The best way to succeed as an author is to be able to write continuously so you can produce a lot of books consistently.
Most of us (and I absolutely lump myself in with this) have probably tried and found ourselves stuck at some point.
And no matter what you do, you just can't seem to develop those juggernaut writing habits that some of the best authors in the world have accomplished. You want to write all those books, because if they can do it, you should be able to do it too, right? Well…
Thankfully, I have good news. People from every industry and spent tons of time and money researching the best techniques and technologies to form good habits, things we can use as authors to become writing machines!
By following the tips I'll introduce in this article, you'll be able to keep your word count steady, which means you'll avoid those burnout-inducing marathons, get more written overall, and ultimately write more books.
Note: There's a tool that will help you do this as you write, but most of these techniques will work regardless of what software you use.
- What a writing habit is
- Why writing habits are important
- How to develop your own writing habit
Table of contents
- What is a Writing Habit?
- Why is a Writing Habit Important?
- How to Develop a Writing Habit
- Tip #1: Define What Success Looks Like to You
- Tip #2: Have a “Trigger”
- Tip #4: Give Yourself a Reward
- Tip #5: Set Up a Calendar and Schedule Your Time
- Tip #6: Prepare Ahead of Time
- Tip #7: Use Gamification
- Tip #8: Set a Timer
- Tip #9: Have a Dedicated Space
- Tip #10: Start by Journaling
- Tip #11: Set Realistic Word Count Goals
- Tip #12: Find an Accountability Partner
- Tip #13: Ignore Editing (for now)
- Tip #14: Start Small
- Final Thoughts
What is a Writing Habit?
A writing habit is the act of writing regularly to help you produce content on a consistent basis.
It's not the same as “writing every day”, which some authors (including myself) suggest can burn out an author. A daily writing habit can be good, but needs to be done correctly.
Writing daily will likely lead to more writing overall, but it doesn't necessarily equate to quality work or less stress for the writer- especially if the author is forced to write on days they otherwise would not have.
If you're an extremely busy person, writing daily or for a long time might simply not be possible for you – and that's okay! The important thing with a creative writing routine or habit is consistency.
And if that means you're only writing on weekdays, weekends, or only 1-2 days a week, that's okay as long as you maintain consistency.
Why is a Writing Habit Important?
A writing habit is important because it leads to writing more words overall.
It's a “Tortoise and the Hare” type of situation.
I've had days when I've written a ton of material, and reached goals of over 10,000 words in a single day.
But usually what happens when I do this is burnout. The next day I don't feel like writing hardly anything. And that may continue for a couple of days.
So which is better? Writing 10,000 words in one day, then skipping five days, or writing 2000 words a day?
Personally, I'd say the latter is better.
Writing habits not only help you write more overall, they also help you avoid burnout, and make the writing process easier once you form the habit. In the above example by writing 10,000 words in one day, you associate writing with a really hard day (because it will be hard). That just means that when you come back to it, even after a five day break, you'll feel more resistance to do it.
How to Develop a Writing Habit
Now that we've established that writing habits are important, what can we do to start a good habit and stay consistent with it?
The next 12 tips are all particularly important if you want to do this, and if you want to know my favorites, I would take a look at the first three.
Tip #1: Define What Success Looks Like to You
Before you even get started with your habit, I recommend looking very closely at your definition of success.
Is your goal to make a lot of money? Fulfill a lifelong dream? Or simply tell a story to the world?
This will help determine what kind of writing habit you want to form. If you're looking to make money, you may want to set a more aggressive word count goal, but if you're only writing as an emotional release, a smaller goal would be sufficient.
Tip #2: Have a “Trigger”
Good habits are formed by three components. The first is to have a trigger, the second the actual task, and the third is a reward.
First, let's talk about the trigger. This is an action or event of some kind that you associate with your habit. Think of the bell used by Pavlov to trigger his dog to salivate, which is how all this research started.
You've got to create your own kind of bell, a ritual that you do before you write, to help get you into the right mindset. Or you can use a specific time or place as your trigger.
Personally, I like to attach my writing to the end of my morning routine, so your trigger could be something like brushing your teeth or taking a long walk. Once you finish with those things, immediately start writing, and keep it up for as long as you can. Eventually you will come to associate your writing with that trigger.
Tip #3: Habit Stack
The concept of “habit stacking” is where you take several habits and line them up one after another.
For example, you probably already have a morning routine of some kind. That routine is a series of small habits strung together. That is habit stacking.
When you're writing, see if you can find another habit that you've already established, then stack your writing habit on top of that.
Here's what I do. My morning routine goes like this:
- Get up and go to the bathroom
- Get a drink of water
- Get dressed and do 10 minutes of meditation
- Go on a morning walk
- Get back and start writing
That is just a series of habits strung together, but it acts as a HUGE trigger for my brain. When I get back from my walk, it takes no effort at all to start writing because it has now become part of a morning ritual.
These stacked habits don't have to be in the morning. You could have a lunch-break routine, an evening routine, etc. There are many ways that you can do it.
Tip #4: Give Yourself a Reward
After you finish writing, a reward is the other important part of forming a habit (and it's scientifically proven to do so). Now I'm not talking about any big reward, like taking a vacation, eating ice cream, or spending a lot of money on some new toy. If your reward looks like this every day, you will quickly run out of resources.
Instead, focus on a quick and easy reward, like a brief stroll outside, a quick kiss from a loved one, or just a chance to stretch and take a few deep breaths.
Whatever you do, make sure it's the same every time, so you begin to associate that positive reward with your writing habit. Pretty soon you will be eager to write just to get that reward.
Tip #5: Set Up a Calendar and Schedule Your Time
One of the most important steps to forming new habits is to schedule the time you will spend on it.
You are not likely to remain consistent if you have not made time in your schedule for a distraction free time to write.
Once you have scheduled your time into your everyday life, whether that's in the morning, afternoon, or evening, make sure to stick to it. Don't let anything interfere with that writing time, especially when you are starting out.
A calendar will help you understand when you are writing and how much. When you're accurately tracking your words, and plugging the results into your calendar, you can see your success (and also your failures) in a way that gamifies your results.
The habit tracker in Atticus.io with a calendar view.
Tip #6: Prepare Ahead of Time
If I don't know what I'm going to write ahead of time, I have a hard time getting into it. That's why I recommend having your outline, your notes, and a general idea of what you're going to do prepared ahead of time.
Personally, I like to run through what I'm going to do and write the next day as I'm brushing my teeth and winding down in the evening.
Tip #7: Use Gamification
When FitBit first came on the scene, no one was talking about tracking your steps. Now “getting my steps in” has become a household phrase.
Furthermore, emerging research proves that using a FitBit actually improves your chances of forming healthy habits that lead to increased activity and more weight loss than those that didn't use a health tracker.
What did FitBit do that authors can apply to our writing? In a word: Gamification.
I love to gamify my writing, especially when I'm starting a new writing habit.
Not only does gamification help to keep me on track, it also helps to develop my skills as an author and writer through practice and experience points.
You can use any kind of gamification you like, whether that's rewarding yourself after every 50 pages or so, or simply breaking it all down into manageable chunks that you can check off as you go.
You'd be surprised at the power of simply checking things off.
Some great gamification tools for authors include:
- Atticus: a great software that will actually use gamification while you are writing. You can set goals and habits to track, and it rewards you when you complete them, as seen here:
Goal and Habit Tracker in Atticus.io
- Habitica – This tool turns writing into a role-playing game. You defeat dragons and unlock new levels as you meet your goals. If you fall behind, your health suffers.
- 4theWords – A program similar to Habitica that turns your writing into a quest, complete with monster slaying and teambuilding. The more you write, the more you get rewarded.
- Write or Die – Choose from three modes: Consequence, reward, or stimulus. Each mode has different ways to keep you writing. Try them all out to see which one works best for you.
- Written? Kitten – Love pictures of cuddly little kittens? This tool rewards you with adorable felines when you hit a certain word count. Adjust the word count from 100 up to 500 or 1000 words per kitten!
Tip #8: Set a Timer
Few things get me to start writing better than a timer.
It helps me to know that I have a limited amount of time to write, and the ticking clock always gets my adrenaline going as I race against it.
I've found five minutes is usually enough for a sprint, and I like to use the Pomodoro technique for longer writing sessions. You can set your own limit if you prefer more or less time.
Atticus also has a timer that will help you focus on your writing. You can set the specific time for your sprint as well as your break time.
The Sprint Timer from Atticus.io
Tip #9: Have a Dedicated Space
I recommend having a dedicated space where you do your writing. If you can, have a separate room for it. But if that's not possible, a dedicated desk will do.
What this does is condition your mind to associate writing with that specific spot in your house.
Additionally, you should avoid playing video games on your computer or using it for other entertainment purposes. This could easily distract you.
Tip #10: Start by Journaling
Sometimes it's hard to get the words to flow. One way to get around this is to journal before you start actually writing.
What this does is get your mind into a mindset of writing, and helps to get you into that state of flow, where the words and thoughts are just coming freely.
A little freewriting will do the same thing. Just sit down and start writing whatever comes to mind, and you'll be surprised at how soon you're ready to start writing your book.
Tip #11: Set Realistic Word Count Goals
I, along with a lot of other authors, have fallen into the trap of setting highly ambitious goals to start.
It's fun to set challenging goals, especially when you think of how much writing you can get done, but you must be realistic.
Setting too high of a word count goal will make daily writing habit a challenge as you struggle to find time.
Tip #12: Find an Accountability Partner
One tactic that can make a huge difference is finding an accountability partner, something proven to be 95% effective at helping you achieve your goal. This is someone with whom you share your writing goals and check in with them regularly so they can help you stay on track.
Even better if your partner is also working towards their own goals as well! But even just having someone there for support will help tremendously when you want to give up or procrastinate.
An accountability partner can be a family member, a close friend, or a fellow author who was also working toward similar goals. Masterminds are another great way to do this.
Tip #13: Ignore Editing (for now)
We all know that editing is a huge part of the writing process, but when it comes to doing the actual writing, it will slow you down. Spending too much time thinking and worrying over the editing will get in the way of your writing habit.
Practice writing and don't stop to edit anything. Don't even stop to fix that typo or extra comma. Doing this will train your mind to write when it's time to write, and edit when it's time to edit.
Tip #14: Start Small
This tip is one of the most important: start small.
In the landmark book, Atomic Habits, James Clear talks about how starting with small habits and slowly growing them is the best way to form new habits.
So I definitely do not recommend you try to start a writing habit by writing for four hours a day, or even one hour a day. Doing so will only put unneeded barriers in front of you.
I would start simply with 15 minutes. This may not seem like much, but for some people the hurdle is just sitting down to write. 15 minutes of writing lowers this barrier considerably, making it easier for you to just get started.
Over time, that 15 minutes will become easy, and you can increase it to 30 minutes, 60 minutes, two hours, and so forth. This habit could also be word-count-based, such as a goal of 500 words.
For example, Stephen King has a writing habit of 2000 words every single day, and he almost never misses it.
The point is to remove as many barriers as possible when you're just starting out, and once the habit is formed, then you can increase how much work you do.
Tip #15: Let a Tool Save You Time
If all of the tips above were overwhelming, don't worry. There are tools out there to help you form habits.
As writers, we could use a tool like Habitica to help, but who wants yet another tool to keep track of in addition to all the writing processors, formatters, outlining software, and everything else we need to keep track of when writing a book?
Atticus is a writing software that is built to be the all-in-one writing processor that you will ever need. In addition to its incredible writing features and the ability to format books for ebook and print, it also comes with project-based goal tracking, habit tracking and a timer.
Specific to habit trackers, Atticus has a gamified solution to help you form good writing habits. You can input how many words you want to write, and on which days, and it will show you your progress, a calendar that tracks your words, and your “longest streak” of days when you actually hit your goal.
It's an all-in-one solution for authors who want to gamify their goals.
I hope these tips help you to develop a writing habit that's sustainable for your goals. If so, consider sharing this article with your friends.
Remember, there are many ways to form new habits, so don't be afraid to experiment with different tactics and techniques until you find what works best for you!
You certainly don't have to try all of these tactics at once. In fact, I would recommend picking only two or three, and really running with them to get the best results. I recommend starting with tips 2, 3, and 13 for best results.