Last week I talked about the six reasons you shouldn’t write a book, but if you’re still with me this week and you still really want to write that book, there is one thing you can do that will ensure you actually accomplish your goal, and it’s this:
Make writing a habit.
I know it sounds like making writing a habit will extract any kind of creativity from the writing process, but I assure you that this is not in the least bit true. Writers cannot simply write when inspiration hits them. We must write consistently and unceasingly, and I’ll tell you why in a minute.
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First, I’ll say that for the last five years, I have woken at 4:15 in the morning to squeeze in thirty minutes of daily writing, which I call my morning pages. These pages are awful. They’re a warmup to my other writing, and they will never see the light of day. Ever. I write about dreams, worries, work, kids, laundry, anything and everything. Once I have downloaded these mundane musings, I have a wide open space available for my creative writing.
Outside of these morning pages, I write for an average of 3.5 hours a day. I set my timer for two hours and crank out as many words as I can manage for my current fiction project. Once that timer goes off, I set another one for an hour and a half and write on my latest nonfiction project.
Writing has become my habit.
This is the single most important thing you can do for your career.
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Here are some reasons that writing consistently, essentially turning writing into a habit, can benefit you.
1. It tells your brain that writing is important to you.
This sounds a little meta, but bear with me. When your brain realizes that you’re doing this thing every single day for a certain amount of time, it starts to take notice. Neurons start to wire and fire together. Your brain will do you favors and begin to make connections where you didn’t know they existed. You will see story ideas everywhere. You will never run out of ideas, and your brain will also be fired up and ready to write the moment you begin, because it is already anticipating this moment.
2. It allows you time to practice.
We don’t get better at anything without practice. The greatest writers did not become great because they suddenly woke up one morning and decided they’d like to be a writer. Toni Morrison did not crank out Beloved on the first try. She wrote consistently for years.
3. It creates a habit loop, which allows you to reach flow easier and faster.
Once your writing is lodged in the habit loop, you don’t have to think much about beginning and ending. You just open your computer and start writing. Your brain is already on your side. Writer’s block? Consistency doesn’t allow or recognize it.
So what I want you to do this week is set aside some time for writing every day. If you have to wake at 4 a.m. to write, do it. Your brain and your writing will thank you.
Keep doing this over and over for at least 30 days, until the habit is forged. There are some days that writing will feel hard, but you can’t give up. Even if you only manage a couple hundred words in a ridiculous amount of time, keep writing. Your willpower will grow stronger every day, and, besides, there’s always tomorrow to fix what you massacred today.
3 ways to make writing a habit:
1. Do it every day.
When we do something every day, we signal to our brain that this thing is important. This causes our brain to be constantly on the lookout for new things to write about, new connections to make, new possibilities and techniques. Our brain begins to fire as a writer’s brain does.
2. Do it at the same time.
Writing at the same time every day helps our brains latch on to the routine. Did you know that the brain thrives on routine? Neuroscience has proven this. So pick a time, get out a notebook (or your computer) and set a timer if you have to. When you write at the same time every day, you make it much easier for your brain to reach a state of flow.
3. Reward yourself for consistency.
Rewarding yourself for your efforts helps you more firmly establish a habit loop. Reward yourself with affirmations about how awesome it is that you just finished a week of writing consistently. Reward yourself by taking an hour away to read a book. Reward yourself with some chocolate. Just make sure your brain knows that the reward is connected to your writing efforts, and it will pay you back the next time you sit down to write.