Stephen King said it best: the scariest moment of the writing process is before the pen even touches the paper. It’s that moment when you know you’re about to do what you’ve always wanted to… write a book. While most writers are all too familiar with that dreaded Microsoft Word file they’ve started and can’t quite seem to finish, we have some good news. What if we told you that there are ways to ensure a more successful writing process? It’s not too good to be true! What we recommend is incorporating regular writing habits into your daily life.
I’m sure you’ve been given writing tips and advice before. “Write at least 1,000 words a day,” well-meaning friends may have told you. “Cut down on distractions and stay focused!” Anyone who’s tried these tips knows that it’s easier said than done. What may not have made these tips helpful in the past is that you abided by them only occasionally. Sometimes you would sit down at the desk, crank out a page or two, and then go two weeks without looking at your writing again. Sometimes you would flip through a book discussing ways to be a better writer and then set it at the back of the bookshelf.
When you don’t practice habits regularly, they lose purpose and efficacy. Think about how you brush your teeth. Brush two, even three times a day and you’ve got a happy dentist and healthy gums. Brush once a month? Yikes. When you do something regularly, not only is it reflected in your daily life but it becomes easier to keep doing it. You gain momentum the more you do something. You want to get into the habit of writing so regularly that it’s second nature, becoming so normal that your brain will automatically depend on it.
So what if certain habits really could help you finish that book and get it out for sale? We all know that writing is tough. Sometimes it’s worth it just to try something new – in this case, habits that can make you a stronger writer! We’ve gathered 15 popular writing habits that, if followed, will make the hard, scary parts of writing a book easier. Read through our tips to see what we recommend for anyone who’s ready to write, but might need some support along the way.
1. Write every day
Every. Single. Day. What?! You heard us! Yes, the idea of sitting down at the computer every day might be intimidating. You’re a busy person with a busy life, and it can be hard to dedicate time to writing. Especially if you aren’t used to it. But just think about how easy it would be to take five, even ten minutes of your day and dedicate them to writing. Personally speaking, if I know I need to write more then I’ll set my morning alarm ten minutes early. I’ll wake up hardly any earlier than a usual day and will type on the Notes app that’s in my phone – all from the comfort of my warm bed. Writing immediately in the morning helps me get my fresh ideas (or any weird, inspiring dreams) from the previous night down on paper (or on phone, in my case).
Some writers, on the other hand, are night owls. How hard would it be for you to dedicate ten minutes before you go to sleep to writing? While a preference for morning, afternoon, or evening writing schedules differs per person, what’s important is that you begin to practice the act of writing every day.
Some people might be wondering how many minutes a day is necessary to complete a book. Stephen King supposedly writes 2,000 words a day, while apparently Hemingway would be satisfied with 500 to 1,000 words. Again, this is entirely up to you! One of the best things about writing is that it’s customizable per person. Find what fits your groove and stick to it.
2. Stay committed to your writing
A habit not practiced regularly is no longer a habit, it’s just an action. As we previously mentioned regarding the act of brushing your teeth, you have to do something nearly daily (or several times a day) to get used to it and for its importance to become apparent.
We know that something like writing each day may seem impossible or too time consuming. But think about how many other things you do for five minutes a day! Watching Netflix, walking the dog, even just daydreaming on the couch. If you could cut down on any of those actions, you’ll have the time for writing. A lot of writers want to know, “How can I develop my writing habits?” Stay committed to both your writing and your habits. It’s that simple. Apparently it takes about two months for a new behavior to become automatic. In the grand scheme of life, two months is pretty brief. You, and your writing, too, deserve two months of dedication. If not now, when? There’s no better time than today to start.
3. Read as much as possible
One of my favorite words in English is voracious. While it typically applies to eating, it means to want or devour something eagerly. What a great way to think about reading! Every writer has that one book (or ten) that they couldn’t put down. Many can identify with the time they pulled an all-nighter because a novel was just that good. Look at any writing tips or recommended habits from famous authors, and they’re all going to recommend that you read voraciously, devouring any book that’s in sight.
Reading a wide variety of books from many different authors means that you’ll be exposed to all kinds of text. This can give you inspiration for characters and your own book. It will also make you more knowledgeable and interesting when you meet other bookworms in the future! If you’re a writer, there’s a pretty good chance that you already love to read. Kick that up a notch by dedicating further time to reading. Just like we think you should be dedicating time to write each day, dedicate time to read, too. If you’re interested in writing in a particular style, try reading books similar to the style you’ll be writing in. Just like you can’t be a surgeon or a lawyer without having thorough knowledge of that field, it’s tough to write well without reading, too.
4. Always be brainstorming
I’m sure you’ve been told to always carry a notebook or journal with you. As a writer, you never know where inspiration will strike! Someone that you sit next to on the bus or pass on the sidewalk very well could inspire your next favorite character. A particularly beautiful sunset or walk through town might help you write that scene that’s been hanging over your head.
While I think brainstorming and being creative is pretty much second nature to most writers, considering this to be a part of your writing job may help you. Brainstorming is important and it’s worth committing time to doing this specifically. You can even combine brainstorming and reading with each other by allowing your reading time to be a way to gain book inspiration. Although it’s always in your best interest to come up with your own words – no one likes a copycat – it’s smart to get inspired by what’s out there in the world.
5. Create your own writing sanctuary
Virginia Woolf was so inspired by dedicated writing spaces that she wrote A Room of One’s Own based off the idea that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”. Personally speaking, I think that any person who wants to be a writer should have a committed, personal space for this. Now don’t feel like you have to rent an apartment or office space to do this! Some people may have a particular chair in their house that’s their writing chair. Other people might enjoy writing outside, and have a bench at the park where they know they’ll get writing done. As we all know, distractions pop up everywhere and they make it hard to focus on writing. But by having that one place you know you’ll be able to write, you’re a lot less likely to be distracted. Whenever you go to your writing desk, or chair, or room, you get into the zone and know that it’s time to write!
6. Get support where you can
Writing is tough. Building a routine and developing habits is tough, too! Don’t let that deter you, though. Instead, recognize that toughness and know that in order to stay the course you need to have support around you. Support looks different for different people. In some cases, a spouse, a family member, or a friend may be your writing support. In other cases, this can be something like a blog, chat room, or Facebook group. The beauty of the Internet is that anyone who writes can build community. Having a writing community is imperative to developing a writer’s mindset. You’ll need a group of people to bounce ideas off of. You’ll need someone to congratulate you when you finish a chapter or complete your entire book. Even if you’re nervous about sharing your book ideas with someone, it’s worth it. Something like K Boards can be a great place to start if you’d like to talk to other writers online. Once you build your community, be sure you’re keeping in touch with them regularly for support.
7. Don’t go at it alone
In a similar vein, you don’t need to go through the writing process alone. Just like you’ll need to have a support system, it’s important to find a group of people who can help you with the writing process. These are the people who can lend their hand at editing or proofreading.
Commit your time to finding a group of people who are interested in helping you with something minor, or major, for your writing. Not only will this make your writing stronger in the end, but it will save you so much stress and worry. No one person can be expected to complete every part of the writing process on their own. As we know, pre-writing, writing, and post-writing each include so many steps like making grammatical edits, brainstorming the plot, and even finding publishers. Once again, K Boards can be very helpful in pairing up with fellow writers who are also looking to build their writing community. Who knows, maybe you could help an author with making grammatical edits and they could assist you with proofreading! Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for assistance, because chances are the person will be happy you asked.
8. Dedicate the time
A lot of people want to know how they can develop their writing habits. As we’ve mentioned, you have to dedicate the time. You’re worth that. Not only is writing challenging, but it’s a noble pursuit. When someone wants to write, it shows that they’re passionate enough about a topic to dedicate some serious time to it. No one will ever be able to successfully build habits unless they recognize their importance and are willing to fully commit. So take a deep breath, look at what needs to be accomplished, and remember that each of our habits only take a few minutes a day (or can take as long as you need them to). You’ve got this. This is a great time to look at your daily schedule and dedicate parts of your day to writing. By creating a physical schedule showing what time is reserved for focused writing (or reading) time, you’re much more likely to get it done.
9. Put your goals in plain sight
Need to get pumped up and excited about your writing habits? As much as we’d like to think they are, developing new habits isn’t always exciting. It’s easy to lose steam once you’re a week or two into the process. The best way to beat those habit-building blues? Put your goals out where you can see them. Take a dry erase marker and write your book goals on your bathroom mirror! Put a sticky note on your computer showing what exactly you want to get done during today’s writing session. Keeping those goals at the forefront of your mind, and out in plain sight, enables you to always be thinking of them.
You’re more likely to accomplish your goals if you 1) know what they are and 2) can be reminded of them. Now is a great time to brainstorm some of your top writing goals. Say you ultimately want to write a book? Great, write that down on some paper. Now think about what it will take to actually finish a book. Each step in this process is a goal for you and something that you’ll need to keep in mind as you write.
10. Pat yourself on the back
You’re working hard. And you should congratulate yourself! Don’t forget to celebrate your writing successes. If you’ve achieved something, or simply managed to get some words down on the page, take the time to recognize it. Celebrate the end of a chapter by letting your writing community know. Take yourself out to dinner to reward yourself for a long day of focused writing. When you treat yourself for successfully, regularly practicing habits, you get positive reinforcement. While we’re not exactly comparing you to Fido, think about when you try teaching a dog to roll over or sit. They get rewarded with treats or bones, right? Well you’re working hard to practice your writing habits, and you deserve rewards, too. Don’t be afraid to celebrate yourself when you’ve done something great!
11. Listen to a podcast – or ten
At this point, it’s pretty clear that to remain in that writers’ mindset you’ve got to be surrounded by all things language, whether that’s reading, writing, or talking about writing. Another great way to get yourself into the writing zone is by listening to podcasts. Writing-specific podcasts not only help you gain ideas for your writing and offer practical advice, but they’re also entertaining and just another way to find a writing community. I really recommend Mark Dawson’s Self Publishing Formula, Joanna Penn’s The Creative Penn Podcast, Panio Gianopoulos and Danielle Trussoni’s Writerly, and Kelton Reid’s The Writer Files. That last one, in particular, discusses the writing habits of famous writers. What better way to successfully build and practice writing habits than by learning about what works for famous authors?
12. Live your life
Okay, this may sound like a bit of hypocritical advice. After twelve tips basically encouraging you to live and breathe writing, it might seem antithetical to suggest that sometimes you do something other than write. But in order to continue to love to write, you have to live your life. Chances are you have a job other than writing professionally – go to work! Enjoy your job, practice sports or hobbies, and get out of your writing chair every once in a while.
Not only will you feel like a more well-balanced human being by doing something other than writing, but living will also help you brainstorm for your writing. So really, by getting out into the world you’re further assisting your writing habits! If you’re finding yourself having a hard time striking that balance between doing nothing but writing and never writing, revisit my suggestion of creating a calendar. A balanced but writing-filled Saturday might look something like this:
9:00 – Ride bikes
10:30 – Write
12:30 – Go out for lunch
2:00 – Grocery shop
3:00 – Write
5:00 – Get dinner and go to the movies
Find a schedule that works for you so that you can incorporate your writing habits into your regular life while still living out your regular life.
13. Be realistic
JK Rowling completed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in six years. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in six days. What might work for some authors won’t necessarily work for you. The great thing about building writing habits like this is that they’ll create a stronger work environment for you. By learning to be realistic about what you can or cannot get done, you’ll be able to create schedules for yourself that make the most of your available writing time. Are you a super speedy writer? Great, then you might need less time to write each day. Do you feel like writing takes you a bit longer? Set aside an extra hour or two for your writing. It won’t be helpful to create unrealistic writing goals, as that’s likely to just become frustrating and disappointing. Be honest with yourself and make sure that you’re writing in a way that actually works for you.
14. Utilize technology
With the Internet at our fingertips, the amount of software tools and tricks that are available to writers is practically limitless. It’s worth it to take some time to research software tools that might best assist you. Interested in a word processing tool different from Microsoft Word or Google Docs? There are so many options out there for you! Need a free editing service so you don’t have to hire a human editor? That exists. All of this is within reach. Find the tools that work for you and try to utilize them as much as possible. This can save you both time and energy, making writing a smoother and happier process.
15. Finish what you start
This might be the toughest habit on our list, but it’s also the one that will ensure you write a book. When you start writing something, it’s important to finish it. That might mean finishing a sentence, a chapter, or an entire book – all you have to do is finish. Not only will this mean that you’re going to end up with more complete writing, but practicing the art of seeing something through to the end will help with all of your other writing habits. Yes, it’s hard to pick up on something new and practice it every day! But just like all of our other writing habits on this list, it will be worth it.
So what do you think? Are you still interested in writing that book? If so, try incorporating one or five of these habits into your day-to-day life. Commit to them and see how your writing changes! If you’ve had success from any writing habits in particular, please comment below and let us and other authors know.