Successful people are simply those with successful habits.
I have a confession.
I love habits. They make me feel all warm and cosy inside. They make the day more predictable and, most importantly, more productive.
Some might say that makes me a geek, but you know what? I’m okay with that.
I’ll wear my geek tee with pride.
But how can habits help writers? Which ones are the most beneficial?
Let’s find out…
10 Habit for Writers to Start Today
Over the last five years, I’ve practised a lot of writing habits to try and improve my productivity and my daily word count. What I’ve noticed is that when I do these habits consistently, my writing life becomes easier. Words flow like the chocolate river in Wonka’s factory and I feel like I could write anything.
My confidence levels are at their peak. I walk down to my writing cabin with a swagger to rival Mick Jagger, flicking the finger at some unsuspecting pigeons.
So if you want to be the Ronnie to my Mick, try these.
1. Turn Up
Like, every day. Not when you feel like it. Not when the muse strikes. Every day.
I’ve found it easier if I turn up at the same time every day too, preferably in the same place. My writing brain knows I mean business. There’s no time to procrastinate or to pretend that I’ll ‘do it later’ – I’m in the seat and those words are getting written.
“There is a muse, but he’s not going to come fluttering down into your writing room and scatter creative fairy-dust all over your typewriter or computer. He lives in the ground. He’s a basement kind of guy. You have to descend to his level, and once you get down there you have to furnish an apartment for him to live in. You have to do all the grunt labor, in other words, while the muse sits and smokes cigars and admires his bowling trophies and pretends to ignore you.
Do you think it’s fair? I think it’s fair. He may not be much to look at, that muse-guy, and he may not be much of a conversationalist, but he’s got inspiration. It’s right that you should do all the work and burn all the mid-night oil, because the guy with the cigar and the little wings has got a bag of magic. There’s stuff in there that can change your life. Believe me, I know.”
2. Shut Yourself Off from the World
Some people write in coffee shops with their headphones in. Others write in the kitchen with the kids racing around them. Me? I shut myself off in my little writing cabin at the bottom of my garden and write in silence.
I’ve tried writing with music on but when I’m writing fiction, I just can’t do it. Other authors have playlists that are just for writing, others write to the sound of storms or coffee shops.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach to shutting yourself off from the world in order to write. It’s a personal thing and I wouldn’t dream of saying that there is one ‘right way’.
Whatever it looks like for you, just make sure you do it each and every day. Focus on your writing for as long as you have time for and just write.
3. Set Yourself a Target
Giving myself a target each day for a word count has helped enormously. You know your capabilities so set your target based on what you think is achievable. Don’t listen to the people who say they write 5000 words a day. Good for them. You just work on your own target and as long as you hit it every day, your book gets written.
Personally, I have a 2000 words-a-day target and this works well for me. I started off with 1000 words and increased it incrementally from there. 2000 feels right and by the end of it, I am happily exhausted. Occasionally I might go over 2000 words, but boy I never go under it.
I’m fiercely competitive which can sometimes be a help, but is often a hindrance! I am that person who walks around the bedroom at night to hit her 10,000 steps target…
The best piece of advice I’ve read is to reward yourself for hitting your target each day. I give myself a nice shiny sticker that goes in my diary. But again, each to their own.
4. Turn Off Distractions
I read recently that our bodies release the ‘happy hormone’ dopamine when we receive a notification from social media or a new message or email. This makes it difficult for us to resist the urge to read said notifications when we hear or see them ‘ping’ through.
I’ve found turning my phone onto airplane mode helps reduce the likelihood of distractions during my writing time. This may not be possible for everyone, but it helps me concentrate on the task at hand and not be tempted to see the latest updates or celebrity gossip.
5. Fuel to Write
Giving our bodies the right food at the right time can help our energy and concentration levels. During writing sessions, try to avoid sugary, processed foods otherwise you’ll feel the inevitable slump kick in shortly after.
Imagine that you need the right fuel to keep your writing machine functioning at its best. Anything high in protein or good fats is a good start, as well as drinking as often as possible. Our bodies are approximately 60% water so we need to keep it topped up.
I listened to an interesting podcast interview with Stephanie McMahon on The Tim Ferriss Show. She said that she finds it hard to drink water during the day and can’t sip ‘little and often’. Instead, she drinks a whole bottle at a time, chugging it all in one go.
I also find sipping water a bit of a bore, so I have recently started doing the same thing and feel much more hydrated as a result. I also like to include tea in the equation, but then again, I am British…
6. Get Off Your Ass
When we’re in the zone as writers, we can sit in a chair for hours on end staring at the screen, our fingers moving over the keyboard like ants crawling into their nest. When we’re really in the flow, we can forget to move at all for long periods of time.
Recently I’ve been suffering from a bout of neck and backache as a result of my writing. As well as regular yoga (see this post) I have also changed my exercise habits while I am writing. Every thirty minutes, I get up and walk around/stretch/make more tea (!) for five minutes. I might do a sun salutation or two. Anything to get me out of the chair for a few moments at regular intervals.
If I’m really flying through my word count, I may not get up for 60 minutes, but I always have an alarm set up on my phone to remind me.
I’ve also tried the Pomodoro Technique (25 minutes writing, 5 minutes rest) and have used the Be Focused app for the last 6 months or so.
It’s so important that we look after our writing bodies, so build in regular breaks and keep yourself well-nourished.
7. Find Your Time
Three highly successful people who share one common trait. They get up at 5am and have an established morning routine.
But does that mean that everyone has to do the same? Do you have to be the person who gets up in the early hours to write? Must you join the #5amwritersclub on Twitter?
You don’t have to.
Writing at 5am might work for you, but so might writing at 11pm. It’s all about choice. Don’t feel as though you have to conform to someone else’s idea of what successful writing looks like.
When I wrote my first book for teachers, I got up at 5am and wrote. I did this because I was working full time and had two young boys to look after. I tried working at 7.30pm when they went to bed and I tried staying up at 10pm, writing when my husband went to bed.
Writing in the early morning worked for me because I had the most energy at that point in the day. But that’s not to say that everyone feels this way. Now that I’ve made writing my career, I still write in the morning, but after the kids have gone to school. I still find I’m most productive at that point in the day and I leave admin stuff to do in the afternoons.
Most people are either night owls or they’re larks. Pick what’s right for you and get the writing done. That’s the most important thing.
8. Find Your Space
Not only have I found it helpful to write at the same time every day, in the same place every day, I have also found it helpful to keep my writing desk as the same space I write in every day.
My writing desk is for my writing only.
It’s got everything I could possibly need to make sure I don’t find excuses to get up (other than to get more tea) or procrastinate.
Having a consistent space to write has helped my productivity levels. Again, your space might look very different to mine, but it’s what works for us individually that counts. Finding a space that you go to time and time again to write can help build solid writing habits.
NB: This picture was taken when the cabin was first built – it doesn’t look quite as tidy now, but it’s still my favourite place to write…
9. Log It!
A motivational technique that I once heard another author speak about was logging her word count every day.
As you can see in my diary picture above, I not only started logging my word count each day, but I also then added it on to a total word count for the book. It was amazing to see as it grew into the tens of thousands each day and I can honestly say it helped to spur on my writing habits further.
You can log your results in any way that suits you. You could use a diary like I do or put it up on a wall planner. I also tweeted my word count for a period of time as another way to keep myself accountable.
It doesn’t have to be a daily log, it could be a weekly one or a monthly one. I find the daily aspect of it more motivational as I need the ‘little wins’ to keep me going, especially when I’m in the dreaded mid-book slump.
Try it – I think you’ll find you’re competing with yourself in no time!
10. Write When You Hate The Thought of Writing
Do you know what sorts the amateurs from the pros?
Writing when they don’t want to write. Writing when they really want to stay in bed on a dark winter’s morning or when everyone else is at the beach on a warm day.
Writing every day, even on birthdays and at Christmas… Yes, I’m looking at you, Stephen King…
Even if you have to drag yourself, kicking and screaming to your writing desk, you have to write. Habits are difficult to form and easy to break. By turning up every single day, whether you feel like it or not, you train your brain that this habit is here to stay.
Just like brushing your teeth or having two biscuits with your cup of tea…
Ironically I’ve found that I sometimes produce my best work when I’m least inclined to sit my butt in the chair. Sometimes I tell myself that I’ll just write one sentence. Okay, I won’t hit my word count target, but I’ll have written something.
That’s better than not writing at all, right?
Inevitably, one sentence turns into two and then three and so on. If I hadn’t even bothered, some of my best work would never have been written.
So write when you feel like skipping it. It might just be the best thing you ever do.
What writing habits help you to be more productive? Share your ideas and comments below.
If you need support with developing successful writing habits, consider some coaching – info is on my coaching page.