My Love-Hate Relationship with Self-Discipline

5 Ways to Create a Writing Routine:

I would never wake up and say, Hmm today feels like a great day to run a marathon, let’s just go for it! Similarly, becoming a writer is as simple as one day waking up and saying, Today, I am going to write a book.

I hear it all the time, that writing and exercising are a lot alike. Yes and no. As both a writer and a runner, I know that both take consistent training and repetition. But somedays it feels easier to mindlessly strap on a pair of sneakers and hit the trail than the daunting task of pouring my soul onto a blank page. People don’t often judge the person outside running. But writing, is a swirling vortex of judgement and self-doubt.

The most consistent piece of writing advice that I receive is just to write. Sounds a little too easy? Probably because it is! Writing is a tedious and complex process that takes its toll on the hearts of the weak. But if you want to actually want to write that novel and have people read it, you are going to need to develop a writing routine.

1. Create a daily word count goal

Stephen King writes at least 2,000 words a day, including weekends and holidays. Just saying…

Setting a word count goal is an easy way to build the discipline of a regular writing habit. I’m sure some have heard that it takes at least 30 days of repetition to create a habit. In the case of Stephen King, that is 60,000 words in a month!

Now, 2,000 words a day is some NaNoWriMo level goals. Good for you if that is where you are at. However, in order to make it through all 30 days of habit formation, it is probably best to make your goal an achievable number. I set my personal WC goal to 1,000 words a day.

Want to know the best part of my 1K word count goal? I don’t always hit it or some days I far exceed it. As long as I am writing every day, I am happy.

Jerry Seinfeld keeps a large wall-mounted calendar and physically X’s out the days he has written. I think having a physical check allows you to have that celebratory BOOYAH moment!

If you want to set a weekly word count goal versus a daily goal, that works too. Maybe you have another day job or maybe the weekends are the only time you can write. Find whatever works for your life, create a repetitive goal and most importantly STICK TO IT!

Quick tips for setting a daily word count goal:
  • Make it realistic
  • Reward yourself for achieving your goal
  • Don’t stress about the quality of the writing (it is more important to just write)
  • Allow for a “cheat day” every so often

2. Find an accountability partner or group

There are plenty of online platforms to get your writing out there. A blog, for one, is a great way to just throw your voice out onto the inter-webs. There are many Facebook groups for writers. And there are several critique forums where you can receive feedback on your writing from other writers. I personally use Critique Circle and I get feedback from writers all around the world.

Not only does having a critique group or partner help to keep you accountable, for example, I post a new chapter once a week, but it also gives you genuine feedback in return. Receiving feedback while writing is an integral way to improve your writing craft. You can only self-edit your work so much. Another pair of eyes helps you see your story in new ways.

There is definitely strength in numbers.  When you have a critique partner or group, you aren’t just letting yourself down, you are also letting someone else down. No pressure, right?

3. Make it a competition

This tip is what I think of as the love child of the first two. If you set word count goals and hold yourself accountable to someone else, that is basically the framework for a competition right there.

NaNoWriMo is a good place to start. But if you have a group, a friend, or even just yourself, a writing competition is a great way to kickstart a writing habit. This is an opportunity to go back to your accountability partners and see if they want to raise the stakes

I had recently done this with my boyfriend. We both started writing a new WIP on the same day. We agreed that whoever wrote the most in two months got to pick a spot for dinner and the loser had to pay. After two months, I had a good chunk of a novel written AND I got a free steak dinner out of the deal.

Hitting writing milestones is obviously the goal of any writing competition. But any way to treat yo self and add in little incentives along the way is just a cherry on top!

4. It is okay to get off topic

Writing a book is hard work. If anyone tells you otherwise, they either have never written a book or are lying. I don’t think I can be more transparent when saying that the easiest way to build writing habits is by writing. There really is no other way around it.

Writer’s block is a bitch. You might have had a thousand great ideas for your WIP and when you sit down to write, nothing comes out. That is fine and a little separation from your story might even give you some fresh perspective. But on those days, it is not an excuse to not write, you just might need to break from your work in progress.

Doing alternative writing prompts, exercises, journaling or free writing are great ways to continue practicing your writing craft. You might not be developing your novel, but it helps in the long run.

Sometimes your writing will be bad or off-topic and you might never use a single word of it. The time you spent pouring words onto the page has not been wasted. The habit of writing is what’s important and writing about something off-topic, non-sensical, or just absolutely terrible is still writing. At the end of the day, those words are yours and you should be proud! Good job, you!

5. Don’t let guilt destroy you

As much as we try to deny it, humans are not perfect. We often set goals that are outside of our reach and we tend to fall short.

I usually have a daily to-do list. I can honestly say that I rarely complete my entire to-do list. Why is that? It is because I love to overburden myself with unrealistic expectations of what I am capable of completing in a single day. I think a sadistic part of my brain takes over when I make my list saying, “Yeah, you can totally exercise, hit your WC goal, clean the house, grocery shop, read a book, and write a new blog post… I hope you don’t like sleeping.” Then the rational part of my brain steps up and tells me, “Do your best honey, and don’t let that psychopath tell you that you are a failure.”

While habit forming is important, life has a way of getting in the way. Don’t let the guilt of not hitting a writing goal one day get in the way of getting it the next day (that is why cheat days are important and can be healthy).

Accept that not every day will be perfect, because most will not be, and try your best anyway. Guilt tends to be best friends with self-doubt and they like to hold hands and skip around in your brain until you are crying in a ball wondering why you ever decided to become a writer.

But like most of us insane individuals that took up the pen (or keyboard) to write, we write because it is a part of us. Some days are easier than others. But at the end of it, we write because we want to, because we have to, and because we have stories that live jumbled in pieces inside us.  

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