An old Spanish proverb speaks powerfully to the habit of writing: “Habits are first cobwebs, then cables.”
How often have you began to set a regular practice of writing only to brush through the cobwebs holding you and never go back to it? Many aspiring writers struggle with this; in fact, anyone trying to accomplish creative work struggles to form the regular habit that leads to success and even greatness. If the thin cobwebs holding you to your writing habit are to become strong cables, you must take steps to integrate your passion into the habit.
I know it is difficult. I know you are likely very busy. I know YOU know you should be writing on a regular schedule. We both know there are also many other things you should be doing:
- Drink more water
- Spend more time exercising
- Spend more time doing homework
- Enjoy more time with your family
- Floss and brush your teeth longer
- Learn another language
- Plant a tree
- Get that yearly physical
- Wash the dog
- Call your mother more often
- And you can add to the list…
How do you carve out room for your writing when all these other important things are clamoring for your attention?
Set a Written Commitment
Make a serious commitment and set it all down on paper. When and where, for how long, and everything else that pertains to your habit. Write it down. Make a personal contract with yourself and date it. Post it where it can give you daily motivation as you write. You are a writer; now adhere to your commitment and write. As you begin a new writing project, consider composing a new contract specific to the new work, with a beginning date and firm commitments until completion.
Write Every Day
Opinions abound concerning this, and debate will never cease. Don’t waste time on the discussions pro and con – just set a time and place to write every day and write. Every. Day. Period. Be honest; we all find time to do the things we deem important to us. If writing is as important to you as you think, say, or claim, then carve out the time and do it. Every day. Eliminate other lesser pursuits, shove things that can wait aside, and write. How long isn’t as important, at least in the beginning. Fifteen minutes every day is better than nothing.
Set a Trigger
A trigger is an event that sets off your habit. Many smokers indulge when they wake, when stressed, or when eating. Those actions or events are the trigger. To create a new habit, you need to associate your habit with a trigger. If you write in the morning, you may associate it with going to the bathroom or your morning cup of coffee. An evening writing habit might be associated with doing the dishes after the evening meal. Choose a trigger you know you will do every day as a routine, and connect your writing time to it.
Get Accountability Partners
Share your new writing habit with others and ask them to hold you accountable. Tell your family and friends, co-workers, other writer friends, post it on your blog. Commit publicly and explain what you will do, and further commit to report on a regular basis. Give a few trusted people permission to call or text at random times and check up on you, or provide some needing encouragement. Accountability is a vital step to forming any important practice, including your writing habit.
Commit to a 30-Day Focus
A vital aspect of forming any habit is focus. If you place your full, undivided focus on forming this habit, you will likely succeed. Set a 30 day period and focus relentlessly on your writing habit. Don’t try anything else new during this period. Don’t allow anything to diffuse your focus. If necessary, let other things go. After all, it’s just 30 days; the laundry will still be there. Seriously, make your writing habit the absolute top priority for that month. The focus you learn will carry over into the next days and months.
Keep a Writing Log
Get a calendar or create a spreadsheet for the sole purpose of recording your writing. Record your time spent writing, and a short note about what was accomplished. Remember your accountability partners? Share your progress with them as well. Post a short entry on your blog or social media immediately after you perform the habit. The concrete record will motivate you to carry on, especially when others become accustomed to seeing your update. Write daily, log it, and share it.
Set some writing goals and celebrate when you reach them. It could be a week of writing every day or a certain word count reached. Create milestones and even brainstorm and designate how you will reward yourself when you reach each one. This is key motivation to keep going. A writer I know recently rewarded himself with a retreat to a beautiful coastal island for a week of relaxation and writing. Start small with a nice dinner out or a pair of new jeans. Make each goal tougher and each reward more fulfilling.
Constantly Look for Inspiration
The best motivation is inspiration. What inspires you to write? Perhaps reading about other successful writers and their habits. Some find certain types of music to provide inspiration or spark artistic expression. Find a topic you feel strongly about and let that emotion motivate you to write. Discover an important spiritual connection and express your joy and satisfaction through writing. Research a cause that is near and dear and write about it.
Discipline doesn’t have to be drudgery. Without some fun, you will lose the motivation to continue your writing habit. Experiment with different types of music and see how it affects your creativity. Enjoy your favorite coffee or tea while you write. Wear your favorite writing jammies. Meet with some friends for a time of brainstorming and writing. Take your writing to new and different locations, coffee shops, restaurants, or outdoor spaces. Enjoy a new environment and write about it. A friend of mine recently spend time writing while sitting in the middle of a corn maze!
What happens if you screw up and miss a day? Well, it’s not time for the ball and chain just yet. Think about what caused you to miss, and find a solution so it doesn’t happen again. Report your failure to your accountability partners (yes, call it a failure; failure isn’t final) and keep going. With persistence, even the snail reached Noah’s Ark.
What great suggestions or practices do you have to start and maintain a writing habit? We’d love to hear them! Why not share them in the comments below so all our readers can benefit from your experiences? Thanks!