The habit consists of the cue, routine and reward. If you have a highly structured life, it’s relatively easy to develop even such a monster discipline like a writing habit.
Stephen King, for example, wakes up, drinks a coffee and sits at his writing desk, the same desk in his home office with the same computer and so on. He writes for a few or several hours. It’s hammered into his persona. He hardly can resist writing when he goes through the motion of his morning ritual and finishes at his desk.
Unfortunately, not many people have highly structured lives nowadays.
Take me, for example. I work hectic hours, usually 9 to 5, but sometimes some overtime, sometimes there is nightly work, because servers and systems can be put on maintenance only at night, and sometimes I work on weekends, at a client’s site, or from home.
Plus I commute to the office 2-3 hours a day (and that’s an improvement after my previous job where it was 4 hours!), have a family of five, church community meetings, and, well, life.
A habit involving the same place and circumstances is all but impossible in my case. I write most of my content (about 40%) on trains to/from work, but I also work at stations waiting for trains, at home and at work.
Sometimes I work early in the morning, sometimes late at night. Sometimes in a single session, sometimes in 5-minute chunks.
Two things that helped me most with developing writing habit (I’ve written every day since September 26, 2013) were my writer’s identity and a writing log.
Once you have the writer’s identity, a writing habit is not so difficult to develop
Writers write. You expect from yourself to produce written content. You are disappointed with yourself if you don’t. You are content when you do. I feel uneasy if I haven’t written on any particular day. Today I slept only four hours (overtime at night), I napped on a train to work instead of writing. The day at the office was crazy busy with the coming implementation of a client system’s new version, so I couldn’t smuggle even 5 minutes of writing.
However, at 2 pm I had enough. I felt smashed because I haven’t written a single day today! I took a 27 minute break and wrote a Quora answer just to regain the focus on my job. That’s the power of a writer’s identity.
A writing log is a tool I use to track every single word I produce with the intent of publishing it someday
It’s an Excel sheet where I track the start and stop time of my every writing session, number of words, type of content and the place I’m writing in.
I’ve got this idea from my mentor, Steve Scott. He recommended it as a tool for developing a writing habit. You can also track different metrics, like your mood, for example.
The goal of a writing log is to provide you with tangible data about your work output. By tracking your writing, you can conclude where and when your writing is the most productive or what type of writing comes easy for you.
With my hectic schedule, I found a writing log to be a handy tool for sticking with a writing habit.
Writing, especially for one hour a day, especially in different places and at various times of the day, is difficult to habitualize. Opening my writing log, preparing the entry before I start, and then filling the entry at the end serves me as the cue and reward for this habit.
Those manual activities are something the reptile part of my brain (where the habits are stored) understands and can save for future reference.
In other words, once I open the log and note down the date, the topic and the language in which I write, it’s almost impossible for me not to write.
And the data I gathered is awesome. I can easily find out how many words I have written in any given month or day for the last 2.5 years. I have tangible proof that my writing speed increased more than 70% since I started my log.
I discovered that I write with the same speed in English and in Polish. I’m a numbers freak; I love this stuff.
Embrace your writer’s identity.