8 Ways to Create Positive Writing Habits
Habits are the foundation of any writing practice.
These habits can come in many forms—some writers swear by writing every morning while others write only on the weekends. Still others close themselves in their studies until their entire story is finished while some post each chapter they complete online for feedback.
No matter the specifics of their habits, all successful writers share a few traits in common. These core traits are the backbone of their writing habits and unify the often confusing advice so many novice writers get. After all, what worked for Ernest Hemingway or Zadie Smith may not work for you, but the underlying principles remain.
What Defines Writing Habits?
Habits, at their most basic, are just a set of repeated behaviors. When we brush our teeth every morning after getting out of the shower, our brain becomes wired to want to brush our teeth after showering.
Creating writing habits is the same.
By writing every day or every week, slowly our brains will want to write on autopilot.
Of course, most of us start our writing lives in adulthood, after we’ve already formed a whole slew of habits, good and bad. Many of the writing habits we have were formed in our school’s English classes.
While I don’t want to project my own school experiences onto you, let’s just say my English classes formed more habits related to procrastination than actually working. 😉
Ultimately, what makes healthy writing habits so important is that, not only does writing a novel require a big time commitment, but most successful authors publish at least one book a year. Even if your only goal is to write your dream novel, having a consistent writing habit is the difference between finishing your novel “someday,” and finishing it within your lifetime.
With such a daunting task ahead of you, having a clear set of guiding principles and habits will be key to keeping yourself motivated and determined to succeed.
The Basics of Forming New Habits
To start forming healthy writing habits, we first have to kick the bad ones!
There’s a ton of research out there on the art of habit formation, far more than I can cover here. However, the basic principle is not unlike training a dog—we are just weird, lanky animals after all. So, when you want to form a new, positive habit, you need to reward yourself for completing it and create a situation that reminds you to engage in that habit. Likewise, to kick a bad habit, have small punishments for when you slip up (like taking out the trash or skipping desert that night) and keep yourself away from environments that encourage your bad habit.
Personally, I wanted to write for an hour right after I woke up every day.
Normally, I’d leave my laptop sitting on the couch after watching movies the night before, and would promptly sit back down on the couch in the morning. As a result, I’d waste most of my morning free time on Pinterest or Youtube.
To change this, I simply set my laptop and notebook out on my desk before bed each night. Now, I no longer sit on the couch first thing in the morning, a place my brain associates with relaxing, and instead sit at my desk, where my brain is in work mode. It seems simple on the surface, but that one, small change has added a full hour of writing time to my daily schedule, time I would have been wasting otherwise!
Of course, your desired writing habits will probably look different from mine.
Still, the core idea is the same.
This is where the conflicting advice of writing veterans starts making sense. When you peer beneath the actual habit they’re suggesting, you can see a few repeated themes. Themes like consistency, pride, purpose, ect… What do these principles mean for your writing habits? How can you apply them to the habits you want to create?
Well, here are the eight principles I’ve found in all healthy writing habits and how you can incorporate them into your own writing life!
8 Ways to Create Positive Writing Habits
The number one piece of advice novice writers get is to write consistently.
Of course, that consistency can look very different depending on who you are. Many writers insist you should write daily, while others thrive when writing only on Tuesdays and Thursdays, or only on Sunday nights at exactly 10:52PM.
At the end of the day, how often you write is less important than when you write.
As I mentioned above, habits are formed through repeated behaviors. Writing for one hour every day for a week, only to get burnt out and not write again for a month isn’t helping you make writing a habit. Instead, write every weekend, or for ten minutes at the end of every day. Personally, I do think there’s something to be said for writing a small amount every day, simply for the sake of productivity. Daily writing is my preference and it’s how I find my flow state most often, but at the end of the day, you need to do what works within your life.
Whatever your routine is, keep it consistent so your brain can begin making writing a habit.
If consistency is your goal, then planning is how you’ll reach that goal.
The importance of planning lies in having a clear roadmap forward. Without a plan, you’re just writing… For an hour a day, or one day a week, whatever it may be. What you’re writing towards is unknown. You’re just writing.
While that’s all well and good, if you’re hoping to write a novel in the near future, having a plan is essential. Set target word counts to push yourself to work hard during your designated writing time. Make those targets realistic, but make them challenging too. If you can write 200 words during your average writing session, make it your goal to write 220, to push yourself just a little farther. Likewise, make it a point to plan out at least the basics of your novel, so you never sit down wondering what to write next.
Having a plan, both for how you’ll write your novel, when, and at what speed, can make or break your productivity as a writer.
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Many people feel constrained by their inspiration. A fickle, always changing muse, inspiration is thought of as a shackle that plagues us with writer’s block. I’m here to bust that myth, because it simply isn’t true. Like consistency and planning, inspiration can be purposeful—we just have to know how to harness it.
For some, that means keeping a notebook on hand at all times to jot down sparks of ideas. For other, it could mean creating mood boards, extensive plot lines, or character profiles, so you always know what you’re writing next.
In my case, I like to follow Hemingway’s advice and finish my writing sessions with some ideas left unwritten. I jot down a few notes to jog my memory, and then close my manuscript for the day, making it that much easier to get into the flow the next day. As a result, I rarely sit staring at the screen, wondering what to write next.
“I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.” – Ernest Hemingway
Whatever your method is, seek out inspiration actively. Don’t wait for it to come to you. Find your own unique way of nurturing your inspiration so it’s always on hand when you need it.
I’ve written over and over about the importance of having a Why. Your Why is the deep, underlying reason you feel compelled to write your novel. Perhaps you use writing as self-reflection or therapy, or maybe you write to pass something on to the next generation.
Whatever your Why is, it’s something you should actively seek out.
Having a clear Why gives you a purpose for writing. On days when your inspiration doesn’t come, when you’re tired or sick, or when you’re so busy your eyes might start spinning, your Why is there to remind you that your writing matters, and that it’s worth the time and effort to create a novel at all.
Once you’re found your Why, keep it close to your heart. Jot it down to hang above your desk, or write it at the top of your manuscript like I do. Whatever method you prefer, use your Why as a motivator and a reminder of your purpose for writing.
You’ll never have to share it with anyone unless you want to—it’s purely personal! But everyone needs a Why. 🙂
Of course, sometimes writing can become a painfully solitary experience.
A lot of the great veteran writers viewed this as a benefit—there’s plenty of advice out there about hiding your work from others until it’s complete, or about locking yourself in a library somewhere to begin your writing journey.
So if you prefer writing in solitude, more power to you. Personally, I skirt the line between the two. When I’m actively writing I prefer quiet, so no coffee shops for me. On the other hand, when I’m done writing for the day nothing feels more gratifying than telling others about my work (which is probably why I run this site!)
Even if you’re a die-hard writing hermit, I encourage you to consider joining a writing group. You never need to share your work with others, but having a community of people around you who are all as excited about writing as you are is a great way to stay motivated and inspired. If you want to be active in the community, you can help critique others work and provide advice, or you can ask for help of your own.
As introverted as some of us may be, humans are social animals, so there’s something nurturing about having a community of like-minded writers to support you!
Sharing your work with others clearly requires a certain level of confidence, but what about sharing it with yourself? By that I mean, how do you keep the nagging doubts at bay as you write?
The key is having pride in your work.
Of course, when I say pride, I don’t mean the pride that leads to ego or prevents you from seeing the flaws in your writing. Instead, you need to be proud of your identity as a writer, proud of the fact that you sit down consistently to write about something important to you regardless of how good or bad your inner editor thinks it is!
Give yourself permission to make your creative writing a priority. If Saturday morning is your writing time, don’t feel bad when you say no to going to the park with friends or family. Let them know that writing is important to you, that it matters. Better yet, show them why it matters so they can become cheerleaders for you as well (see how this is all coming full circle?)
By having pride in your writing, not only do you make it easier to write consistently, but you also make the eventual completion of your novel all the more sweet. You’re working hard to achieve something important to you—what’s more deserving of pride than that?
Unfortunately, not everyone you share your writing with will be supportive.
It’s an unfortunate fact of life that some people simply won’t be on board. In fact, they may not mean to discourage you—sometimes, their concerns or dismissals seem rational in their head, and truly aren’t intended to be malicious.
However, the ultimate effect of their negativity is still damaging.
You’re already embarking on a difficult mission, one that will take a lot of commitment and time. Writing a novel is a major undertaking, and you need a team around you who supports you. While that doesn’t mean you should neglect the people who are unsure about your writing, it does mean those aren’t the people you want to share your first draft with. Let them be a part of your writing life once you’ve published your novel and can show them the payoff of all your hard work.
For now, try to find other writers or friends who are as excited about your writing as you are, and who will encourage you to do your best. This could be through constructive criticism (because yes, helpful criticism is a form of encouragement) or through simple cheerleading. Whatever their support may look like, treasure these friends and trust them with your work.
For everyone else, they can ooh and ahh when your brand new novel is sitting on your bookshelf!
Finally, the last key to positive writing habits is determining what success looks like for you.
The traditional view of success for novelists is to publish your book with a major publishing house and launch a career as an author. In recent years, self-publishing has become part of that vision for some, but being a full-time author is still at the top of most people’s minds.
However, that might not be your dream, and that’s ok.
You need to define what success looks like for you. Perhaps you do want to become a traditionally published author, or perhaps you just want to self-publish your dream novel so you can give a copy to friends and family. Maybe you’re trying to write your family history, or create a memento for your loved ones.
Whatever your vision of success is, your habits should be aligned with that. The habits of famous, multi-book authors may not fit with your goals. That doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer, or a lazy writer, or any other type of writer. It just makes you unique!
So when you set out to create positive writing habits, create habits that work within your life and that help you move closer to your goals. Be clear on what success means to you, and don’t worry about what it means to other people.
5 Habits to Try in Your Own Writing Practice
Like with so many things in life, writing is a personal journey, and each person’s experience will differ vastly from the next’s. My hope is that some of the principles above can guide you as you create your own writing habits and inspire you to make your writing a priority, not just an occasional pastime.
We’re all just here hoping to bring our own novel to life, after all. 🙂
Read, A Lot: “Be a good reader first if you wish to become a good writer.” – Pawan Mishra
Create a Writing Schedule: “Exercise the writing muscle every day, even if it is only a letter, notes, a title list, a character sketch, a journal entry. Writers are like dancers, like athletes. Without that exercise, the muscles seize up.” – Jane Yolen
Finish What You Start: “You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” – Jodi Picoult
Find a Dedicated Writing Space: “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” – Albert Einstein
Trust Your Work: “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.” – Anne Lamott