Writing is an activity that many perform on a day-to-day basis but on a needs-based agenda. If you work a day job where you’re already typing all the time, it can be especially difficult to re-associate something with pleasure or personal goals when it’s so integral to your money-making. But the reality is, you can train your brain to work with you when it comes time to put pen to page, rather than against you.
Your brain may already be working against you if you get little jitters of anxiety just before writing, only to give in to some voice in the back of your head that tells you to start it later. If you continue listening to your brain rather than have it listen to you, you will never finish your book.
The harsh reality is, you have to form a strong habit of writing to make it easier to produce consistently, and perhaps even more important, to avoid the unicorn known as Writer’s Block. If you are always waiting for inspiration to strike you before you sit down to write, you may end up waiting a while. And if that is how you want to write your book, go for it. But for everyone else looking to churn out their first draft quickly, stick with me. Making writing a habit will make it almost impossible for Writer’s Block to creep into your life. It will occasionally happen to the best of writers, where the ideas aren’t quite making sense or something is missing, or maybe you’ve gotten lost in the story and don’t know where to go.
I hate to break it to you, but the best technique for a stuck plot is not hammering away at the same thing for seven weeks expecting the answer to strike you in a dream. It’s backtracking and rewriting what’s wrong. It may take a moment to figure it out, but go back to the last point in your story where you felt all was going as it should. Read forwards until that little voice comes back and nags that something isn’t right. At that point, stop, brainstorm and figure out what should have happened at that point. Once you’ve done this, see if the point where you got stuck is even necessary at all after your edits.
This technique is how I blast through my first drafts so quickly. Rather than agonize over how to make something fit, I figure out where things started going wrong and correct it before my entire plot suffers as a result. Moving forward becomes much smoother the more I do this. But I wouldn’t be able to do this if I wasn’t actively writing every day. I aim for 1k words a day in any form: blogging, my novel, reviews, scripts for videos, etc. Getting used to it is hard, and my hands got a little cramped up during the first week, but my typing speed has improved tremendously since I started this habit, and my production level is higher than ever in my life.
I would recommend any new writer starting off shoot for some type of daily word count goal to help establish the habit. A study published by the European Journal of Social Psychology suggests for the average person, 66 days is the amount of time required to trick your brain into holding onto a new habit. Some can happen in less and some take longer, but for writing, I would commit to at least five weeks of writing 650 words a day. In Microsoft Word, that’s a little less than one page. When I write in my notebook, it’s about a page and a half (I write tiny).
Still sound difficult? Here is a short list of ways you can help cement this habit in your reptilian brain once and for all.
- 30 Days is not enough (66 is good though)
Commit to 30 days, but honestly, know it will take longer. If you are serious and can devote a few minutes a day to strengthening this habit, you will have a novel in less than 90 days.
- Do it Everyday
Pick a time or timeframe to write. Make sure the area is optimal for your writing style. If you need ambient noise, try a coffee shop or play some soundtracks online that mimic that hustle and bustle. If you need silence, use earplugs to get into the zone.
- Start Small
If you aren’t a fast writer, word count goals are great because you aren’t pressured by a timer or anything to get your words down. Timers can actually help some people, but they can add stress as well, making it even more frustrating to those of us who aren’t the fastest.
- Establish Triggers
Do you work a 9-5? Do you go to the gym every morning? Do you always walk your dog right around lunch? Think carefully about those little tasks you do already. Which ones are daily or almost daily? If you always wash dishes right before bed, link your new habit to your established one by refraining from stepping foot in the kitchen until your 650 words are on the page. Eventually, one habit will start to trigger another; the same way your morning routine can run itself, eventually you’ll be writing without thinking about it.
- Withhold judgement
Enter this 66-day experiment with an open mind. If you start off telling yourself it won’t work, you will be enabling a self-fulfilling prophecy.
- Keep it Narrow
If things start going well, great! But be careful not to start tacking too much on too quickly. Finish the 66 days before you try saying you’ll also run six miles and read two eBooks and wash your car by noon every day. Adding extras on may distract you from the main habit you are trying to form.
- 1-minute Rule
How long would it take to write down that brilliant idea you just had? 30 seconds? A minute? So why not do it? So often, the reason we procrastinate is just putting off little things which can pile up on us later. Using the 1-minute rule has helped me establish better cleaning habits, which in turn has helped my writing. If I see something that would take just a second or two to do, I do it right then and there. Get it done. If I have an idea, write it down. If I need to fix a typo, fix it now, don’t mark it for later. The list goes on.
- Log Your Successes and Plan Your Rewards
Use the downloadable calendar to track your daily writing habits. Write your word count goal next to the date and then at the end of the day write how many words you actually wrote. On those few days indicated by a dark border on the calendar, write 1 reward you will give yourself for reaching those goals.
It took a long time to figure this stuff out, and how to apply it to my writing, but I’m glad I did. Download the blank calendar or use your own if you prefer. Make sure you log your success, and chose small rewards that you can easily access, but that you normally would reserve for celebration, because writing your book deserves reward.