Writing is like exercise. It doesn’t make a significant difference unless you do it regularly. But when you do it every day, you start seeing incredible results over time that really pay off.
How do you make a habit that sticks? I’ve tried almost all of the writing challenges under the sun and failed every single one. Write a novel in a year, write a novel in a month, write a certain word count every day, et cetera, et cetera.
But now I am able to write almost every day, hit word count goals, and watch my novel triple in length in a few months. My writing muscles are getting stronger, more defined. My story skills are getting shredded. My …
Okay, I can only make so many parallels between writing and exercise.
The point? I am building the amount of written work I have as a result of my daily writing habit.
So how did I do it?
1. I Started Waking Up Early
Cranking my alarm back a couple more hours made a bigger difference than I thought it would. I normally start my day job at nine in the morning, so I made a goal of waking up at 4 AM every morning. I didn’t rush into it, however. I started with 5:30 one morning, then went to bed a little earlier and woke up the next day at 5, and slowly worked up to 4 AM.
Now I have a couple of extra hours to not only start the day with Jesus and read my Bible, but also get some serious writing done. Having a regularly-slotted time all to myself, before most of the world is awake, made a huge impact on my ability to cut a new groove in my morning routine.
The side benefits? Now I actually feel sleepy at night instead staring at a screen for hours on end. It’s a fairly self-evident fact that evenings after work are rarely productive hours—we are more likely to watch TV or scroll socials than anything else.
But in the morning, with fresh energy and renewed inspiration, it’s so much easier to pick up the laptop or notepad and start writing.
2. I Stopped Stressing the Word Count
Having a daily target is fine. More than fine. A word count goal is key to measuring your progress, pushing yourself to do better, and accomplishing a set amount of work each day. It's an amazing feeling when you see your word count goal light up as you hit it (I do highly recommend Scrivener for writing, btw, which is the tool of choice for many bestselling authors).
But word count goals can also be toxic. Face it: you’re going to miss the target sometimes. That’s just the way it goes.
If you set a hard-and-fast goal to write 600 words every day, that means that a 400-word day is a failure.
But 400 words is not a failure—that’s more than a full page of writing and far more content than most people write every day (which would be zero).
So, in your zeal, be careful that you don’t set a rigid standard that Twain himself couldn’t withstand. Instead of vowing, “I’m going to write 500 words every day,” say, “I’m going to write every day, period. Even if it’s just one sentence, one idea, I’m going to put ink onto paper.” Or letter-shaped pixels on a screen, whatever.
With a realistic goal to “Just write,” you will save yourself a thousand stress headaches. Even better, you’ll be hooked on a daily writing habit that will churn out content faster than you ever dreamed you could.
Think about it: zero words per weekday times 52 weeks (one year) still equals zero words. But just a few hundred words per weekday times 52 weeks equals around 78,000 words, which is a full-length adult novel in any genre. That's achieved by writing three hundred words a day, with weekends off!
The point: give yourself some honest slack and don’t get stressed out if you miss your target every once and a while. The important thing is that you’re writing, and you’re writing every day.
3. I Loosened Up My Goals
So what to do with the crazy days?
That’s always my first problem with any kind of routine, because I know that there will ALWAYS be a day where everything just goes wrong. The dog gets sick, the power fails, your laptop battery goes dead …. Life happens. Does that mean that the day is a loss?
I used to think that way, but I’ve changed my mind.
Now I keep a small notebook with me wherever I go—and if I don’t have my notebook, I have the Notes app on my iPhone. Whenever I get an idea, whether it relates to my current work-in-progress or not, I jot it down in my notebook. And that counts towards my daily writing goal.
Is it cheating? Not if it keeps your morale up. Not if it helps you stay on track and keep momentum. It’s like having a cheat day on a diet … it still helps you achieve your goals, just in an unconventional way.
I hope you found this helpful! Don’t forget to check out the rest of the blog, and if you haven’t already, download my free eBook, Write a Story With Purpose, to learn effective techniques to pen a meaningful short story.