When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at four a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at nine p.m.
I’ve read and enjoyed all of Haruki Murakami’s novels and short stories over the last 6 years. He has a strange way of pulling me into his alternate universe. I’ve been inspired by him and other artists documented in Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. A common thread between the best writers referenced in the book is their daily writing habit. They train their brain to switch to “writing mode” each day at a set time.
Why build a daily writing habit?
Over the next month, I’ll be writing every day. I am doing this for several reasons:
- I’ve started and prematurely stopped my fair share of writing projects, and I’m hoping that building a daily writing habit will help me overcome this.
- I want to become a better writer, and the deliberate practice of writing each day (along with studying the best writers) will help me accomplish this.
- I enjoy the activity of writing in-and-of-itself and want to prioritize it in my life.
- I want to have more chances to connect with my readers, and I’ll need to be writing more to accomplish that.
In build a daily writing habit, I am foreseeing a few challenges.
1. Making time to write
During work days, I’m busy working as an Agile Coach in a corporate office setting. I’ll need to find writing time outside of these hours. In the past, when work was particularly stressful, I would put my writing on hold. I’m hoping to overcome this by keeping a regular schedule and using a timebox for writing. On work days, I’ll target a minimum of 1 hour of writing. On the non-work days, I’ll target 2-4 hours of writing. This will include all parts of the writing process (ex. Outlining, Researching, Drafting, Rewriting, Editing).
2. Finding a consistent time to write
I’ll be writing at the same time each day to get my brain used to flipping the switch to “writing mode.” I will write when I get off work at 6:00 – 7:00 PM, before dinner. On non-working days, I will write from 7:00 AM – 11:00 AM. I thought about experimenting with a 4:30 AM routine after inspiration from Zen Habits, but all my past attempts at this have not been sustainable. Besides, I’m the guy who wrote about the merits of sleeping in every day. I also thought about writing at 9:00 PM, but I need my bedtime routine to get good sleep and perform my best at work and writing.
3. Keeping my other activities intact
I also enjoy activities like reading, spending time with my girlfriend, and cooking. And of course sleeping. Can’t forget that one. Whenever I stop making time for any one of these activities, I notice I start to stagnate in other parts of my life. So they all need to stay intact. But I can optimize the time I spend on these activities. For example, I will cook less frequently, making bigger meals 2-3 days per week to last for the entire week. I will also optimize my sleep by making sure I get my standard 8 hours, but not go over that. My hope is that after I start building the writing habit, it’ll be something I crave each day, and I might even wake up earlier if I’m inspired to write.
Tracking the experiment
I’ll be keeping track of my daily writing practice using the Don’t Break the Chain technique, which Jerry Seinfeld uses to pressure himself to write. This involves crossing off each day on the calendar that you complete your habit. Seinfeld explains, “After a few days, you start a chain. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”
I’ll use the Pomodoro technique (I like the app Focus Keeper) to ensure I have adequate focus while giving myself 5 minute breaks every 25 minutes. I like Pomodoro as I can set mini-goals along the way and gamify my task.
I plan to track some more detailed writing metrics using a spreadsheet with the following columns:
At the end of the experiment, I will be able to look back at my progress, and see if certain times of the day are more conducive to my brain tackling creative work (or a particular part of the writing process).
Follow along with me
I’m super excited to get started with this experiment. A big reason for documenting it on this blog (other than the
risk accountability of public shaming) is to get your feedback along the way. So what do you think? Any tips on starting a daily writing habit? I’d love to hear from you. Add a comment below or contact me directly. Make sure to join my private newsletter (see below) so I can let you know my results.
Photo by Carla Gabriel Garcia