Break the “I didn’t write today” habit

Does this sound like your writing habit? It’s the end of another day. As you climb into bed, you mourn the fact that you didn’t do any writing. Again. But you promise yourself you’ll write tomorrow. Except you don’t. And the cycle continues. Ad nauseam. Until you want to hit your head against a tree and just give up on the whole idea before you’ve even started.

Bad habits have this effect

How is it some people can actually write books? Ever wondered how you squeeze writing into your everyday routine? Or write while you still have the “DDJ”, otherwise known as the “Dreaded Day Job”?

Easy! Here’s what you do:

  • put on some rockin’ music
  • do 20 jumping jacks
  • two minutes of sit-ups
  • two minutes of push-ups
  • drink a gigantic glass of water
  • flop on to your chair

Now start writing!

Just kidding! This routine isn’t for everyone. Or perhaps anyone! The point is, if you want to develop the habit of writing every day, you need to create a pre-writing routine for yourself. A pre-writing routine will help motivate you to write.

The importance of a pre-writing routine to shape a new habit

Whether your pre-writing routine looks like the example I gave above or whether it involves meditation and a quiet cup of coffee before you start, find a routine that will get your mind in the right space. This is essential if you want to make a habit of writing every day. The routine is a habit trigger: something you can use to help you accomplish something else. In your case, that would be actually sitting down and writing.

If it helps, think of yourself as a professional athlete. Before professional athletes go into a big game, they take certain steps to prepare themselves. This can range from what food they eat before the game to warm-up routines and mental preparedness exercises. The same goes for your writing. Going through a pre-writing routine will prepare you for your big game: writing. And the more you do the routine, the easier you’ll find it to get the words out when it comes time to write.

A few DO’s and DON’T’s to be aware of when setting up your pre-writing routine

  • DO set a routine that is fun and easy. If your pre-writing routine involves doing things you enjoy, for example, making yourself a cup of coffee and sitting on your deck for a few minutes of quiet contemplation, you are more likely to do it. Conversely, setting a routine that requires a lot of work means you are already starting the race on the back foot. Because, let’s face it, none of us really likes to have to work hard! And why make something you’re already struggling with even more of a mission?
  • DO set a routine that’s quick. The less time your routine takes the more time you’ll have for writing. This is especially true when the time you have for writing is very limited.
  • DON’T do the routine and then get sidetracked by other things. This is a common problem. The moment you sit down to write is the moment you remember all the other things that you want to do in the day. Resist the temptation and force yourself to sit down and write.
  • DON’T make social media part of your routine. You will invariably lose all or most of your productive time if you even think of looking at your social media. Turn off that phone, turn off your notifications, close that browser and block that part of your life for your writing time. You owe at least that much to yourself!

Other factors that can help or hinder your writing, despite a pre-writing routine:

  • Music. Decide whether you work better with music or without. If you decide that you want to listen to music, what music allows you to be the most productive? Is it your usual music, or is it perhaps instrumental music only such as classical, epic or EDM? If you aren’t sure, spend some time writing to different kinds of music until you figure out what works best for you.
  • Environment. Are you the sort of person that works best with clutter all around? Or do you need a special, designated space for writing? If you need a special place to write, where is this: the train or bus or coffee shop? Or is setting up a portable writing desk while you sit on your bed the answer for you? Maybe it’s not the space around you that’s the trigger, but something else. The smell of food cooking or plugging in a pair of headphones and hearing that familiar music or popping a stick of gum in your mouth and tasting the bite of cinnamon. Just because this section is labelled “environment” doesn’t mean it has to be what’s around you. It can be something you do to create that environment for yourself.
  • Pen and paper or an electronic device? Personally, I prefer pen and paper for ideas. There is plenty of documentary evidence showing that your brain is more creative when working with pen and paper rather than typing your ideas. However, when it comes to writing, I prefer putting my ideas straight into electronic format. This is more efficient because you won’t have to do the work twice!
  • Goals. Setting a goal is necessary if you’re serious about going somewhere with your writing. Set a short-term goal that is easily attainable. Goals can be a fixed number of words or minutes or a clearly defined task, such as research or character sketches. Don’t set the bar too high or this could become another obstacle. If you set a goal that is actually achievable, for example 150 words or 10 minutes of writing a day, it doesn’t seem so overwhelming. (Yeah, I know, those are really tiny goals. But the point is to set a goal that isn’t going to stretch you and stress you out!) It is likely that you will find that once you start writing, you will end up writing more than the 150 words or spending more than 10 minutes, because once you’re writing, it’s easy to keep going. It’s getting started that’s the problem!

Solve the problem of getting started

Still not feeling motivated? Consider these things:

  1. Nobody has any more or any less time than you. You decide what’s more important; watching one more episode of your favorite TV soap or spending that time writing instead?
  2. Approach writing like it’s a job. Sometimes you’ll feel motivated to write and sometimes you won’t. You have to get past this. You have to decide, “I’m going to write today, no matter what.” After all, how would it look if you just decided to skip your DDJ for a day? You’d soon find yourself out of a job. Treat your writing the same way.
  3. Get an accountability partner. This doesn’t have to be someone who knows anything about writing. It will certainly help, but it’s not necessary. This person is your cheer leader, the one who will encourage you to write and who is a good enough friend to get on your case when you’ve been slacking.
  4. What is stopping you? A lack of ideas? That you don’t believe that you have something of value to add to people? Or that you don’t have confidence in your skills? Determine what underlying issues keep you from actually writing. When you find them, make sure you address them. And don’t use these to prolong the cycle either by making excuses that don’t allow for actual resolution of the issue. For example, if your problem is that you don’t know what to write about, brainstorm ideas. But then don’t spend weeks or months or even years just building lists of ideas and doing nothing with them. Set a time limit for getting ideas, then another time limit for narrowing down your options, then a deadline for your topic/story. If you don’t keep narrowing the focus, it will never get smaller and you will never get to writing.
  5. Schedule it. Set an appointed time to write each day. Even if it’s not the same time every day. For most of us, life is a jigsaw puzzle that comes together haphazardly. Work around that. Spend a little time each night before you go to bed working out when you will be setting aside time for writing the next day despite all that chaos! The best time for writing is usually in the morning when your willpower is at its highest. Numerous studies have shown that willpower decreases over the course of the day which means that if you set your writing time at night, it’s unlikely you’ll get it done.
  6. Make every moment count. Not everyone has big chunks of time in the day to sit down and write for extended periods of time. To maximize your writing time, use every minute to its full potential. Let’s say you have five minutes before you have to leave to fetch your child from school. Although that usually isn’t enough time to write, it is enough time to make a phone call or reply to that email that requires a response. If you use these small crumbs of time productively in a consistent way over the day, by the time you reach the end of the day, those five-minute periods that you’ve utilized well, may add up to the thirty minutes or an hour that spent on your writing that day.

Alright! You’ve done your pre-writing routine. Now what? Start writing! And this time I do mean itJ Focus on getting those words onto your canvas. Ditch the distractions. Give yourself permission to use the time you’ve allotted for writing, and write!

One last piece of advice

Don’t fall into the trap of trying to write and edit at the same time. These processes use different parts of your brain and all editing does is slow down your writing. When you’re writing, stick to writing – no matter how horrible the first draft is! The important thing is to get the words down on paper. Remember, you can’t edit what isn’t written If you stick to just writing, this allows your creative side to flow and you will soon find the words streaming out. This is my favorite part of the book writing process.

In closing

When you reach your writing goal for the day, (or the week, or the month), celebrate! It’s something worth celebrating that you got those words out and down on paper. And it will propel you to greater works as you feel that sense of achievement. Your confidence will soar because you actually wrote! You will feel happier because your creative side has an outlet. And most encouraging of all, your book is coming alive and growing. So what are you waiting for? Go work out your pre-writing routine and make writing a habit!

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