I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o'clock sharp.
—W. Somerset Maugham
If you’re thinking about taking part in NaNoWriMo next month, right now is a great time to start a daily writing habit. Having your writing habit in place on November 1 can help you stay on track and set you up for success. By lowering resistance and other impediments that get in the way of your creative work, you’ll make getting to the page (or keyboard) automatic so that you’re ready to let your creativity run wild.
Thankfully we know something of the mechanics of forming habits. A habit begins with a trigger (an event that brings the routine to mind), which then causes you to do the routine (some behavior), to get a reward (your motivation for doing the routine). We know how this looks in driving: You see the brake lights on the car in front of you light up (trigger), you take your foot off the gas and put it on the brake (routine), and you avoid hitting the car in front of you (reward). This habit is automatic; you don’t have to think about it.
You can do this with writing too. Here are six steps to help you get started.
1. Get clear about why you want to create the habit. Your desire to write a novel is a pretty strong motivator. Imagine yourself hitting the 50,000 word mark (or whatever your goal is for the month), and tune into how you think you’ll feel in that moment. Remember that feeling, because you might need it when things get challenging.
2. Decide on a reasonable habit. If you haven’t been writing daily, then start small, ten to fifteen minutes, for example. When you find that this amount of time feels comfortable, allow yourself to stretch a little until you reach a routine that works for you.
3. Create a trigger, something reliable, like an alarm on your phone. S.J. Scott, the author of Habit Stacking: 97 Small Life Changes That Take Five Minutes or Less, recommends adding a new habit immediately after one you’re already doing successfully. When you stack habits like this, your trigger is built in.
4. Think of an adequate reward. Dark chocolate, an episode of your favorite series, or a walk around the block. After you’ve been doing this for a while, seeing your progress may feel like enough. In the beginning, stack the deck in your favor.
5. Repeat. Do your routine unless you really can’t. It’s common for your motivation to ebb after about two weeks. Maybe you miss your habit once or twice, and it feels too hard to get back into it. Try not to let missed days stack up. We all miss occasionally, but get going again as soon as you can. Remind yourself of why you’re doing the habit and of the feeling you hope to have when you complete it. If you want to be a writer, you have to write. Look for things that get in the way. Turn off social media, silence your phone, do what you can to limit distractions.
6. Get an accountability partner or group and check in regularly. Let supportive friends know what you’re doing and encourage them to ask you about it. Just as you wouldn’t go on a wilderness hike without letting someone know you’re going, don’t take on a challenging goal without letting someone who can help you stay accountable know.
Are you ready to take on a regular writing habit? We invite you to announce your intention in the comments below. If you’re not ready to commit, is there something standing in your way? Feel free to share that too. Chances are, someone in our community has had a similar experience and can help you with that hitch.