Whether you're a professional writer trying to meet a deadline or word count target, or you're trying to write that first great novel during the in-between moments of your busy life, you'll know that developing a consistent writing habit matters.
But how do you do that when there are so many competing priorities, so many distractions that are constantly vying for your attention and keeping you away from your writing space? Can't you just make writing an essential daily habit like any other in your life, like eating, showering, or exercising?
Yes, you can, says Chris Fox, and he'll show you how to do it in his excellent book, Lifelong Writing Habit: The Secret to Writing Every Day. Chris describes the 12-step process he created that has allowed him to make the transition from part-time writer to full-time author of several bestselling thriller novels and nonfiction writing guides.
The income stream he has generated from his books has enabled him to finally give up his six-figure salary as a mobile app developer in Silicon Valley to pursue his passion for writing full-time.
At the beginning of the book, Chris describes what a habit is, and explains how you can reprogram your brain just like a computer to install new habits. Habits live in a part of the brain called the basal ganglia, and they consist of three parts: The trigger, the routine, and the reward.
The trigger is the event that initiates the habit, like the alarm that wakes up you up at the same time each morning. The routine is the "meat" of the habit, and describes what you do when you wake up, like make a cup of coffee or drive your kids to school. And the reward is the "what you get out of it" part. Maybe you feel more relaxed and ready to take on the day after your morning workout, for instance.
The key to changing your habits is to identify which ones are good for you, which ones are bad, and then "flip" the bad ones to good ones.
Here are some of the most important steps he outlines in his book for reprogramming your brain to write more every day:
Write out your daily routine as a list of habits.
Next to each of those habits put a "G" or a "B" for good or bad. Once you've completed the list pick a habit you'd like to flip. This will serve as the basis for modifying habits until it becomes the foundation of your daily writing.
Write a paragraph (or two) about your target identity.
Describe your perfect writing life, the kind you'd have if you tirelessly cranked out thousands of words a day for the next three years. Then write out your purpose: Why are you doing all this work? Then answer the two big questions: Is this achievable? Is it worth it? Print out a copy and put it up wherever you write. Look at it every day when you sit down to write.
Decide how you are going to track your writing habit.
Whether you use a physical calendar, a spreadsheet, or an app, the critical factor is that "you MUST track your daily writing", says Chris. "You must log the date and the number of words you wrote. I know that sounds small, but this will have a POWERFUL effect on your writing."
Make a list of your biggest distractions.
Do you like to binge watch TV series on Netflix? Social media eating up your time? Brainstorm ways to erect barriers to the things that are preventing you from writing.
Write for 10 minutes when you wake up.
Set your alarm 15 minutes earlier than normal. Before you go to bed, have your computer primed and ready. When you wake up write for 10 minutes. Repeat this every day, and if you like the process, increase the time you write.
Write out your short and long-term goals for your daily habit.
Start with your short-term goals. When will you start? How long will you write? How many words are you aiming for each day? Then write out your long-term goals, ideally for the next 12 months. Where do you want to be in a year? How many books or articles will you write?
Engineer your writing habit.
Take a good look at your daily routine. Where would the writing habit fit best? Can you re-purpose an existing habit, or do you need to create an entirely new one? Write out a promise to yourself about your new writing habit. It needs to include how and when you plan to write, how often, and what your reward will be.
Set regular reminders.
Set a one month, three month, six month, and twelve month reminder for yourself. If you slow-down or stop writing, the reminders will give you the nudge you need to get going again.
I spoke to Chris on my podcast recently about developing a consistent writing habit, which you can listen to here.