Most writing books and most writers say the key to success is discipline; sitting down every single day and writing. But no one tells you how to do it. You do it by forming a writing habit.
I am great at hitting daily word goals if there is a deadline with a paycheck looming over my head; but, if it is self-imposed, I’m not so good. I can promise myself any number of rewards and it has no effect.
Does this sound familiar? “I’m going to get up at 5 AM every single morning and write for 2 hours before I go to work. Starting tomorrow.” The alarm goes off the next morning and you hit snooze. It is a daily battle for many writers.
Have you ever seen the movie, “What About Bob?” It contains a good goal-setting technique that is helpful in forming a writing habit. It is also a hilarious movie and one of my all-time favorites. It is a great example of two characters pursuing their wants in direct conflict to each other. More on that in another post.
In, “What About Bob?” Psychologist Dr. Leo Marvin, played by Richard Dreyfuss; in order to get the world’s neediest patient, Bob Wiley played by Bill Murray, out of his office gives Bob a copy of his book, “Baby Steps.” He explains to Bob that baby steps are,
“Small reasonable goals you set for yourself one day at a time. One tiny step at a time.”
Baby steps are how to build the writing habit. Set small goals in two and three-week spans until you find parameters that work for you. For example, if you are a morning person, set the goal to get up a half hour earlier and write for half an hour. If getting up is the hard part and it’s the only time you have, set the goal to get up a half hour early and write a single sentence. As Dr. Leo Marvin tells Bob not to think about the entire world, but one the next step. Don’t think about writing the entire book, but about writing the next sentence or word. Baby steps.
The idea is to achieve the goal. It is easier to get up at 6 AM instead of 6:30 AM if you feel good about it because of your success.The sense of accomplishment you feel from achieving the objective is what forms the habit.
Put a Period on it
It is important to put an end date on the goal; I am going to get up a half hour earlier and write one sentence each morning for 3 weeks.
If the goal does not have a definite end date, how will you know you achieved it?
At the end of the three weeks, the goal is achieved. You get a boost because you accomplished it and it can be assessed and revised because it was defined.
The goal should be worded something like this:
I will write for a half hour each morning for the next three weeks.
How’d You Do?
Assessing the goal will teach what works and doesn’t work for you. To assess the goal, ask yourself these questions and be honest with the answers.
1. Did I do it every morning?
2. What prevented me from meeting the daily goal?
3. Was it hard or easy?
4. What change would make it more doable for me or can I do more?
Be as specific as possible in your answers.
- No, I hit five mornings out of seven. I was okay during the week, but did not make it on any of the weekends. Wednesdays I was able to write for 45 minutes to an hour.
- Staying up late the night before. I tried to go to bed earlier on the weekends, but it isn’t going to happen.
- It was surprisingly easy.
- I think I can add 15 minutes to my writing time on the weekdays and skip the weekends.
Once you have assessed the goal, make a change if needed and try the new goal for the next 2 or 3 weeks.
I will write for 45 minutes each weekday morning for the next 2 weeks.
Eventually, you will establish a habit that works for your personality and can change with the ebb and flow of your life.
Stay the Course
It is important if you miss a day not to beat yourself up over it. Knowing why you missed is important information about yourself. Re-commit to the next day’s quota as soon as you miss. It is only for a few weeks.
Try different parameters, you may discover you are another type of writer than you initially thought or that you are capable of much, much more. For example, I do better with a word count goal than a time goal and writing 2,500 a day is easy for me.
The goal must fit your current lifestyle. Baby steps. Just because Stephen King writes 3,000 words a day doesn’t mean you have to. If you work two jobs and can only write one day a week, make the goal reflect it.
I will write a paragraph each Monday for one month.
Here are a few examples of achievable, measurable goals:
I will write 1,000 words a day Monday through Friday for the next two weeks.
I will write for one hour in the morning Monday – Friday for a month.
I will write 2,000 words a day each Saturday and Sunday for 2 months.
I will write for one hour before going to bed every night for 3 months.
Go ahead and exceed the goal if you can, but remember the goal stands. Do not allow yourself to bank the goal. If you write two paragraphs on Monday, you must write a paragraph the following Monday. If your goal is to write 1,000 words each morning and Monday – Friday you write 1,500 words on Monday you still must write 1,000 words on Tuesday and not 500. In other words, you can exceed the goal, but must hold the goal.