If writing is not what you do for a living, or it’s not your major focus, you probably have to fit writing time in among your main job, your family, your personal time, and your life in general. So, here are some ideas for how can you develop an effective writing habit.
Why develop an effective writing habit?
1) You’ll consistently produce more content.
2) You’ll achieve your objectives and goals.
3) You’ll hopefully make more money from your writing, if that’s part of your plan.
First off, what’s a habit?
No, it’s not one of the characters from Lord of the Rings! A habit is “an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary”. Common habits include brushing your teeth, and getting to work the same way every day. They’re mostly subconscious, like breathing.
Now, think how great it would be to sit down to write every day—because it’s become a habit. By making it a habit, you change from writing “when there’s time” to assuring that you get a certain number of words or pages written in your selected timeframe.
How to form a writing habit
There are no secrets to writing on a regular basis. Mostly, you do have to get yourself in front of a keyboard, with the singular aim of writing. However, there are some things you can do to assure your success in developing an effective writing habit.
- Affirmation. You need to change from “I’d like to write consistently, but…” to “I write consistently every day.” People tend to become what they affirm. So, if you don’t like the above wording (in quotes), write your own writing affirmation—right now. To make this affirmation work, you need to say it to yourself, often, for at least a month or so. Since you can’t say—and believe—those words, and then act in opposition to them, your mind will force you to do what it takes to comply with your affirmation. Yes!
- Purpose. Why are you writing? This question may be more important than what you’re writing, or when, or how. Maybe you’re trying to share a message, tell a story, write a regular blog, get published, whatever. You need to have a strong purpose that encourages consistent, effective writing and helps you overcome those easy reasons to stop. You know: you’re too tired, you don’t feel well, it’s been a crazy day. These “obstacles” don’t hold up well in the face of an affirmed habit.
- Goal. Since you’re trying to form this new habit, you may not be successful immediately. John Lennon once said that “Real life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.” So, it may not be as simple as deciding to write x hours every day—and then just do it. What happens? You’ll probably reinforce your belief that you can’t do it. So, instead, set an easy-to-achieve short-term goal, much like with physical exercise. For example, start with committing to writing for 15 minutes three days a week. Once you achieve that goal, slowly and mindfully increase your number of days and hours.
- Appointment. Treat your writing time as you would going to a doctor’s appointment or meeting with a client. Set a date and time, and add it to your calendar. If you need to, set an alarm on some kind of device. While you may get more writing done some days than others, the idea is to keep at it. This creates a positive sense of accomplishment, and it continues to reinforce your new writing habit.
- Measure. Keep track of your writing time and effectiveness. You can do this with a simple diary, or, if you’re good with numbers, create a simple spreadsheet, in Excel® for example. Keep score of the number of words you write every day, and your cumulative number of words. If you have an initial daily or weekly goal, enter that. Then, when you’re achieving this regularly, raise your sights.
- Notepad.Always be ready to write down an idea or some thoughts. Some people carry small paper notepads; others may use their cell phones or iPads. You can even send yourself a text message or email. Take advantage of waiting times, in the doctor or dentist office, in long slow lines, at the airport, flying, etc. Take advantage of these times to get some of your target writing done.
- Environment. Find or create a personal space that allows effective writing, free of the usual distractions—and those electronic ones. There’s always time to check your e-mail account after your appointment with writing. Don’t allow “Ding! You’ve got mail” to distract you. Turn it off! If soothing music helps, turn it on. If you’re better with silence, try to eliminate as many noise sources as you can. Set your phone to DND (Do Not Disturb) or to airplane mode.
- Accountability buddy. Some people find success using someone to hold them accountable as they develop their writing habit. This can often work both ways. For example, you help me reach my goals and I’ll help you achieve yours (they may be different goals). Plan to check in with each other on a regular scheduled basis. An accountability buddy is usually free, but the concept can really work. And don’t forget to reward yourselves as you meet milestones (e.g., finishing a chapter, getting an editor, publishing). Gilbert & Sullivan said “Let the punishment fit the crime.” By reverse logic, let the reward fit the achievement.
- Satisfaction. Writing effectively is very rewarding. It’s like painting a picture with words—it slowly comes to life in front of your eyes. So, while writing is not always fun (yes, there are time when it’s grueling), the final product is often very gratifying. And hopefully, you’ll actually get paid for your work. If you find the satisfaction, you’ll be more likely to write more—and more often.
Developing an effective writing habit will take personal commitment, time, and concentration on your part, but it’s worth it.
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