How to Build a Writing Habit in 2024Jan 02, 2024
As a writer, you long to make a difference in the world. You want to use your creative gifts. You might even want to build a part-time or full-time business with your writing.
We know that a writing habit is the bridge to everything we want as writers. Of course, marketing, relationships, handling your money wisely … all those things are vital, but none of it matters if you’re not producing the work.
As creatives, we naturally resist routines and habits. But writing is a blue-collar job, like carpentry, plumbing, or anything else requiring regular, sustained labor.
Without a writing habit, you will never get that blog built, you will never finish that book you’ve been thinking about all these years, and you will certainly never build a successful writing business.
A great writing habit is the pathway to everything you have dreamed about as a writer. If your writing habit is like a car that takes you where you want to go, these four wheels keep it moving.
Wheel #1: A Meaningful Goal
It’s hard to feel motivated to write if you don’t have a goal you’re working toward.
Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles, said this:
This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don’t. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.
There is real power in simply doing the work. My question is: what are you working toward? Is it a book? A weekly blog post? Maybe podcast episodes? Freelance or ghostwriting work?
No matter what it is, it’s vital to have a tangible, specific goal that’s meaningful to you.
If you hang out with other writers, you’ll hear about all kinds of writing goals. Remember, though, that those are other people’s goals, not yours. Focus on what’s important to you.
Wheel #2: A Place to Write
Have you ever tried writing in a space you use for other things like eating, entertainment, or playing computer games?
It may seem convenient at the time, but you’re signaling to your brain that you should be doing all those things at once. The environment where you write has a powerful effect on your ability and motivation to get the work done.
This is why it’s important to try writing in a space you only use for writing.
It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Even a simple table will do—or a broom closet if you need! When you work in that space, the environment tells your brain it’s writing time . . . not eating time, entertainment time, or sleeping time.
It is also helpful to set up your writing space so it’s free from distractions and clutter. Nothing is more conducive to great writing than a clean, neat, organized desk free from the clutter of everyday life.
In addition, it’s also helpful to shut off as many distractions from our digital devices as possible. It’s hard to concentrate if you constantly have pings from your phone going off while writing.
Wheel #3: A Time to Write
Many entrepreneurs and leaders will try to tell you that you must be a morning person to be effective. Hogwash. You must do what works for you.
I don’t believe writing in the morning is the only way. Many people swear by this, but it depends on your biology and schedule.
Ernest Hemingway wrote in the morning. He said this:
When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there.
For you, it might be different. Many creative types like to work late at night. That’s when some people come alive.
But it doesn’t mean you have to stay that way. You can always develop better habits. Many successful people keep an early morning routine, so that’s worth considering. But it doesn’t mean you must be an early morning person to be a successful writer.
Wheel #4: An Anchor Ritual
“Anchor rituals” are just what they sound like. They are anchors to help signal to your heart, mind, and body that it’s time to write. An anchor ritual is a simple act that helps you stay grounded and locked into production mode.
Your ritual might be very different from those of other friends who are also writers. That is OK. You don’t need to copy anybody else.
Just choose a meaningful anchor that works for you. It might be making coffee, playing specific music, or something else that signals to your brain that it’s time to write.
Stephen King said this:
There are certain things I do if I sit down to write. I have a glass of water or a cup of tea. There’s a certain time I sit down, from 8:00 to 8:30, somewhere within that half hour every morning. I have my vitamin pill and my music, sit in the same seat, and the papers are all arranged in the same places.
The cumulative purpose of doing these things the same way every day seems to be a way of saying to the mind, you’re going to be dreaming soon. It’s not any different than a bedtime routine. Do you go to bed a different way every night?
Currently, I have two main anchor rituals: a music playlist, and two drinks, usually a diet soda with ice and a big container of water to keep me hydrated. With the music playlist, I alternate between movie scores and a Lo-Fi Beats playlist, both on Spotify. I purposefully don’t listen to music with words because I find that distracting while I’m trying to write.
But again, do what works for you. Experiment but don’t over-complicate it.
When you have developed a good anchor ritual, it will help signal to your heart and mind that it’s time to write, and the whole process will be easier.