“We build our character from the bricks of habit we pile up day by day.” Zig Ziglar
When people ask me about my writing habits and hear that I write every day, they sometimes say, “Oh, I could NEVER do that.” As if it were a choice. But the truth is, it’s not. Writing is something I have to do. Otherwise, I just don’t feel like myself. This wasn’t always the case, however. I wasn’t born with pencil in hand, scribbling stories in a notebook before being able to crawl. Like anything, writing became a habit. But now, years after the first time of forcing myself to get up at 5 a.m. and write, the discipline of attacking a blank page feels less intimidating than it initially did.
All habits are that way. The first time is the hardest, and each subsequent experience becomes easier. The effort it takes to begin decreases as muscle memory takes over. It starts to feel natural, even effortless. Such was the case with my writing.
Obviously, I believe in this habit of daily writing. “Why?” you ask. Here are a few things I discovered: Writing for just a few minutes every day builds discipline and character, like running, reading, meditating, or any daily practice can. Writing exercises your brain in ways it doesn’t understand making you more introspective and mindful. Whether penning an essay, article, story, journal entry, or blog, daily writing gives you an opportunity to grow as a person. Even when you’re not writing about yourself, daily writing helps you learn about how you perceive people and situations, and you have a stronger sense of your outlook on certain subjects. Writing makes you a better talker, thinker, and doer.
Admittedly, establishing and maintaining a regular writing schedule is challenging, especially with so many distractions vying for our attention. But doing so builds fortitude and gives you an immeasurable feeling of strength and accomplishment. With that being said, how does one establish a writing habit? Here are some tips I discovered while developing my own writing habit:
Suggestions for Starting a Daily Writing Habit
- Pick a space, an environment that is conducive to your writing. It can be your dining room table, a desk, even the couch. But the idea is that it’s special, sacred even. Try to set it apart and be consistent in going there when you write. It’s where inspiration happens.
- Set a time. It can be 5 a.m., 11:30 p.m., or your lunch hour. Whatever it is, be consistent. You need to show up every day at that time and put your derrière in your chair. It doesn’t matter if you have any idea what you’re going to write. Until you commit to a time, you’ll never get into a daily rhythm of writing.
- Choose a word goal. It can be 100 words or 10,000 words. In my experience, anything from 300-1,000 words is sufficient in forming a writing habit. I typically shoot for 300 words.
- Choose a realistic time goal. Ask yourself what’s the minimum time you could spend writing every day, if everything else in your life were going wrong. If the answer is “10 minutes” then don’t make your goal any more ambitious. Even if your answer is “five minutes,” go with that. There is no such thing as starting too small. In fact, it’s better to start small with a goal you can actually achieve. This will allow you to succeed, and you can work up to a more challenging habit.
Spending five hours on Saturday writing isn’t nearly as valuable as spending 30 minutes a day every day of the week, especially when you’re getting started. Writing an exorbitant number of hours in one sitting will lead to burnout and a feeling of failure, especially in the beginning. The important thing here isn’t how much you do; it’s how often you do it. The idea is repetition, developing a discipline of showing up, making writing a priority, and working through the resistance every writer encounters.
- Turn off your email, Internet, and phone. Keep distractions at bay. When you write, write. Multitasking is a bad enough strategy for life, but can be a fatal one for writing.
Do this consistently and as often as you can. Within months, you’ll be surprised at how much easier writing becomes. Sounds great, right? You’re probably thinking what I thought at first. “What if I don’t know what to write?” It doesn’t matter. Write anyway. All you’re trying to do is show up, be consistent enough to start, and get good at the craft of writing. Remember, you don’t control the outcome, just the process. So, commit to the process.
A few words for the wise: Adopting these writing habits might mean making major changes to your thinking, your routine, and the routines of those around you. But, if you sincerely want to write, the adjustments will be beneficial beyond words. If you love to write, the work will be fun at times. Promise. Other times, honestly you’ll just have to grin and bear it, knowing full well that the ends make the means completely worthwhile.
I leave you with a few final words:
There’s power in a writing habit. Mine’s taken me to places I never dreamed of going. Where will your writing habit take you?
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Sara Etgen-Baker’s love for words began when, as a young girl, her mother read the dictionary to her every night. A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited her writing desire. Although Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career, she eventually re-discovered her inner writer.
In less than ten years, her commitment to daily writing has produced 100+ memoir vignettes and narrative essays, many of which have won awards and been published in e-zines, blogs, anthologies, and magazines, including Women’sMemoirs.com, The Preserve, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Wisdom Has A Voice, Table for Two, Finding Mr. Right, Inside and Out: Women’s Truths, Women’s Stories, and Times They Were A Changing: Women Remember the 60s & 70s.
Sara’s novel-in-progress, Secrets at Dillehay Crossing, was a finalist in the 2017 Vinnie Ream Letters contest sponsored by the National League of American Pen Women, of which she is a member. Sara is also a member of Story Circle Network and regularly contributes to its One Woman’s Day blog and its quarterly journal. When not writing, Sara enjoys walking and spending time with her husband, Bill.
Sara’s blog: Season to Season