What’s the general rule? It takes 21 days to form a habit? I think that initial conclusion was taken out of context, but what I do know is that it takes repeated and consistent commitment to form a habit. Especially a writing habit.
What does that mean for writers? Does that mean you have to write every day? Not necessarily, but for many of us, creating a daily writing habit will be essential to getting those words down.
So, how do you form a writing habit?
Find the right time
It’s easy to pull out the old ‘but I don’t have time to write’, or ‘I’m just so busy’ excuses. If you find yourself constantly whining to yourself along these lines, the question you should ask yourself is: Do you really want to write? I believe that if you really do, if writing is something you can’t not do, then you will not only find the time, you will make the time.
But it’s not only about making the time, it’s about making the right time.
You need to take a look at your day and find the best time that you can consistently commit to, each and every day. Whether it’s first thing in the morning before everyone gets out of bed, or last thing at night, or perhaps even over your lunch break, find the time and then stick to it. Schedule it in to your diary, put an alarm on your phone – whatever it takes – and make the time non-negotiable.
But what about writing to a word count? I hear you say. Personally, I find that doesn’t work, basically because every day is different. One day it might take ten minutes to smash out a couple of hundred words, but the next it might take two hours! Eventually you become disheartened more often than you feel a sense of achievement, which will make your writing habit a negative experience. And you don’t want that!
Set a time limit that’s practical
You don’t need to set aside three hours out of your day to write – unless you have that sort of time! But, in reality, most of us don’t. Most emerging and aspiring writers are fitting writing in around their already busy lives. We have jobs, families, and social commitments. We have to eat, sleep, and look after ourselves. To form a writing habit you need to slot in a time limit that is going to fit with your schedule. Start with setting aside ten minutes each day to sit down and get some words onto the page. You might get fifty words, or you might be able to write 200 words. Once you find ten minutes is working well, extend it out. Keep extending it out until you have a time frame that’s easily fitting into your day. Note the keyword easy – if you try and push yourself into too tight a schedule you’ll find you start thinking ‘I just can’t fit it in today’, so keep it easy.
Change it up
Although you may be setting a writing habit in order to finish your novel, that doesn’t mean you need to spend every single writing session working on the novel. All writers will experience writing blocks. Whether it’s a plot hole you just can’t dig yourself out of, or a simple lack of inspiration or ideas. Sometimes we just need a break from our work in progress! But, that doesn’t mean you should take a break from your writing habit.
I made this mistake after finishing (and winning!) NaNoWriMo this year. Although, I was over 50,000 words into my rewrite I was burnt out, so I took a break which I intended to only be for a couple of days. Two weeks later, I still hadn’t written anything. Each day I didn’t write, made it harder to sit down and write the next. I’d broken my habit. It’s a bit like falling off the wagon, easy to do, much harder to get back on!
So, if you find yourself not able to work on your manuscript one day, write something else during your writing time. A blog post or a short story. Use a writing prompt generator, or simply write whatever is in your head. It doesn’t need to be a literary masterpiece, it just needs to be writing.
Of course the main thing is to be consistent, but that doesn’t mean you have to write every single day. Obviously you have to write more days than not, but again, find what works for you. I commit to my writing habit Monday to Friday, allowing me the weekend to spend with my family and on more spontaneous things. That doesn’t mean I don’t write on the weekends, but I don’t commit to writing on the weekends. Writing Monday to Friday is non-negotiable – that is my habit. The key is to keep your week consistent. If it suits you to write three days in a row, have a day off, and then write another three days, do that. Whatever you do, make it a pattern, one that you will remember and one that, above all will, eventually become second nature.
Ask any published author what their number one writing tip is, and more often than not, they will say ‘write every day’. And the best way to do that is to make it a habit. So get to it!
What’s your writing habit?
And if you’re interested in habit forming, this article is a really good insight into why habits works.