Writing is a vocation and a calling to some. Whichever the case, it’s not glamorous. This posts paints a sobering picture and gives practical advice for building a strong daily writing habit. This isn’t meant to scare you away but if you can’t write when you don’t feel like writing then you likely won’t write in ideal, peaceful situations. Many people imagine writers sitting in a quiet room with a freshly brewed cup of coffee and a smooth jazz album playing in the background. The reality is that writers, especially those who are still fighting for their big break, write in the most uncomfortable scenarios. Writers who are on the grind write while on lunch breaks, after they put their children to bed, and while job hunting for a gig that’ll pay the bills in the meantime.
What separates a successful writer from a struggling one isn’t always skill. Successful writers write every day — usually at the same time — to build their strong daily writing habit. Let’s hope this how-to post is the last one you’ll read before you dig deep, stop searching for advice, and just start writing. After all, putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) is the solution to your pause. But if you need more advice please read on.
Know your role
Writing for a newspaper is different from blogging, and blogging is different from writing a book. Of course there’s some crossover but different types of content take different skillsets. A newspaper columnist writes on deadline, which can cause unique pressures. Newspaper columnists are usually tight grammarians, but know they have a section editor to clean up their work. Most bloggers write in a conversational tone and have the license to bend the rules of spelling and grammar. Bloggers usually don’t have tight deadlines and editors inspecting their copy. Book authors might have deadlines from a publisher so they have to commit to a strict writing schedule. Their work takes months of consistent writing, editing, and rewriting before they have a finished product. It’s important to know your specific role and responsibilities so that you know how to approach your daily writing habit.
Schedule time … put it on your calendar
You put appointments with others on your calendar so you should do the same for yourself. This action shows that you’re a serious writer who’s looking to build a strong daily writing habit. Set a calendar notification so that it reminds you on your computer desktop and mobile phone 10 to 15 minutes before your writing session begins. Also, be sure to give yourself enough time so that you can get into a good rhythm. Lastly, schedule your session at a time when you’re most productive. For example, my brain flows better in the morning so I schedule my daily writing session in the morning.
Set a word count minimum
Next, you need to know what constitutes a successful day of writing. I’ve heard several novelists suggest writing at least 1000 words per day for a strong daily writing routine. You should pick a word minimum that’s acceptable (and realistic) for the amount of output that your project/role requires. Every situation is different. For bloggers, the average blog post is 500 to 700 words. An average novel is 90,000 to 100,000 words. These word counts should give you an idea for the number of words to write on a daily basis.
Please be sure to keep quality in mind, especially if your work will be published immediately after you write your copy. Reading what I’ve written to hear how it sounds out loud is my personal practice. If it sounds bad when it’s read out loud then I have editing to do.
Avoid distractions (if possible)
Distractions can throw you off your game. If your kids are at home, don’t ignore their needs. But if you’re engaged during your focused writing time, avoid distractions like the Plague. Smartphones are usually big culprits when it comes to distractions. Avoid getting distracted by phone notifications by putting your phone on silent or by placing your phone in a different room. Another tip is to limit the amount of tabs in your browser (if you’re writing in an online editor like Google Docs) to your writing tab and research tab(s) only. Last but not least, avoid social media if it’s not part of your research. Twitter and Facebook can suck you into a binge session in the blink of an eye. For most, social media activity is easy because it’s passive. Fight the social media urge and reap the rewards of doing the hard work of writing.
The right music can become the soundtrack to your productive writing session. I write to instrumental music or music with minimal lyrics. Lyrics can distract you because it’s natural to want to know what a performer is saying. The problem is that what they’re saying is most likely not related to what you’re writing about and it takes the focus away from your work because you’re trying to process their message. So with music, choose wisely and change it quickly if you find that it’s an obstruction to your writing flow.
Earlier we discussed knowing your role but now it’s time to talk about getting outside of your comfort zone. During the time this blog post was written, I was working on my first novel and it was the hardest writing project that I’ve ever taken on. I’d written non-fiction almost exclusively. I invite you to stretch yourself creatively by learning and writing a new style. You will find that it improves your writing in general which will improve your confidence in sticking with a daily writing habit.
Establishing a daily writing habit is a fight. Hopefully this article further equipped you for the battle between your environment, brain, hands, paper, pen, and computer. Now get writing!
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