If you study the writing habits of famous authors, you’ll find that they differ substantially, often even contradict each other. But the one thing they all had in common? They did have a daily writing habit. And if you’re serious about writing, then you need one too.
But developing your own writing habit is no simple feat. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading this.
Why develop a daily writing habit?
A daily writing habit is what separates the amateur from the professional. A fixed routine will keep you grounded throughout the ups and downs of life, and through consistent commitment to the craft you can become a successful writer, be it fiction or non-fiction writing that you pursue.
But more important than the general reasons for developing a daily writing habit, it’s important that you understand what your personal reasons are: Why specifically do you want to build a writing habit?
If you don’t have the answer to this, do some introspection until you really have clarity about your why. Why is this important for you? There’s a thousand things you could do to improve your life—why did you choose writing every day?
If you do have a clear answer, let’s get to different ways of creating your writing habit.
18 writing habit building strategies
Keep in mind that there is no one-size-fits all writing routine, no writing process that’s the best for everyone. You got to figure out what the best writing routine for yourself is—and that’s why I’m giving you different options to go with. Mix and match as you see fit.
Write for yourself
Especially in the early stages of building your writing habit, you want to write for yourself. There’s a freedom that comes with writing for yourself, where you won’t be concerned about how others will judge you and your work. You can experiment, try out new things, without having to worry about the audience.
Write first thing in the morning
Start writing as soon as you get out of bed. This doesn’t have to be your main writing routine, it’s fine if it’s just a quick ten minute writing session, but by doing it first thing in the morning, you make an important statement to yourself: You should yourself—through actions—that writing is a top priority for you.
During your writing sessions, just write. Don’t edit, don’t revise, don’t plan, don’t plot. Your dedicated writing time is for just that: writing only. Put words on the screen (or on paper if you want to go old school). Write your shitty first draft. Don’t concern yourself with finding the perfect word, the optimal structure, typos, or poor grammar. That’s for another time.
The editing, correcting, revising, and tinkering around comes later. It can be a huge timesuck and lead to analysis paralysis. And we all know that writers are great procrastinators. That’s why you want to focus on just writing. Writing is creative magic.
Pick a time of day
The most important thing about establishing a writing habit is to choose when you will write. Whether that’s every day from 5:30 am to 6am, or 4pm to 5pm, or 9:30pm to 10pm, or whether it’s in the middle of the night.
Be mindful about the time you pick; when you won’t be interrupted or distracted, and when you’re in a state of mind that’s conductive to writing productively. (Right after a heavy lunch while you’re falling into a post-food coma is probably not the best choice, nor is 7am if that’s when your kids are getting ready for school, or 10pm if that’s at the end of a long day and you’re already exhausted).
Screenwriter David Wappel shared his best writing routine in this short clip, which he also admits to not always adhering to. It basically is just sitting down to write for two hours, whatever comes out of it. Watch the first three minutes of the video, it’s worth hearing him talk about it, the rest you can skip.
While I generally am very much in camp “just try this and figure out what works”, this is the one rule to establishing a writing habit that to me is most set in stone: find a fixed time and stick to it. It’ll do wonders, and out of all the people I’ve worked with that established a successful writing habit, all of them settled on a fixed writing time.
Create your writing space
Having a dedicated writing space helps. If you create a space that’s specially for writing, it’ll help you get into a writing flow more naturally.
Your writing space doesn’t need to be special. You don’t need an antique mahogany desk nor a nice view; in fact, many writers prefer not to have a nice setup. Bestselling author Steven Pressfield for example likes to have a desk that faces a wall, because there’s less external beauty to distract him, and it helps him stay more in his internal world, the world that he’s writing about.
That said, not everyone needs a dedicated writing space.
Jack Carr is known for writing everywhere: in airports, coffee shops, just wherever he has the time to do so.
I’m the same way—I write in all kinds of different environments, and with different devices: sometimes i write on my laptop, sometimes on my iPad, sometimes on my phone with an external keyboard, sometimes in a physical notebook. I think one reason why this works for me is because I’ve created an “internal writing space” which I can access anytime: it’s almost like a kind of mental milky bubble that removes me from my environment.
Again, as always: there’s no right or wrong way of doing this. Just try out different things and figure out what works for you.
Set a word count goal
Personally I don’t do this, but for many writers having a daily word count goal helps. Stephen King for example has a goal of writing 2000 words per day. Steven Pressfield on the other hand doesn’t care about his word count of the day—all he cares about is that he shows up and puts in the time every day, whether that yields 200 words or 5000.
Whatever you go with, stick to it. Most beginning writers find that 500 words a day is a good goal: achievable, challenging enough to sometimes ask a bit more out of you than you would otherwise put in, but also not so much that you set yourself up for failure. You can always write more on any given day when you feel like it, but whatever your daily goal is should be the absolute minimum of what you actually write.
Total focus. No distractions
When you write, do just that: write. Don’t look up and research things during your main writing session. If you want to look something up, simply add a note to yourself in the text that you want to look this up, or revisit later for more exploration or thinking about it again. (If you’re not familiar with TK, read this—it’s an editing mark that helps me stay in the writing flow every day.)
And it goes with out saying: absolutely no social media, turn off all your phone notifications, don’t listen to a podcast in the background, and don’t multitask.
“It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.. What you have to do… is you plug in an Ethernet cable with superglue, and then you saw off the little head of it.” – Jonathan Franzen in ab interview with Time
Chain your writing habit to another habit
One great hack to build a writing habit is to simply chain it to an habit you’re already practicing. Drink coffee every morning? Link the habit of drinking coffee with your writing habit. Yes, this will require some rescheduling, but by pairing your new writing habit with an already deeply ingrained habit, you make it so much easier to establish this habit into your daily routine.
BJ Fogg from Stanford University created this method as part of his Tiny Habits program, and James Clear did a great job at explaining what it is and how to use it in Atomic Habits, but you can read the relevant chapter here for free.
Always leave something in the tank
Many writers, from Ernest Hemingway to Steven Pressfield, always stopped their writing for the day before they ran out of ideas. They always kept at least one bullet in the chamber. That way, they’d show up on the next day already knowing where to start, which helped them get into it much easier, and lowered that initial friction that writers easily experience when they sit down in front of a blank page.
Write your future self a note
This relates to the tip above: at the end of each writing session, write down a little note for your future self (the one that will come back to write again tomorrow), and simply tell yourself where you will continue writing tomorrow. This can be along the lines of “write that scene were James has to decide whether to barbecue or fry the cat”, or “revisit page 12-15 and tighten up the language”.
I actually have a “Daily Writing” Google Doc where I leave meta commentary on my own writing each day, and then the next day I open that Doc up and review my notes from the previous day.
Use writing prompts
Writing prompts can help you jumpstart your creative mind. A writing prompt is simply a bit of text (typically 1 to 5 sentences) that gives you a starting point for your writing. There are plenty of books full of writing prompts, websites, and there’s an entire subreddit dedicated to writing prompts. Here are 7 good writing prompts to get you started:
- You lost your sight – along with everyone else on Earth – in The Great Blinding. Two years later, without warning, your sight returns. As you look around, you realize that every available wall, floor and surface has been painted with the same message – Don’t Tell Them You Can See.
(Curious how others used this writing prompt as a starting point? Write your own version and then see what others wrote.)
- When you come into work one day, you notice that every single person in the office is wearing the same “white shirt, orange sweater, brown pants” combination. Like some sort of uniform. You are the only one dressed “normally”. Your boss approaches you.
(Check out other people’s responses to this prompt.)
- Write about a character who is living through a major historical event — whether they know it or not.
(Check out other writers’ responses to this prompt.)
- You hire a female prostitute, tell her to meet you at a fancy restaurant, and ask her to pretend to be your colleague from the bank. Hire a male prostitute, and tell him the same thing. You sit at a table next to theirs and listen to their conversation.
(Check out other authors’ responses to this prompt.)
- You find strange, muddy footprints leading up to your front door.
- Every day, you get one hour to revisit any moment from your life. What do you pick?
- It turns out humans have been the aliens all along.
There are more writing prompts to fill a lifetime of writing, so here are some good resources:
- The Writing Prompts subreddit
- Reedy’s Weekly Writing Prompts (with real price money for the winning submission)
- 500 Writing Prompts by Written Word Media
- Writing Prompt Generator
- Writer’s Digest Writing Prompts
Writing prompts are fun to incorporate into your writing practice, whether you use them for your daily routine or not. It’s a great way to jumpstart your imagination and work on themes you normally don’t think of.
Keep the score
I know a writer that has a big paper calendar hanging in their room and every day where he puts in his writing time he marks a big red X on the day. I think that’s inspired by Jerry Seinfeld.
You can also use a spreadsheet, or a digital calendar, or even a dedicated habit tracking app. But there’s something very powerful about actually seeing in front of you how many days you stuck to your writing habit—and keeping it going. You don’t want to break your habit chain.
Writing habit app
If you’re using Google Docs for your writing, there’s a Chrome extension called Writing Habit by Jed Grand, which is free and helps you track words written over time, active time, WPM, multi-doc tracking, even predicts how many words you’ll write by a given future date based on your past performance, has a 170 day history, keeps track of writing streaks and how you progress against your goals.
Best of all, it’s free, and more than 20,000 people have downloaded the writing habit tracker already.
I don’t do this, but plenty of people respond really well to incentivizing themselves. Reward yourself for sticking to your writing habit. For example, if you’ve completed your writing time every day for an entire week, treat yourself to something special. Here are some ideas:
- lunch at your favorite restaurant
- watch an episode of your favorite Netflix show, or a movie
- getting a massage
- a cup of your fav drink
- 15 minutes of guilt-free social media
- watch a motivational video
- get a lottery ticket
- buy something for yourself
The biggest, most meaningful reward will ultimately be that you have done what you said you’d do. But it’s fine to supplement this long-term reward with more immediate, short-term rewards that satisfy our monkey brains.
Establish a pre-writing ritual
Many writers have their unique own rituals before they start writing. It’s not that the ritual itself unlocks some kind of magic, but
- Dan Brown sometimes hangs upside down from a special frame to overcome writer’s block. He also has an hourglass on his desk, and every hour he stops writing to do some physical exercise before getting back at it.
- Roald Dahl would get into a sleeping bag before sitting at his desk to write.
- Scott Adams has been using affirmations long before he became the successful creator of the Dilbert comic, and he still uses them to this day. He writes sentences like “I, Scott Adams, am a successful syndicated cartoonist.”
- Steven King had a very peculiar pre-writing ritual: vitamin pill, music, same seat, papers all arranged in the exact same places.
- Steven Pressfield loudly proclaims the prayer to the muse every day.
There are many more examples of this, and at some point I might write about them, but it’s absolutely worth establishing your own writing ritual to signify the importance of your work, and to mark the transition from the busyness of your everyday life to your special, sacred creative writing time.
Find your tribe
Writing is a lonely gig. (Although some writers disagree.) It can help to have a community of writers who inspire you, hold you accountable, or just are in it with you. Having writing peers helps.
Every year hundreds of thousands of writers of all age, at any stage in their writing career participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). It’s free, and you get to connect with writers from all over the world that also participate in the challenge of writing a 50,000 word first draft of a novel within one month. If this sounds daunting, maybe even impossible to you, fear not. It’s a great experience, whether you complete it successfully or not, and you’ll be surprised what you can accomplish if you dedicate yourself to it.
There are other communities like A Very Important Meeting where writers get together to have a writing session on Zoom.
And there’s Shut Up And Write! where you meet up with others in some coffee shop and just write.
Absolute Write Water Cooler is a huge online forum for writers, with tens of thousands of members, and they’ve been around since 1999.
Critique Circle is an online community for writers who want to get feedback on their writing, and give feedback to other writers. Especially if you have a short story you want reviewed, this is a great place to get some honest feedback.
There are many more writing communities out there that can help you build your habit of writing—pick one that speaks to you the most and engage with others.
A lot of creatives swear on the power of meditation. Brian Koppelman for example is a long-time practitioner of TM (Transcendental Meditation), and that it helped him with his creative practice.
There are so many different kind of meditation, each with their own advantages and disadvantages, but i would start with the simplest of them all: set a timer to 5 minutes or 10 minutes, sit straight and relaxed, shift your awareness to your body and breath, close your eyes, and just practice awareness. Don’t try to wipe out all your thoughts, but simply observe whatever you experience, what you feel and think. Focus on your breathing, slowly, deeply, and relaxed. Do that for a few minutes each day and take it from there.
A simple meditation practice can help you stay focused while writing. Just do a quick 5 minute silent meditation or 10 minute silent meditation.
Start small and build momentum
Whatever you set as your writing goal for your new habit, start small. Don’t start with a goal of writing 2 hours per day if you’re not already writing an hour. Instead, start with 15 minutes every day. Once you’ve done that for a week consistently and it’s easy, you can double it to 30 minutes, and once you’ve done that consistently for a week you can double it again, until you hit a point where you find the right amount of time for yourself: challenging, but doable.
What if you really have no time to write regularly?
I suggest you read my article make time for what matters, and especially do the time logging exercise. It’s a foolproof method for making some free time to build your writing habit, even for the busiest person in the world.
Becoming a better writer doesn’t happen in a single day. It’s not the result of reading a thousand writing tips. It’s the result of hundreds of hours that you put into the craft of writing every year, and the best way to do so is by putting in a few hours each day. Developing your own writing habit can change your life—pick one of the strategies you learned about today, and start implementing them into your own life. And if you need help or have more questions, just leave a comment below—I read and respond to all the comments.