How to Create a Writing Habit

I can write a shopping list on the subway. I might even jot down an idea for a chapter or subsection for a book while driving. But I can’t write anywhere. I need to be at a desk, preferably mine, and on a computer keyboard.

Most writers have writing habits. Habits are useful. They get you in the right frame of mind, “This is the chair where I write.” Perhaps you have a favourite tea mug or writing sweater. All of these little habits are useful because as you settle into your writing chair, your brain remembers what it’s doing there.

Beyond a sweater or mug of tea, some writers claim other quirks. Like athletes, they have their rituals. I read about a British poet who famously needed exactly fifteen sharpened pencils on his desk before he could get to work. But these quirks are likely more common among fiction writers, who may have rituals to help summon their “muse.”

Just be wary that adjusting your chair, the thermostat, putting the dog out, are also time-wasters. So don’t let your rituals become procrastination. If you’ve only got 30 minutes a day for writing. Make the most of those 30 minutes.  

Here are two tips for improving your writing process.

1)Follow your Outline. Don’t start writing until you have a detailed outline. It’s during your outlining phase that you will discover what holes there are in your argument or which references you wish to quote. Time spent outlining your book is time well spent. It’s during the outlining that you plan the organization of your book—start, middle, end. The more detailed your outline the easier your writing will be—and the faster.

2) Write it Straight Through. You might do some minor tinkering or decide a certain subsection should go earlier in the book, but it’s best to leave revisions for your next step. Right now, your goal is the first draft. You’ve already made many of the necessary choices in your outline stage. If you lose your way, one of the best things you can do is step away—a few days is better than a few hours—it gives you fresh eyes.

Like exercise, a regular schedule can be effective. You might decide to rise an hour earlier or write after the kids are abed. Whatever your choice, the key is to stick with it. If you find yourself dodging the desk where your notes are, finding that you need to clean the closet or sort your sock drawer, you need to confront that procrastination. We all start with doubts about writing a book. But once you validate the idea and draft an outline, you have to put your doubts aside.

“How long will it take to write my book?” Your deadline is an equation. If your book is 30,000 words and you write 300 words a day, your book will take 100 days. Think about setting not just a deadline for completion, but mini-milestones, too. Breaking a task into smaller bites is a strategy for success

If you hate typing or can’t do it, you can record your book. Ultimately, someone or some software will have to transcribe the recording. All the ahs, ehs and ems will be very obvious and an hour of transcription may reduce to one page. Most of us do not speak succinctly. Type it if you can.

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