How to Build a Writing Habit

One of those things about being a writer is that you have to be in the habit of writing. Oh, sure, it’s all well and good to say, “I’m a writer.” And then just rush off before anyone can ask you about what you do. It’s even better if you just belittle people who try to question your status as writer. (I had a crush on a guy who did that in undergrad.) I think a problem I’ve run into lately is the whole saying I’m a writer, and then, you know…not writing.

How to Build a Writing Habit

And, I get it. Like, for a while, all my friends on the Facebooks were posting links to hella inspirational blogs that reaffirmed that yes, we are writers. We should call ourselves writers. Even if we’re not published! You’re a mother-humpin’ writer. It was good. I appreciated it. Because, here’s the thing: For a really long time, I didn’t feel I could say that. I had a master’s degree in writing, but didn’t feel that I could call myself a writer.

Fast forward to the present.

I have worked as a writer for the majority of my professional life. I’ve ghostwritten. I’ve blogged. I’ve freelanced. I’ve tech written. (What’s the past tense of having at one point been a tech writer?) Currently, I literally teach writing. I have no issue with donning that fantastic writerly mantle.

But here’s where things get a bit squiffy.

I haven’t been writing a whole awful lot lately.

Gasp. Sacrilege!

I know.

If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, you know that I struggle hard with the burnout. And you know, taking on too much stuff. And trying to balance life and work and side hustles and a relationship and just basically being a person. (I’ve really been bad at the being a person thing because I let so many friendships and everyday human tasks fall by the wayside.)

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So, in 2016, I worked on getting my life right, in a manner of speaking. I started to slow down. I lessened my day job work load. I cut waaaaaaaay back on the writing I did for others. I started reading more. I didn’t force myself to do anything I didn’t want to do. I really leaned into self-care in a pathological way.

But here we are in February in this, the year of our lord 2017. And I do not have a daily writing habit. I really, really want one though. Which, naturally, means it’s time to work on it.

How to Build a Writing Habit

So, in the interest of letting the 10 11 people who regularly read my blog (a big welcome to my dad who just found out I had a blog!), I thought I would detail how I’m building a writing habit.

001: Journaling.
So, if you didn’t know, I start every single day by journaling. On the weekdays, this means I start writing around 5:40 AM, and get it out of the way before I start working out. On weekends, it’s a little nicer because I get to journal with my coffee as I snuggle with the dog on the couch. Journaling is great because I get to throw my brain down on the page. I’m sure years from now I’ll look at the pages I’ve journaled and wonder what the hell was wrong with me. They don’t say anything special. Mostly it’s to do lists, things I wish would change, or things that happened or will be happening. But the key is that I get the weird parts of my brain out of my head first thing so that later, I’m better able to write. And my anxiety has really gone down since I’ve started this whole process, probably because I can write down a worry, and then completely forget it.

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002: Reading more.
I’ve been tracking my reading in my bullet journal, and it’s crazy how motivated it’s been making me to read. I haven’t fully broken up with Netflix or anything, but I’m making more time for reading because the more I read, the more I want to write. This is key for me. There’s nothing like a clever plot or a beautifully worded sentence that makes you want to write. Interestingly enough, there’s nothing like a garbage story to make you want to write, especially when you feel you could do what the author was trying to do better.

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003: Literally scheduling it.
Every single day, I put a line in my bullet journal that says “write-1 hr.” Every. Single. Day. I could probably make a tracker and just track which days I write on, but honestly, I don’t pay attention to trackers. I need the list of things to do because there is nothing more satisfying than marking something off the to do list. So, by putting it on the list every day, I get the little mental reward of checking it off.

004: Making use of down time.
So, if I find myself in between classes or in my office hours and a single student hasn’t shown up, I may just open up a Word doc and write my little heart out. Lately, I haven’t been writing anything in particular, though I have some projects I’m in the middle of. I’m really just working on building the habit. So, if that means I just get about 3,000 words into various unrelated scenes, then so be it. Eventually, I’d like to focus on two manuscript projects that need to get done, but it’s like I said earlier. I’m out of the habit of making myself do things I don’t want to do. Until I get there, I’m content to just piddle around in a Word doc creating a big ol’ pile of nothing.

005: Creating a writing habit trigger.
I used to have a big ol’ electric kettle on my work desk, but not anymore. I brought that bad boy home so I could quickly and easily make some Moroccan mint tea in the afternoons when I get back from work. I start the kettle and change from my work clothes to a pair of yoga pants that are festooned with dog hair. I let the dog out, and put a weird pineapple-patterned headband on my head to keep my bangs out of my eyes as I write. By the time that’s all done, the water is nice and hot, and I brew my tea. Then, once the tea is done, it’s time for me to go into my office and make words come out of my brain and into the computer. For me, the tea is the trigger. Once the tea is done, it’s writing time.

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It should be noted here that the tea is also a habit trigger for the dog. Once my tea is done, she’s knows it’s time to sleep in the reading chair in my office.

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These are the things I’m doing to build a writing habit. So far, so good.  What about you writer’s out there? How did you build your writing habit?

Thanks for sharing!
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5 comments

  1. Hi! Am I that happy list of readers? Prolly coz I’m too casual. Dammit. Ok, I accept that as fair. You’ll have to accept the occasional affirmation of awesomeness because of laziness on my part. Happy belated Valentine’s Day BTW

  2. What great tips! Have you seen Matt Cutts’ TED talk “Try Something New For 30 Days.” He set himself the challenge of writing a novel and wrote a certain number of words a day every day for 30 days. He says his novel is terrible, but at least when people ask him what he does at parties, he can say he’s a novelist! Here’s to happy habits!

  3. These are great tips! And I really want to get back into journaling! It’s been so long and it was always something that I loved.

    • Journaling is one of those things that if I go too long without doing it, I definitely feel the consequences. But it’s also something that’s always super easy for me to pick back up. Good luck to you in starting up again!

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