Whether you’re a new year’s resolutioner or not, you can’t help but think about your 2022 writing goals this time of year. Maybe one of the things you’d like to achieve is a more consistent writing practice.
For too long, I felt like I didn’t have much control over my writing habits. I thought that I was beholden to the muse to show up and motivate me to write, which meant that I didn’t write nearly as much as I wanted to. The only other thing that got me writing was a hard-and-fast external deadline, which meant I continually floundered on personal projects.
Then I realized that writing is like any other skill I’d want to develop—I needed to put in time and effort to practice it, and I needed to believe that I could improve. I also needed to believe that I could change my habits.
Our self-belief drives our actions. For example, if you tell yourself that you are a procrastinator, then when you have the option to work on a project in advance of a deadline, you’ll still choose to procrastinate because it’s aligned with the way you see yourself. And the more you procrastinate, the more you reinforce the belief that you’re a procrastinator.
So first, you must open yourself to the possibility that you can change your process and develop a consistent writing practice. Then you must implement actions that make it so.
Here are five strategies that will help you build a consistent writing practice:
1. Schedule your writing sessions
The main obstacle to consistent writing practice is that we don’t plan to get the work done. We hope that we’ll do the work when we feel motivated, or that we’ll squeeze it in when we have some free time, but often the motivation or the time doesn’t come. We prioritize all the other to-dos on our lists and the weeks fly by without any writing progress.
Instead, try starting each week by committing your writing sessions to your calendar.
I was resistant to this idea at first; I worried that too much structure would feel restrictive and kill my creativity. Instead, knowing when I was supposed to get my writing done removed my decision fatigue. When the appointment popped up on my phone, I didn’t debate if I should write or check something else off my to-do list (or scroll Instagram, if I’m being honest). I sat down and got to work. And I realized that rather than feeling stifled by the structure, I was happier because I was finally acting like the consistent writer I wanted to be.
2. Create a writing routine
Creating a replicable writing routine can make starting each session easier. When you do the same series of things every time before you sit down to write, you prime your brain to transition out of its last task and get into writing mode.
This works even better when you optimize your routine. Take a moment to consider:
- Where do you write best?
- What time of day do you feel most creative?
- What does your ideal writing environment consist of?
- And how can you create a series of small, replicable actions that get you into writing mode?
Establishing a routine helps me get into the flow more quickly. Mine consists of getting a warm drink, lighting a candle, and snuggling under a blanket in a quiet room with my laptop.
Figure out what works for you and try to start every writing session the same way.
3. Use journaling to stop procrastination
If you’ve scheduled your writing sessions and created a routine, but you’re still finding it difficult to actually start writing, it’s time to get curious about why you’re procrastinating.
Journaling helps us sort through our thoughts—especially the subconscious ones that keep us stuck or the thought patterns we barely notice. Pull out a journal and ask yourself, “Why am I procrastinating?” then write down whatever comes up.
I’ve found that I often procrastinate on my writing when I’m afraid. I fear that the words won’t be good enough, or that I don’t know what to write next. I don’t want to get things wrong, so I put off starting. But getting these worries down on paper helps me recognize that they aren’t so scary and don’t have to keep me stuck.
Journaling has the bonus benefit of acting as a writing warm-up.
4. Evaluate your success based on progress, not outcome
This applies to both your writing and building a consistent writing practice. If you’re solely focused on creating perfect outcomes—producing flawless pages and never faltering with your new habits—you’ll have a harder time staying on track. This is because anything less feels like a failure, and failure doesn’t inspire most of us to keep going.
Alternatively, if you can recognize that you’re making progress by writing more often than not and by adding words (even if they’re not all great) to your work-in-progress, you’ll feel more satisfied and motivated to keep going.
When I start to despair that I’m failing, I try to stop and reframe. I make myself think about what I have accomplished.
If I miss a scheduled writing session and my brain wants to say it’s the end of my consistency, I recall all the times I did show up for my writing, and it gives me confidence that I can do that again.
Or when I write a scene that doesn’t work, I think of it as a learning opportunity. Those pages won’t make it into the book, but writing them has gotten me closer to figuring out what the story actually is.
5. Find an accountability buddy or a coach
You don’t have to be perfectly self-motivated at the start—or ever. Though the myth persists that writing is a solitary action, getting outside support and external accountability can help you achieve your goals more quickly.
Like bumpers are to bowling, a writing buddy or a coach can be that little bit of extra help you need while you’re still developing your new habits. Then, once you’ve strengthened your writing muscle, you may not need external motivation.
I’m a book coach who works with my own book coach because I love having that accountability. When I have the chance to do something other than working on my writing, but I know I have to turn in pages to someone I’ve paid to help me, I’m less likely to procrastinate or slack off.
As you implement some or all of these tips, remember that the process of building a consistent writing practice (or any new habit!) often isn’t linear. There will be weeks when it feels easy to maintain new habits and the words flow through you, but just as likely, there will be times when you struggle. Life will get in the way, or you will get out of the practice. That’s okay!
You can always come back to these steps at any time. And if you’ve built a foundation, you don’t have to start over at square one. You’ll be able to pick up the routine more easily than before.
Tell us in the comments: Do you have a consistent writing practice? What tricks did you use to develop one? If not, what tips are you going to try first?
Heather Campbell is a book coach who helps writers develop tools to overcome their perfectionism and mindset blocks so they can create lasting and effective writing habits to complete a novel. When she’s not immersed in fiction, she’s running in the fresh mountain air of Colorado or snuggling with her rescue dog, Chase. Find out more at www.thewriterremedy.com and follow her on Instagram!