The key to great success is said to be consistency. This is why many authors like to develop the habit of writing every day. But it is not as easy as it sounds. You wake up, and before you know it, you are back in bed and ready to snooze, without having put a single word on paper. Gah! How do all these writers do it? How do they have such a solid writing schedule? Let us see.
Writing every day will benefit the author because the repetition will increase a substance called Myelin in the brain. This tissue grows and strengthens with practice, allowing neural signals to move faster and more efficiently. Successful training is consistent, focused, and targets the weaknesses.
In other words, you need to write a lot and especially do that what you struggle with most. Do you suck at description? Create your fantasy world and describe everything you see, hear, smell, touch and feel. Not that skilled in dialogue? Well, you now know what to do. It is true what they say, practice makes perfect.
Please understand that writing every day is not for everybody. But keep in mind that consistent writing can also mean writing every Saturday morning. Do what feels good for you. It should also go without saying that it is helpful to limit all distractions, so I will not go into that here. I will, however, give you some tips on how to start this new routine.
01. Set a goal
It is almost a dead giveaway, but if you want to start writing every day, you need to set yourself a goal. Do not focus on the number of words you want to write every day when you are in tip-top shape, but set a goal that you can reach when everything around you seems to fall apart.
The aim is that you choose a reasonable goal that you can accomplish in any given situation, every single day without fail. That can be as low as 50 or 100 words. Just keep in mind that you need to write the minimum amount of these words every single day at the very same time.
My goal is 100 words. It does not sound like much. The length of a paragraph, give or take. But those 100 words can be a struggle on some days. Even if you have something in your mind to write about.
When I have a rough day, I am grateful that I have not set my goal to 1000 or 2000 words. That is not achievable in those moments. And nothing works as demotivating as the feeling of not reaching your goal. Plus having to write 50 words feels less daunting than aiming for 500, does it not?
02. Set a limit
This one goes hand in hand with your goal-setting. Do not just set yourself a minimum goal, but a maximum one as well. A point where, when you reach it, you will have to stop. Even when you are in the zone and the words are flowing. Why? Because this will keep you from wearing out.
Our minds are not equipped to produce nonstop. Writing requires focus, especially if you want to create something good, but that comes at a price. Research shows that focusing on something for an extended period will drain your energy. It makes you more impulsive and does a number on the circuits in your brain. Wowza!
Luckily that same research also shows that your brain becomes more creative when you toggle between focus and rest. When you stop on time, it will even make you more resilient. So set a cap on your writing. It is a must unless you want your motivation and the quality of your writing to go down.
I recommend that you use Hemmingway’s rule of thumb here: know your limit, set your limit, and when you reach it stop writing. Even if you are midsentence. Now, do not bite off more than you can chew. Many people say that they write 2000+ words a day. That has almost become a standard. For some writers it is nothing. For others, it is 4 hours of struggling. Again, look at what makes you feel comfortable.
My limit is set on 1000, but honestly, I am happy when I reach 750 words a day. Mind you, this is just creative writing. When it comes to blogging, my brain is wired differently. But still, I will not produce more than one article a day. Why? Because quality goes over quantity in my book.
One last tip for setting your limit. Sometimes it can be helpful to jot down a few keywords, to pick up where you have left off, especially in the beginning. Just allow yourself to change direction if your intuition tells you to. Setting a limit causes your unconscious to continue thinking. It will map out different options and possibilities. It will also try to find solutions to struggles. All why you are enjoying a book, are at work, drive the kids to soccer, or whatever you do during the day. Is it not marvelous?
03. Know when to write
How would you feel if I call you at 6 in the morning? How about 11 in the evening? And 2 in the morning? I cannot answer for you, but at 6 am, I would pick up, being awake for an hour. At 11 pm, I would be annoyed because I have just gone to bed an hour earlier… 2 am? You are on your own. I am what they call a morning person.
When it comes to creative writing, my mornings are sacred. I concentrate and zoom in on my work best after I have just woken up. I can sit there and just go at it until I hit my limit. Sometimes I am stubborn and sleep in, try to write in the afternoon. Nah-ah. My brain will not have it. And during the evenings, hah. Nothing will come out of it.
My creativity for writing peaks during the morning. So I know that if I want to be writing every day, it should be the first thing I do when waking up. But this is different for everybody. Maybe you write better in the evenings or the middle of the night. You would not be the first.
Try different timeslots for a week, when you do not know what your best writing time is yet. Try waking an hour earlier every day and use that time for your writing. When you are not feeling it after a week, move to the afternoon or early evening. If that is not it either, move towards that time when everybody is sleeping. Just try it out and give it some time to get used to it.
Just keep in mind that either time is fine. Just because Kurt Vonnegut liked to write early in the morning, or H.P. Lovecraft wrote in the dead of night, does not mean you have to do that too. Fact is, when you go against what works for you, you will not get any writing done. So when is the best time for writing? When you are writing.
04. Alternate your writing
Sometimes I have a story in my head, but I cannot seem to get it on paper no matter what I try. It is as if I have to push the words through a thick filter and they come out distorted. Not exactly helpful when you plan your next masterpiece, right?
During the times that you struggle, it can be really helpful to take a step back. It does not benefit the quality of your story, nor your stress levels if you just ‘plow through’ it. This will only cause you to feel frustrated, and as we learned by point 02, the subconscious will continue to run with your story after you finish writing. If you leave it in frustration, it will run with that.
So, what can you do if you want to write, but you cannot seem to get it out. Well. Stop writing it. No, no. Do not stop writing in total, just that one thing you struggle with. Switch it up, alternate your writing.
The secret to writing every day is knowing that it is not just a routine but also a mindset. Maybe even more than anything. You want to be excited to write, thrilled to get in the zone and go at it. Even if that means you are working on a different story or even a nonfiction article for today. Nothing wrong with that.
Just one tip, I like you to take into consideration. If you choose to work on another story, try not to write in the same style, genre, or theme. This will eventually make your brain tie the stories together, confusing all over. So when you are writing a horror novel, maybe you can write a romantic short story. If you write about ghosts, do not write about aliens or vampires in your other story. Make it something completely different, like a spy.
05. Write to get published
Nothing motivates better than having other people waiting for you to come up with the goods. A.k.a. the dreaded deadlines. But let’s face it. When you know something is coming up, you are pushed to work harder. So write for other people.
Writing to get published is not only a great motivator to get your engine running, but also a beautiful opportunity to get your work out there and increase your network. It will put you in contact with other writers, publishers, readers, you name it.
Look around and see what competitions you can join, what magazines you want to write for, or contact an agent or publisher and see if they can hook you up with a contract to raise the stakes. Do not play small. Be in it to win it.
When I first started participating in writing contests, it was to find out how well my writing is. Amazingly, you can pen out all these stories, but if you put them in a desk drawer in the attic, they will not help you grow. No matter how amazing they are. To move forward in your writing, you have to put yourself out there. The plus side? This means you get to practice… a lot.
If you find a few good contests you want to join this year, you should have no problem dishing out a daily writing schedule. Hell, you would wish for more hours in a day!
06. Procrastinate productively
‘Yeah. That is all fun and games, Maartje,’ I can hear you think. ‘But when I have this great story idea, I write for three or four days, and then I suddenly find myself distracted. Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, groceries, bank statements, anything but writing. I just cannot do it. I get stuck. Help me, Maartje!’
Of course, I am exaggerating a little bit, just a little teasing. But there is some truth in there. Sometimes you just really struggle. You have a vague idea of what you want to write, or none at all, and the words refuse to come. Or you do get sidetracked and distracted, or just really not feeling it. So what do you do? Nothing.
That is right. Just sit back and relax. Well… sorta. You have that minimum word count, so make sure you get that done at least. (See why mine is on a 100?) Once you have done that, take some time to procrastinate. But procrastinate productively. Here are a few ideas:
Read books and stories to find more ideas
Watch movies in your genre for inspiration
Work on your outline
Write the scene that you do have stuck in your head
Watch interviews with writers that you appreciate
We are made to believe that procrastination is bad but it is a healthy way for our brain to take a break. When you use your time to be productive on other levels, it will decrease the angst and anxiety you might otherwise experience due to not writing. This way you are working on your story, without typing the words. It is a win-win.
07. Focus on the first two sentences
So what do you do when you have just suffered a massive writer’s block, or you just really cannot seem to get going? When you procrastinate productively every single day, it loses its productivity, does it not? Well yes. Eventually, you have to start.
Before we dive into how to fix this, let me point out that it is perfectly normal that you feel this way. Every author, every writer, will feel this way at one point in their career. Take Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Hex, Echo), for example. He struggled with his writing after getting compliments from Stephen King. The pressure just got too real. He overcame his writing struggles, and so will you!
How do I know so sure? Well, it is science. When you just started a writing routine your writing muscle (aka your myelin) is not trained yet. So technically, you are not fully optimized just yet. When you have been writing for a long time but encounter a mental blockage, it is often because your brain needs restructuring after finishing a story or because you feel pressured one way or another.
During these moments, you must focus on the first two sentences of your writing. Only those. Not just the first line, not the whole paragraph, simply the first two sentences. What happens is that your brain will get distracted. Your focus shifts. It takes you about 30 seconds to come up with and write two sentences. About the same time needed to push past that inner resistance.
You keep in mind that the sentences do not have to be perfect. They only have to get written. Once you are over that initial speedbump that is holding you back, you often will find your rhythm again. That is the goal here. And if you are still struggling, repeat this process until your fingers are moving without thinking about it. It is not simple, but it is doable. You got this!
08. Use simple words
As writers, we want to provide our readers with the perfect experience. We want them to pick up our book, read the first three words and then magically transport them to our fantasy world. And because we want that, we can wrestle with our wordings.
Writers like Hemmingway pursue the best line their whole career. While exercising to reach that perfection can most definitely be great fun and help you become a better writer, it should stay just that. A simple game to boost your writing skills.
Perfectionism is killing your creativity, and it is not even doing you any favors. You see, the perfect sentence… is different for every single person. Of course, you are (also) writing for yourself, and there is nothing wrong with wanting that buzz of creating an absolute masterpiece. But when you write one sentence a week, you are not getting anywhere soon. So if you have those perfectionistic tendencies, you might want to work on that.
When it comes to writing, keep it simple. Do not stumble and trip over your own words. After all, if writing one sentence keeps you from writing the rest of your story, what is the use? And as they say: if you cannot explain something simply, you might not understand it as well yourself either.
So, just write as you would speak. If you sit down with somebody and tell the story, how would it come out? Start there. The beautiful thing with writing, after all, is that you can always go back to revise and polish. So do not worry about how it is written. Just write.
09. Make notes throughout the day
One of the benefits of writing every day (or at least on a regular) is that your subconscious starts processing your work. When you are about to encounter a crossroad in your story to stop writing for the day, your brain will work out all the different possibilities without you even knowing.
This is huge! Why? Because you can be hit by a bolt of inspiration when you least expect it. You know that feeling when you are in the shower, you plot out your book, and your whole story just makes sense? That can also happen when you walk to the gym, grab the mayonnaise from the top shelf in the grocery store, or are driving to the next town to get your pregnant wife that chocolate ice cream from the one place. In other words, inspiration can hit you everywhere, all the freaking time.
I am very aware that horror master Stephen King hates notebooks. He says that if something is important enough for a story, it will stay on top of your mind. That might work for him (and perhaps for you too), but not so much for me. I find that great ideas can sometimes be fleeting. Just like having an amazing dream… poof… and it is gone. That is why I recommend taking notes when a thought comes over you.
Mind you, there is a big difference between taking notes and acting upon them. Sometimes the idea is not as life-changing as you first thought. Yes, King is right when it comes to that. Other times, they can give your story just the push it needs. King is wrong there. The way I see it, there is a probability that you benefit from writing it down. Why waste that opportunity?
(Happy I wrote probability and not chance? Thank Young Sheldon.)
Another way you benefit from writing the ideas down is that it does give you the option to look at things from a different angle. Even if it is not the one you prefer, it might still lead to the perfect solution. So do not let them escape your mind. Write it down or make voice notes. Trust me, if you do not, you will forget!
10. Create a small pre-routine
Writing every day is part of my routine. I do it every day. At the same time, in the same way. It is not just my writing that is part of the routine. I do specific things before writing, that prepare my body and mind, as well. It makes me go into writing mode.
My pre-routine is not extensive but effective. In the morning, I have the little bad habit of scrolling on my phone for a few minutes before I get up and have to go to the bathroom. After that, I grab my laptop from my desk, pull on a nice hoodie, and climb back into bed. I am not recommending you learn the habit of writing in bed btw, it is killing your back and neck. But it is how I get into the right writing mind.
When I start my day like that, I can write a good chunk in half an hour. I usually aim for about 500 words, which is a lot for that period. But I do not have to think about it. What is even better is that if I start my day off like this, I can pick up writing at any time of the day. At least for a little bit. If I do not… writing will be like crawling through thick mud the whole day. Cold and icky.
My advice is to create your little pre-routine. Something that helps your body and mind realizes it is go-time. Maybe you can set a pot of tea and put it on your desk with a cookie before you sit down to write. Or you can lay out writing utensils if you have and/or use them.
Some people benefit from a little more action, like reading the text you wrote the day before or watching an inspirational video. Just be careful when you try that, though. Before you know it, you are sucked into this vortex of cute cat videos or endless editing.
Find a pre-routine that works for you. It could be anything, so go with whatever floats your boat. Remember that you need to be as consistent with this as your writing routine.
11. Set incentives
This might just be my favorite tip. Set incentives for your writing. Most of us thrive when we get rewarded at the right times. When we work towards something and receive a reward for getting there, our brain releases dopamine. This does not only make us happy and proud, but it also makes us addicted. We want to repeat what we did to keep getting rewarded. This means that you can use your rewards to influence your motivation.
Studies show that you have to look at the reward type and the criteria for receiving it to make a reward beneficial. In other words, if you reward yourself with a new MacBook Pro because you wrote 2000 words, there will not be any benefits. If you use it to reward yourself after finishing your 120.000-word novel, you have a goal to work towards.
Getting paid for your efforts makes you more devoted to your work. The sense of appreciation and value rise. Even if you reward yourself. So set up a system that works for you. I just gave an example of a monster goal with a monster reward. If that is your thing, then go for it! For most of us, it works better, though, to break it up into smaller steps.
For example, your main goal is writing a novel of roughly 80.000 words. Your first reward can come at 20.000 words, in the form of a box of chocolate. Your next might come at 40.000 in the form of a new book. The next at 60.000 in the form of a nice dinner at your favorite restaurant. And when you reach that 80.000 words, you might just reward yourself with a weekend away. Of course, you do not have to take the rewards mentioned above, but increase the value the further you get. It will push you on.
What also works for me is making my goals (and rewards) visual. You could draw a thermometer that you fill for every 2000 words written. Or you can work with checkboxes or a point system. Turn your big goals into smaller goals and turn those smaller goals into reachable steps. Turn 80.000 in 25.000 and 25.000 in 2500. Check, check, check, and goal reached!
I have to say, I just love this. For me, it is a great way of motivating myself to write. So when I reach a slump, this is my go-to method. Try it! You might love it just as much as I do.
12. Turn it into a competition
Besides rewards, people are also very easily motivated by little competition. The fastest way to achieve something is by getting others involved. For some reason, it makes us tick if more people are involved. That is why we love sports so much (well… most people). Or in writing terms, NaNoWriMo.
How can you ‘compete’ within writing? There are no points to score or ways to see how you are better than others. Exactly right! It is not about winning or beating another person. It is about running your race but doing so collectively.
Having a group keeps you accountable. You do not want to show up empty-handed when you have to share your word count, written pages, or other stats. It is a good motivation, and it is fun to see who can reach the longest streak of writing every day.
How do you do this? Make some writing friends. Make sure they are not just there for you when things are rough but also celebrate when things go well. You do not want to surround yourself with people who always need to be the best performer in the room. You need supporters that also challenge you.
When you buddy up with others, make sure that you are on the same points. Make appointments on what you share and when you share it. It is also crucial that you can share and give feedback freely. You need to be able to speak without being judged on a personal level. If people cannot separate you as a writer from your work… you might want to find other writing friends.
A few suggestions, seeing how often people reached their writing goal, or if they were able to sit down at the same time every day. You can compete to see who wrote the most words or pages, but I do not recommend that. This will place too much focus on the quantity and not the quality of your work. Everybody’s path is different. I would say.. set your own goals and compete with reaching them.
Do what feels good
Building a habit is crucial when you train to get better at something. If you want to grow, you need practice. Sure. There are people out there who can run a marathon without training for it (like…bizarre!), but most of us need to prepare months upfront. Side note: those who can run it in one go often are very fit already and trained in other sports. That is like asking a journalist to write a novel. It is different, but not that different.
So do not measure yourself to other people. Just do what feels good for you. Do not get distraught when somebody wrote a, in your eyes, perfect first draft on the first go. That is not your journey. Instead, use it as fuel and inspiration. Ask yourself what you can do to get to that point as well. Cheer others on and make steps in the same direction.
Writing is about having fun. It is about putting your inner world on paper. You have nothing to prove. No matter if you are a seasoned author or a rookie writer. Just do what feels right to you and ditch all other advice. You will see soon enough: you got this!
Other sources: Annie Bosler & Don Greene, Carlo Gébler, D4Darious, Tyler Mowery, Brett Ledbetter, Jordan B. Peterson