How to create consistent writing habits even if you’ve struggled before

You don’t learn how to create consistent writing habits overnight. But if you actually want to finish your book, you’re definitely going to need them.

Successful authors often appear to be magicians, knocking out book after book after book. Clearly, it’s down to their talents, right?

Not exactly, no.

Talent plays a part, of course it does, but nothing beats sitting your bum in that chair every single day and writing. You can have oodles of talent, you even could be the next [insert name of favourite author] but unless you develop consistent writing habits, it won’t matter a jot.

Not. A. Jot.

So if you’ve been struggling to write consistently or even at all, this post will help you create writing habits that work for you, so you can actually finish that book you’re determined to publish.

But first, let’s get a better understanding of what a habit actually is.

Building successful habits

According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, a habit is ‘something you do often and regularly, sometimes without knowing you are doing it.’ A bit like putting the same leg into your trousers first or taking the same route to work each day.

When it comes to creating consistent writing habits, the easier you can make your new habit, the better. In his book Tiny Habits, BJ Fogg encourages his readers to make any new, potentially difficult habit into something small and stupidly easy.

Fogg took this to another level when trying to implement a habit of completing push-ups each day. After every visit to the toilet, he’d complete two push-ups. Just two. His reason? If he made the new habit almost too easy, he’d be more inclined to do it. And it worked.

But Fogg also found that he often felt like doing more than two push-ups. Sometimes he completed five or eight or ten. As long as he did a minimum of two, anything else was a bonus.

And that’s the beauty of the Tiny Habits philosophy. Often with new habits/behaviours, it’s getting started that requires the most effort. Author Darren Hardy compares it to starting the roundabout at a children’s play area. It takes a lot of effort to get the thing moving but once momentum builds, it takes on a life of its own.

By making the initial ‘push’ easier, you’re more likely to complete the new habit, thus building the neural pathways in the brain associated with behaviour change.

When creating a new behaviour, like a writing habit, Fogg follows a basic formula:

Behaviour = Motivation + Ability + Prompt (B = MAP)

Surprisingly, Fogg’s research has shown motivation is the last thing you should rely on when creating new writing habits. It’s unreliable and fleeting. Creating the ability to complete your new habit, backed up by a useful prompt, is really the answer to being successful.

Your ability to create new writing habits

A new habit often feels exciting. You’re pumped and ready for action. If you’re set on taking up running, you’ll buy new running shoes and some fancy socks. If you’re keen to start writing regularly, you’ll get a fancy new notebook and maybe even a snazzy pen or two.

For the first few days, you’re a keen bean. You show up for your writing slot like an athlete at the Olympic 100m final. Maybe you even slap your thighs to get the blood pumping and do a few star jumps. You close your eyes and visualise your book in the hands of your readers. TED talk, here you come.

But after a few days or even weeks, when you sit down to write, the novelty has well and truly worn off. Instead of an Olympic athlete, you’re now approaching your writing sessions like one of those racehorses reluctant to get into the starting gate. You begin to put them off, telling yourself you’ll get back into the swing of things soon. Before you know it, you haven’t written for weeks and your book now seems like a distant dream.

But there’s an easier way! By improving your ability to complete your new writing habit, you can get past procrastination or lack of motivation. Remember, the easier you make the habit, the more likely you are to complete it.

Start by creating a tiny word-count target that seems almost ridiculous. Really. Something that when you think about it seems almost laughable. Something you’d be embarrassed to even tell the dog about.

Here’s an example. Set yourself a target of writing just fifty words each day. The likelihood is that once you’ve got the ‘roundabout’ moving, you’ll carry on writing past your fifty words and onto a sizeable chunk of writing. And if you don’t? If you just write fifty words? Well, you’ve still hit your word-count target and made progress with your book.

By setting tiny, seemingly insignificant steps, like fifty words a day, will get you closer to finishing your book. Some days it may be twenty words, but other days it could be two thousand. You’re able to achieve success on a daily basis and it’ll do your self-confidence a world of good. You’ll feel motivated to continue.

Just like BJ’s post-pee push-ups, you’ll soon be writing on a consistent basis and feeling fantastic.

Your new habit prompts

As well as improving your ability to complete your new habit, you can also use prompts to help you complete it. Again, we often start with good intentions. You might even be wondering why on earth you’d need a prompt to help you. It’s unlikely you’ll forget to do your new habit, right?

Sadly it comes down to a change in priority. When you start a new habit, it’s often the main focus of your day. Motivation is in town and you wake up with feelings of excitement and anticipation. If you’re anything like me, you’ll start this new habit on a Monday, to begin the week as you mean to go on.

However, once you’ve done your new habit for a while, it’s no longer your top priority. Especially if it’s time-consuming or hard to complete. Other things happen to push this new habit out of your day and into … never. You forget to do it or tell yourself you’ll do it later, but later never comes.

BJ Fogg suggests using prompts to help you continue your habit. A prompt can be visual or auditory. It might be an alarm on your phone telling you it’s time to do your tiny habit. It could be the visual prompt of leaving your laptop and notebook out, so it’s the first thing you see when you get to your desk each day.

Coupled together with a tiny habit that’s simple to do, habit prompts help you establish consistency. By giving your brain a quick prompt, you’ll find you don’t miss out on completing your new writing habit and, eventually, completing the habit becomes automatic.

Creating familiarity for your brain

One other way to help your brain implement new habits is to create a sense of familiarity. Our brains are very good at linking certain behaviours to certain environments. In the world of writing habits, this could look like:

·      Sitting in the same place to write each day

·      Wearing the same cardigan when you write

·      Listening to the same playlist of music each time you write

But why would you want to do this? Surely it can’t make that much difference? Actually, it can. If your brain hears the same piece of music every time you sit down to write, it’ll associate it with the writing process.

Whatever you can do to make your writing experience simple and familiar for your brain, the better. Before you tackle your word count each day, get into your writing zone, both physically and mentally. It really helps with creativity. You may prefer to write in silence in a quiet corner of the house. Or you may enjoy writing in your local coffee shop, surrounded by background noises such as chatting or the whirr of machines. Stephen King writes while listening to Metallica.

It comes down to personal preference. And if writing in a coffee shop eats into your bank balance, you can play coffee shop noises via YouTube in the comfort of your own home.

A word of warning though! Don’t get too particular about having everything ‘just right’ when writing. Aspiring to be Goldilocks in any situation is often procrastination in disguise. While your writing environment should be comfortable and give your brain a sense of familiarity, don’t spend too much time getting everything together.

Decide where you feel comfortable writing, create that space, gather your accessories and get started!

Summary

If you’re struggling with establishing good writing habits, avoid berating yourself. The Tiny Habits philosophy advocates keeping things small and simple. If you’re still finding it hard to fit in your writing time, look at how you could make things even tinier. It’s not about the number of words you write, not really. It’s about showing up.

By consistently finding even ten minutes of writing time, you’re proving to yourself you’re serious about getting your book out there.

So create some consistent writing habits that work for you and soon you’ll be holding that book in your hands!

*This blog post contains excerpts of my book, Dare to Write. In the book, I dedicate a whole chapter to creating consistent writing habits, so if you enjoyed this short extract, why not buy yourself a copy?

Previous Post
5 Ways to Identify Your Ideal Reader
Next Post
7 Benefits of Writing a Book for Your Business