5 Tips for Building a Writing Habit that Lasts All Year Long … Like Clockwork

It’s that time of year. We’re all making resolutions and setting goals, thinking about our biggest, fondest dreams, and what we hope to accomplish with our lives in the year ahead and beyond. As writers, usually our resolutions, goals, and visions have a lot to do with our writing, along with the other big goals we’d like to accomplish.

And once you’re clear on the dream — you’ll want to have a way to put it all into action.

This is where building a lasting writing habit comes into play. Habit will get you through to the end, where willpower and determination might otherwise fail you.

5 Tips to Build a Lasting Writing Habit

When it comes to building a writing habit, habit itself is the key word. We want you to get your writing to a place in your life where you wouldn’t even consider NOT doing it, the way you wouldn’t even consider not brushing your teeth every day. That’s when you know you’ve got a solid writing habit.

Here are 5 tips for how you can build a habit that lasts:

Tip #1: Write daily or near daily.

When you’re trying to build a habit, aim to write DAILY. Writing on a regular basis is a hell of a lot easier than writing infrequently, it stirs up more frequent creative thoughts, and it eliminates the whole need so many writers have to “warm up”. It turns out that most “warming up” is procrastination and resistance in disguise, and you won’t need it once you’re writing regularly.

In fact, when you write on a regular basis, you’ll find that your subconscious mind is always working on your project, so it’s much easier to dip in and out of it on the fly.

So when you’re starting out building a writing habit, or even rebuilding one, aim to write every single day. There’s a kind of open window into our writing that closes more tightly the longer the span of time that passes between writing sessions. So keeping that window of time to 24 hours or less, when you’re building the habit, is key. Once you’ve got it down, you can start experimenting with taking days off here and there.

When I first started writing regularly, I had to write every day or my resistance levels would build up to code red proportions. Now I can take weekends off and step back into the writing come Mondays with less drama and angst.

Tip #2: Set small, attainable goals for your daily writing.

Lots of writers crash and burn by setting unrealistic goals for themselves. Many writers are surprised to discover how much they can accomplish in just 15 minutes of writing every day — it adds up over time into so much more than you would ever think. (Check out the story about Rick, who went from 5 minutes of writing a day, to now working on finishing a 6th major draft of his novel.)

Do yourself a favor and start out your habit building with a super small, easily attainable goal that you KNOW you can do, every day, even if it’s just 5 minutes day. When new members start in my Called to Write Coaching Circle program, we encourage them to focus on even just checking in every day as a way of building the habit muscle.

Tip #3: If you’re not writing, make the goal smaller.

Once you set your goal, if you don’t find yourself doing it, don’t despair or call yourself a failure!

Instead, take that as a useful piece of information (your resistance is higher than that goal) and set the goal smaller, even if it’s writing for one minute.

Truth be told, when you’re building the habit, it’s NOT the size of the goal that’s important, it’s the habit itself that is.

Once you’re meeting and succeeding with your initial goal, you can build up to more over time. I started out aiming to write for 15 minutes a day (and finished a script that way) and gradually built up to writing three to four hours a day at my peak before I had baby #2. 

Tip #4: Create triggers for your writing habit.

You always brush your teeth when you get ready in the morning and before you go to bed, right? Getting ready in the morning and going to bed are triggers. You don’t debate about whether or not you’ll brush your teeth, you just do it because you’re so used to it, it would feel weird NOT to do it. So if you can set up a trigger for your writing, it makes it easier to do.

Here are some examples of possible triggers: 

  • Write immediately upon awakening. A huge benefit of writing first in the day is that it clearly separates it from other life tasks and obligations so you don’t have to transition so much between other things to writing and back again.
  • Write with a timer or during a group writing sprint. When you use a timer or you’re writing alongside other people, the writing energy just kicks in and carries you along. 
  • Write after meditating or exercising. It’s nice to stack other resistance-provoking activities next to each other in the day and hit them with a one-two punch.
  • Write before exercising or before doing some other kind of regular activity. Then you have something to “bump up against” in your schedule. 
  • Write immediately after you get home, eat dinner, or put the kids to bed. Know that when you’re done, you’ll write before you do anything else. 
  • Write before going to bed. If you’re a die-hard night owl, consider making writing the last thing you do. 

If you keep doing the same thing, over and over again, it will become a regular part of your routine, and much easier to sustain over the long term.

Tip #5. Create as much accountability as you need to keep writing.

There are many different kinds of accountability, including writer’s groups, mentors, deadlines, accountability parties, and writing buddies.

The trick is to figure out exactly how much YOU need to keep the fire lit under your writing motivation and put it into place. Look for the right combination that keeps you in action.

For example, you might want to have a writing buddy you exchange pages with every week, to keep you honest, whether you actually read each other’s work or not. You could combine that with a writer’s group, like my Called to Write program, which provides daily accountability. If that isn’t enough for you, you could also add in an in person writing group and/or a contest or submission deadline to keep you focused.

There’s no one size fits all answer here. You might be someone who is either great at staying accountable to yourself or someone who rebels against any kind of accountability. If that’s the case, you may you prefer to put your focus on community and connection, rather than accountability, so that what helps keep you motivated is that your identity is tied to your writing and the group you’re in.

diamonds

Put these five tips into action and see what you can do! It’s amazing what happens once you start. I wish you all the best in 2016 for a creative and productive year!

diamonds

Coaching CircleMake 2016 the year your writing takes off!

If you want help, support, accountability, and more writing encouragement than you can shake a stick at in 2016, join the Called to Write Coaching Circle.

When you join us by December 31 at 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time, you’ll lock in our 2015 rates and have all the support you need to get your word counts soaring. Plus, when you enter coupon code NEWYEARWRITE you’ll save $30 on your first session or package. Join us!

Find out more and register here: http://JustDoTheWriting.com.

Why I’m not interested in resolutions or themes or chains

It’s the second day of the new year.

I spent a little time yesterday wondering about whether or not I wanted to make any resolutions and found that the answer was no. What I want to do, more than anything, is keep doing what I’ve been doing, which is making lasting change in my life a little bit at a time. I thought it might be interesting to talk about why these other ideas — resolutions, themes, and chains — don’t work for me.

Why resolutions don’t work for me

The idea of vowing to take on improvements in my life from the resolution perspective just doesn’t work for me anymore.

I think it’s because it’s too vague. Maybe it’s the way I think about resolutions. I’m not 100% sure.

What I do know is that in the past when I’ve made resolutions, I’ve failed to make concrete plans for taking steps to achieve them. I didn’t understand the massive levels of resistance that would come up or have the slightest clue about how to deal with it. I didn’t know what specific actions I’d be taking.

I can remember one year when I promised myself that I would eat better, and caved in to a tasty treat on January 1st. I gave up then, figuring that if I couldn’t do it on day 1, I wouldn’t be able to continue.

I can remember another year when I resolved to journal every day, and it maybe lasted for a week before I “blew it.” So I didn’t bother to try again after that.

Now granted, I’ve grown a lot since then and I think I’m certainly more self-aware than I was 20 years ago when I was making those resolutions, but at the time, my thinking was, “I’ve already blown it, why continue? It’s already too late to get it right.”

Inherently I think the concept of a resolution can be difficult to sustain, and can set us up to feel like failures.

Why themes don’t work for me

I’ve also taken classes and worked with coaches where I’m supposed to pick out themes for the year. The classes and concepts are lots of fun. We came up with themes like “Focus. Fun. Spirit.”

But I never stay connected to the themes I identify. They don’t have specific meaning for me. Or specific action steps associated with them. Too vague again.

Don’t break the chain?

There’s a neat calendar and article out there created by the Writer’s Store, based on Jerry Seinfield’s idea of “Don’t Break the Chain,” and an even better calendar for 2013 made by my colleague and Twitter pal Graham Jones.

Last year I toyed with the idea of writing every day. As you probably know, I run an online Writer’s Circle, which is designed to promote that kind of regular, consistent accountability. But in our Circle, we ask our writers to write at least five to seven days out of every seven days, not to commit to writing every day.

At first I railed against the idea of taking days off. I figured we “should” all write 7 days per week (and you probably know how I feel about “shoulds” — big red flags).

But over the past 16 months we’ve been running the Circle, I’ve discovered a few important things and changed my mind:

  • Resting replenishes my creative well.
  • If I take more than one day off from writing per week, I have a much harder time getting started again.
  • If I don’t take off at least one day per week, I start to get rebellious and cranky and want to quit altogether.
  • Writing every day makes me feel worn out. It’s a grueling path. Marathon runners know the importance of rest days. And writing is certainly a marathon.
  • Taking guilt-free, planned time away from writing keeps my mid-brain calm (that part of your brain that freaks out and puts you into fight-flight / procrastination mode) and allows me to subconsciously work on my project in my back-brain.

Certainly you and I are different. For some people, writing (or working creatively) every day is a must. For me, it’s a no-no.

Six days a week? Sure.

Seven, not so much. My biggest concern about the “don’t break the chain” idea is that if we DO break the chain, it’s far too easy to fall into the well of despair and struggle to get ourselves back out of it. I’d much rather plan a day off, almost like a “cheat day” with a diet, to keep me from getting mired in perfectionism, guilt, or shame.

What does work

What does work for me is taking incremental steps to make lasting changes.

I like to identify my big vision, or my projects, like “rewriting my sci-fi script” or “losing 25 pounds.” If I’m feeling really inspired, I might craft inspiring intention statements, like “I intend to knock this script out of the park” or “I intend to be feel great in my own skin.”

But the most important step for me, as I mentioned above, is to come up with specific, frequent action steps and to work on “cracking my own code” when it comes to overcoming my resistance to taking those steps.

Layering in new habits

I also like to “layer in” improvements over time.

An example?

Sure! Glad you asked.

Sixteen months ago when we started the Writer’s Circle, I focused first and only on building the habit of regular writing. I didn’t worry about quantity of words, or even quality for that matter. I also made a decision not to try to do more than one kind of habit-building at a time. So I just focused on writing for 15 minutes a day, 6 days per week.

Approximately 4 months later, I started layering in a new habit of exercising. Over the years, I’ve finally realized (aka cracked my own code) that I won’t work out unless 1) I’m paying someone to “watch” me do it, e.g. a trainer or in a paid class, 2) there’s a specific schedule to do it, or 3) I’m already out of the house. So I hired someone to do Pilates with me on a weekly basis.

Then about 6 months after that, I started adding in time at the gym. At first I just aimed to go once per week. I figured out pretty quickly that I could put on my workout clothes, take my son to school, and then go right to the gym. I started rearranging my schedule to make that doable. I don’t start coaching or working with anyone until 10:30 a.m. Pacific Time, which gives me plenty of time to get him to school, get in a good workout and get back to my office in time to get started. I also set it up so I could do that five days per week and put my two favorite movies (Star Trek 2009 and Serenity) on my iPhone so I can study them while I’m on the elliptical. Great motivation to get there.

It’s easier once you build the habit

What fascinates me about this is something I talked about in my Creative Productivity teleclass series over the last couple of weeks: Once I got going, it was much easier to continue doing it, than it was to stop. I’m now compelled to keep writing and to keep exercising, two of my biggest bugaboos over the last 20 years. The more you do it, the easier it is to keep going.

So what I like to do instead of all these resolutions and themes and chains is to come up with small, almost ridiculous steps that make it easy for me to do the thing I said I was going to do, a little bit at a time and to view it like a giant experiment, where I’m observing what worked and what didn’t. One of my writers says that the Circle is like we’re in our own laboratory, and we are the lab rats, experimenting on ourselves. It’s a terrific analogy.

Your turn

I wonder how you might apply the same ideas to your own transformations, a little bit at a time? Tell me what you think. I love reading your comments and insights.

Build your writing habit

Join the Writer's CircleIf you’re a writer looking for community and support on your writing journey, join our next session of the Writer’s Circle, which starts soon. It’s like a giant sandbox where you get to experiment with your writing habit, see what works, see what doesn’t, and have fun playing alongside other writers committed to showing up and doing the work. Find out more and register here: http://JustDoTheWriting.com

 

Thanks for reading and Happy 2013!

Warmly,

 Jenna
 

You might also be interested in: