Developing the Habit: Simple Tricks to Start Writing Every Day

Absolute Blank

By Erica L. Ruedas (pinupgeek)

You tell yourself that you’re going to start writing every day, starting today. You’re going to sit down at your desk, or in your work space, and take out a blank sheet of paper or open a blank document in your favorite writing program, and you will write masterpieces. But then a thousand things happen. You stay late at work, there are errands to be run, family and friends to see, kids to help with homework, and a thousand other little things that you want to do but don’t have the time for. You keep telling yourself ‘tomorrow’. Tomorrow I’ll start writing every day. But then you don’t.

Of course, telling yourself that you’re going to start writing every day accomplishes nothing. Getting in front of that computer screen or that piece of paper is a lot harder than just making a verbal commitment. It’s so easy to say “I’m going to write every day” because nothing happens if you do or don’t do it. Not getting that novel written or that freelance career you want isn’t going to make much of an effect on you today, when you’re at the end of a long day and trying to decide between writing another chapter in your novel, or watching TV.

What you need is a way to make it easier on yourself. You need to make your goal a lot smaller and manageable. So, instead of telling yourself you’re going to make a habit of writing every day, from now until eternity, make a commitment to write every day for just 30 days. Studies have shown that sticking to a new behavior for approximately 30 days is enough to make it a habit. Once you get past that 30-day mark, that behavior is ingrained inside your brain, and you’ll start performing it automatically.

Of course, writing every day, even if it’s just for 30 days, is still a difficult task. Thousands of people attempt it every November during National Novel Writing Month, and only twenty percent reach their 50,000 word goal. There’s always some excuse to not have the time to sit down and write. However, if you trick your brain into it, there are a lot of ways you can succeed in getting yourself to sit down every day and write.

Background Image: Joanna Penn/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

Set an Achievable Goal

Take a look at your schedule and realistically consider how much time you’ll have to write. Is it 10 minutes waiting for your coffee to be ready in the morning, an hour during lunch at work, or 30 minutes just before you go to bed? Figure out how much you can get written during that time, and then set that as your goal. It doesn’t matter if it’s a paragraph, a haiku, a blog entry or a 10-minute journal prompt. Just make your goal a word count that makes you feel successful at the end of the day, and complete that every day. If you write more than your goal word count, consider it a bonus. Some days you’ll barely hit your goal, and some days you’ll surpass it, but as long as you get that little bit done, you’ll feel like you’ve accomplished something.

Reward Yourself

Reward yourself for a streak of writing. Experiment with different time frames to figure out what works best for you. For instance, you can try 7 days, or 14, or 5. Put a reminder in your calendar to check in at the end of your streak, and if possible, get a picture of your reward and tape it by your computer or your notebook so you can clearly see what you’re working towards. Whatever your reward is, make sure it’s something small but worth waiting for, such as an edible treat, some item you want to buy, or an event, such as a movie you want to go to. You can save the big reward for the end of the 30 days.

Give Up Something

If rewarding yourself doesn’t motivate you, give up something every time you miss a day. Make sure that whatever it is it’s something you’ll be sure to miss. For instance, missing a day of writing means getting rid of something from your closet. Or missing a day of writing means no watching your favorite TV show for a week. You can also give up something until you complete your 30 day streak. Experiment with a few different things and find out what works for you, and keeps you in your writing chair.

Put Your Money Where Your Pen Is

Write a check to your favorite charity and keep the check by your computer or notepad. If, during a month’s worth of writing, you miss a day, mail that check right off and start your 30 days over again. Alternatively, you can keep a jar by your desk, and deposit an amount in it for every day that you don’t write, and donate whatever’s in there at the end of your 30 days. You can also make a bet with a friend or family member. If you’re short on cash, use an object, like a nice jacket or a favorite pair of sunglasses, or service, such as babysitting or yard work. If you miss a day, your friend can cash in on the bet, and you can start over again.

Publicly Commit

Have a Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or blog? Publicly announce that you’ll be writing every day for 30 days, and update daily on your progress. If you’re not active in social media, send an e-mail to supportive family and friends, and tell them you’re going to write every day for 30 days. Send out updates once a week, so as not to spam them, and make sure you broadcast your failures, and start over again. By announcing your intention publicly, you’ll be more inclined to stick to your new writing habit to save face.

Change Your Environment

If writing at home just isn’t working, try changing your environment. When it’s time to write, move to a different room that will be just for writing. Or, sit in a designated writing chair or wear a writing hat. If you can, try changing locations completely. Go down to the local coffee shop with your laptop or notebook, and stay there until you hit your daily goal. Even if it’s the office supply closet at lunchtime, or a special writing notebook and pen, change something around you to signal to your brain that’s it time to write, and only write. And since it’s Writing Time, you won’t be able to do anything else until you’re done.

Enter a Contest

Try entering a contest. It doesn’t have to cost money or even have a prize at the end. This one works the same way as publicly announcing your intention to start writing every day. By wanting to save face, you’ll work hard to complete your contest entry before it’s due, which probably means writing every day, in some form or another. Even signing up for something like National Novel Writing Month or Script Frenzy will work, especially if you join and participate in the local groups. You’ll have the assurance and support from the others who are writing with you, and will be more likely to stay on track.

These are just a few of the ways you can develop the habit of writing something every day. Some writers swear by writing at the same time every day, others write the minute they wake up or just before they go to sleep, but what works for one writer won’t work for another. If you fail at writing every day the first, second, or tenth time, don’t give up! Reflect on what went wrong instead. Did the method you tried not work for you? Try something else. Are you not meeting your goal? Make it smaller. Finding it hard to come up with anything to write? Do a journal prompt instead. Test things out for a few days at a time, until you find something that gets you motivated. Then, keep writing!

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