can focusing on the logistics of sitting down to write habitually.
Set your metrics.
First things first, what’s your goal? Is it too lose 10 pounds – or finish your first draft – by the end of the summer? Using a deadline, you can backtrack, decide how often/how long each session will be and how much needs to be accomplished each day.
For example, if I want my first draft to be 60,000 words and complete in two months, then I know that I’d accomplish my goal if I wrote 1000 words each day.
Sound like too much planning? That’s okay. Look back at your writing history and set a metric that feels right to you.
Schedule your sessions.
Not everyone can do this, but if you can schedule your writing sessions out in advance, it is HUGELY helpful. Once it’s on the calendar, it’s non-negotiable just like a meeting or social engagement. You know it’s coming and can mentally prepare as opposed to just jumping in when you can. Writing at the same time each day has also proven to be successful.
You can’t run a marathon on your first day of training. You have to build up to it. Start with fifteen minute increments and build up to an hour, or start with 100 words at a time until you reach one thousand. This will lessen the intimidation factor and help prevent burnout. Like where this girl is headed.
Find an accountability partner.
When you have a friend to work out with, it’s more fun and feels like more of a commitment! If you can find someone similar in the writing world, you can not only cheer each other on but you can set deadlines for each other and exchange pages.
Plus for those of us who are a little competitive, there’s nothing worse than hearing all of your friends discuss their progress or new groundbreaking idea when you haven’t written anything in weeks.
Don’t stop to edit.
Just keep writing and don’t look back! Editing is for later.
NOTE: If you are trying to make editing a habit as opposed to writing (depending on what stage you are in), these same tips can be applied. Just skip this one.
Track your progress.
Tracking makes a big difference because you can see where you’ve exceeded your goals and where you’ve fallen short.
Most writing programs have a tracker built in, but Scrivener is my favorite. Not only can you set goals, but you can look back at your historical numbers and use that to see how/when you write best.
I also stumbled across a free site called 750 Words that tracks all sorts of cool things in addition to just word count: time, words per minute, number of distractions/pauses, even mindset while you write.
There’s a reason people who count calories lose more weight than those who don’t.
Man. I really took this gym metaphor and ran with it…
So that’s it! You’ve got a recipe for success, a tailored workout plan to get you back in the habit of writing.
What are your obstacles to writing regularly? Fear, time, lack of inspiration? Share in the comments below!