4 tips to help you get the writing habit
‘I have a really great idea for a book. And I really want to write it. But I really don’t know where to find the time …’
Sound familiar? My own voice is ringing in my ears.
Time. It’s such a bugbear. There never seems to be enough of it. Certainly not for the things we want to do. It too easily gets eaten up by the things we have to do. So to fit writing the book we want to write into a life that’s already chock-full can be something of a challenge.
To face that challenge down, somehow writing needs to become a habit. If we want to get a book written, we need to commit to sitting down regularly and just getting on with it.
Because writing is exactly that. A commitment.
Here are four things to think about when trying to get the writing habit.
1 Optimal writing time
When are you at your most productive through the day?
For me, it’s the morning. I can work fairly productively all day long but I certainly work more quickly and in a more focused way before lunchtime. I also work better after lunch if I’ve achieved my work goals in the morning.
Once you’ve identified your optimal creative time, can you find a regular, daily writing slot within it? The ‘daily’ part is important. By doing it daily, there’s more chance of it becoming a habit that will stick.
If you have a busy work and family life, is it realistic for you to get up an hour or two early so that you can fit in dedicated writing time? (I know … groan. But it’s a thought.) Or if you work better at the end of the day, could you write in the evening instead of watching TV (or doing the ironing – what’s a crumpled shirt among friends?).
If you think this sounds problematical for you, I find it problematical too!
I’m self-employed and my work day as an editor is usually long so that I can meet deadlines. If I’ve promised myself I’ll write for just thirty minutes at the end of my working day, too often I find I’ve encroached on that half hour with editing. So then I haven’t left myself enough time before I need to go and cook to avoid eating in the middle of the night (my poor son). And if I try to write early in the day and the writing begins to take off and gain momentum, then the last thing I want to do is break off to start work.
Somehow, though, we have to be strict with ourselves. And the bigger the chunks of writing time we can commit, the more productive we’ll probably be. More time at once means more opportunity to find our writing flow. But just thirty minutes a day is still better than no minutes. Even five minutes a day is better than doing no writing at all.
So put it in your diary. Set an alarm on your phone. Ringfence that time however you need to and stick to it as far as you possibly can.
And when it’s a struggle to keep that promise you’ve made to yourself, remind yourself how much you want to write this book. And how much your target audience is going to thank you for writing this book.
2 Writing space
When you’ve established your time slot, you need to find somewhere to write. Is there a suitable, quiet space within your home? I’ve read how it’s great to have a set writing space – the same place you always go to do your writing because when you’re there, it puts you in the writing frame of mind.
I often think of a wonderful photo of Roald Dahl in his writing space – sitting in an armchair with a blanket over his knees in a hut in his garden. And when I was first writing, I loved the idea of having a special writing place. So I set myself up in a corner of my bedroom and that was it. That was where I always went to write.
These days, I prefer more variety. If it’s warm and sunny, I like to be outside. If I have the house to myself (which doesn’t happen often), I like setting myself up in a different room. I might even drive somewhere and write in the car with a fresh view. I find that my brain relaxes when I get out of my usual space. Using a variety of surroundings, when possible, can be a real boost to my creativity.
So go where feels comfortable and puts you in a creative frame of mind. Make a dedicated space if you can and want to, or write in bed if that’s what you’d rather do. Just support yourself in whatever way you need to make the act of writing a habit.
3 Positive planning
Plan out your book. Having established your time slot, you want it to be productive – because sitting down at your specially allocated time in your specially allocated space and finding you have no words will only lead to frustration. You’re likely to break the writing habit before it’s even properly formed.
With a good, solid plan in place, you will be so much more productive each time you sit down to write. Yes, you’ll still encounter hiccups. You may find something you’ve sketched out in the plotline simply doesn’t work. Or that a character starts behaving in a way you weren’t expecting (they can take on a life of their own). But with the grounding of your initial plan, you’ll be able to push forward anyway, tweaking your outline as you go.
Now, I know some writers don’t like making a plan. They feel it inhibits the natural flow of the story as it unfolds. But a plan shouldn’t be immovable. It should be a flexible workmate that helps to guide you through your writing, page by page, chapter by chapter.
At the end of a writing session, I always like to type in a few notes on what’s coming next before I stop. Then I know exactly where I’m picking up the story next time and my session can be as productive as possible from the moment I sit down.
A good way to establish your writing time to begin with is to use it to work on your plan. This is such a creative phase of the book-writing process. It’s also less pressurised. You’re not trying to produce a fully formed, beautifully crafted work of art at this stage. You’re simply gathering ideas to put together into a malleable plot as the foundation upon which to write the complete book. You can enjoy letting your imagination play here.
And remember that when you do begin to write properly, productivity isn’t about the number of words. It isn’t even necessarily about the quality of your writing at this point. It’s about the focus that goes into however many words you get down.
So write daily and, if you possibly can, without getting distracted, and just let the words tumble out. Don’t go back and start rewriting yet. Don’t get hung up on one sentence. You’re not striving for perfection at this stage. You just want to get your story down.
4 Goals to go for
By goals, I don’t mean huge, unrealistic word-count targets. If you aim too high, especially in the early stages, it’s likely you’ll get discouraged very quickly. But if you set yourself something achievable, say, a few hundred words a day – even just one hundred – then it’s not only likely you’ll meet that goal, you may also exceed it. And exceeding a word-count target will spur you on.
Oh, yes, and don’t wait for inspiration to strike. You may be lucky and have a burst of the stuff, in which case, seize that wave. But more generally, producing a book is about sitting down with your pen or your keyboard – and just writing. And writing is work: enjoyable for much of the time. A hard slog for the rest.
Just think of the ultimate reward, though. A bright, shiny, new book filled with your words, your story, your imagination, your experience, your dreams. Basically YOU – from cover to cover. That’s a goal worth aiming for.
For more writing tips and editing chat, why not have a listen to my podcast for self-publishers, co-hosted with author and independent publisher, Alexa Whitten of The Book Refinery. All episodes of The Pen to Published Podcast are available on your favourite podcast platforms and right here on my website.
And if you’d like some help with your writing project, please do get in touch. I offer a line/copy editing and proofreading service to fiction and non-fiction authors. As a children's author myself, I also specialise in editing children's books.
You can email me here: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can follow me on Twitter too @AlexaTewkesbury for useful tweets on writing, editing and proofreading.