Late last night, you promised yourself you’d write today. Then, you woke half an hour late for work. You got stuck in traffic and spent the day dealing with an angry customer/client/boss.
Later that evening at home, your kids needed help with their homework, and there were chores to do around the house.
When things were finally quiet, you didn’t have the desire or the energy to sit down and do your most important work. Or maybe you forgot about your promise altogether.
To write every day is a simple ambition, and it’s one many new writers struggle to achieve.
If you’re having trouble, please don’t give up.
I don’t doubt your commitment or your talent; the only reason you don’t write every day is because you haven’t cultivated a daily writing practice.
In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg provides a simple but effective framework for creating habits. He says that
“Habits are a three -step loop— the cue, the routine, and the reward”
Step 1: Set Up Your Cues for Writing
A habitual cue is something you see or do before you start writing. If you want to develop a writing practice, consider these five cues.
- 1. Location: know in advance where you’re going to write. This could be your office, a quiet room in your house or even a coffee shop.
- 2. Time: make a commitment to write at the same time every morning or evening. Don’t make any plans that break this commitment
- 3. Emotional state: if you’re stressed after a difficult day in the office, it’s going to be harder to write. Figure out when you’re calm and use this time for your best work.
- 4. Other people: writing is mostly a solitary activity, but the support of other writers is useful too. You could join a local writing group to hold yourself to account.
- 5. Immediately preceding action: whatever you do before you write should encourage your writing practice. If you’re exhausted from spending the night at a party, you’re not going to have much luck filling a blank page.
If you want to write every day, kill the cues for other habits that have nothing to do with your writing practice. Disconnect from the internet, remove the television from your workspace. Uninstall games from your computer.
Do WHATEVER IT TAKES to keep your promise to protect your writing time and complete your most important work.
Step 2: Establish Your Routine for Writing
Routines are powerful because we don’t have to think about them.
If you spend your day wondering how and where you’re going to write, these questions will drain your mental willpower and make you more likely to say “I’ll do it tomorrow.”
A good writing routine will help you overcome procrastination, become more productive and even shape your creative life.
If you want to spend less time thinking about your routine:
- Gather what you need in advance: if spend precious writing time searching for a laptop charger, your notes or for a file on your computer, you’re already behind.
- Use the same tools each time: I use Scrivener for almost all of my writing projects; whatever you use, the tool should never get in the way your writing.
- Make a choice to trigger your cue: if you want to write in the morning, set your alarm clock for an hour earlier. If you want to write at night, turn off your phone and television and disconnect from the grid.
When you’re starting out, it helps to decide in advance what you’re going to write about.
Are you writing a blog post, short story or a chapter for your novel? What topic are you going to address today?
This decision will help you avoid the horrible moment when you sit down in front of the blank page and wonder “What now?”
Step 3: Pick Your Reward for Writing
Writing is tough and even more so when you’re starting out. Share on Facebook
Go easier on yourself.
If you succeed in writing for twenty minutes, reward yourself with a treat like a cookie.
If you can chain three or four twenty minutes sessions together, go for a walk, a sleep or watch favourite TV programme guilt-free. And if you succeed in finishing an important writing project, buy something for yourself.
When I completed a 20,000-word research project, I bought an expensive a entertainment system that I otherwise couldn’t have justified.
This reward system will trick your brain into associating pleasant activities with your writing practice.
Obviously it’s not practical to eat a cookie (or to spend several hundred dollars) for every page.
However, as you become more confident you can extend the length and quality of your writing practice sessions and gradually remove these rewards.
If you succeed in cultivating a habit of writing every day, filling the blank page with your words and making small but determined progress towards a personal or professional goal will become a reward in itself.
Step 4: Prepare A Plan and Stick To It
Once you’ve figured out your cue, routine, and reward for writing, have a plan for putting this into action. Duhigg suggests people can make a plan for habit change by keeping a diary.
Here’s an entry in my writing diary:
Where am I? At home
What time is it? 07.00
What’s your emotional state? Tired but calm
Who else is around? Wife and two children (asleep)
What action preceded the urge to write? My alarm clock went off
I also sometimes record what I wrote about during writing practice and what I’d like to focus on next. I don’t write entries like this all the time, but they help me when I’m stuck.
Seeking out this type of self-knowledge will help you identify your cue, routine and reward for writing.
If you get stuck, you could use a writing prompt.
Now You’re Ready To Write Every Day
Creating a habit of daily writing practice isn’t as difficult as it first seems. It takes determination and self-knowledge, and these are all traits every writer should cultivate.
Commit to this craft, and you will naturally become more determined as you progress. Learn to enjoy seeing your work improve, and you will come to value writing practice.
Take Duhigg’s tips for cultivating a habit and you will gain the self-knowledge you need to write every day.
If you’re about apply this plan, I envy you.
One day, you’ll stop typing, realise you’ve written 3,000 words in one session, and you’ll wonder ‘How the hell did I get here?’
Now, go write something.
If you still need help, Jack Milgram offers 10 tips that will help you stop procrastinating.