Some writers try to write 2000 words before lunchtime, and some schedule a block of time for writing every day. I’m not that kind of writer. I’m a busy mom, blogger, and novelist whose schedule — and energy level — can turn on a dime. Despite that, I am the kind of writer who writes every day. And I have two books and a successful blog to show for it.
My secret is simple: I make everything count. Every effort, no matter how small, gets me one step closer to my goal. Even if you have limited time to write, you might be surprised at how quickly the words add up. All you need to do is hold yourself accountable and show up for work. No creative magic required.
Here are three tips to keep your daily writing practice going strong.
1. Set the bar low – really low.
When I read Stephen Guise’s book Mini Habits, I had a revelation: I’d spent my entire life asking too much of myself.
Ambitious goals cripple our daily writing practice. If we set out to write 1000 words per day, we hesitate to sit down at the keyboard unless we feel ready to write those 1000 words. On a day when we feel exhausted and uninspired, we won’t even try.
If you’re not embarrassed to admit your daily word count goal out loud, it’s too high. I usually hold myself to 50-100 words per project. If I’m editing, my goal is to open the document. Not edit 20 pages, not spend 30 minutes in front of my computer. Just double-click the Word document and look at it.
I’m fooling my brain, of course. Some days I only do my bare minimum. Even then, I can feel good about hitting my daily goals. But I’ve had many days when I thought I only had 50 words in me and ended up writing 800.
Set a goal so low you can’t not try to meet it. Inertia will take over. You’re not going to force yourself to quit when you meet your 50-word goal, but you might feel too intimidated by a 1000-word goal to write anything at all.
2. Show up every day.
Approachable goals make it feel possible to write every day. Successful writing isn’t about showing up for quality work, it’s about showing up at all.
Creativity is a habit. Don’t wait for inspiration to strike. The words won’t always flow freely, and sometimes you’ll struggle to do the work. That’s okay. Every writer has those days (or months).
The sooner you dispense with the romantic idea of inspiration — and its counterpart, writer’s block — the better. If a project truly feels impossible, take a break to write something else. But do keep writing.
3. Find a source of accountability.
If you’re not working under a deadline, consider introducing external accountability to your writing. Many of us will much sooner disappoint ourselves than another person. Use that to your advantage. Here are some ways I’ve used external forces to help me finish a project:
- Critique group: I run a fiction critique group that meets monthly. We keep the group small enough for members to submit pieces at least every other month. This responsibility to each other keeps us writing at a consistent pace.
- Kickstarter: When I decided to add a full-length book to my ADHD Homestead empire, I used Kickstarter as proof of concept. If I could fund the book, there was enough demand to make it worth writing. But that also obligated me to ship the book on the schedule I’d promised during the Kickstarter campaign.
- National Novel Writing Month: I’ve only done NaNoWriMo once, but it gave me the first draft of my novel Driving Forces. When you tell everyone you’re writing a novel in 30 days, you have a natural desire to hit that 50,000-word “winner” target.
- Writing/critique partner: A critique partner gives you a chance to discuss your work one-on-one. When we were each trying to wrap up edits on a novel, I teamed up with another member of my critique group to exchange chapters every week. I also meet an old friend at least once a year for a multi-day writing retreat. We share our goals at the beginning of the retreat, then spend large portions of our days writing together.
Just keep writing.
The secret to long-term productivity is obvious, simple, and occasionally overwhelming: just keep writing. To do that, you need to set your goals low enough that you won’t fear failure. You’ll probably need something external to hold you accountable to your goals. But these tools are means to the ultimate end, which is writing every day, even when you feel like your tank is empty.