How to Develop a Good Writing Habit

Written by Emily Harstone | January 8, 2015

Habits make up almost half the actions we do every day. They are certain things that we do so often that we feel the reward of completing them even before we do so. Charles Duhigg, a reporter for the New York Times wrote a great book about habits called The Power of Habit. That book helped inform this article, but it contains a lot more excellent information. There is a good summary of his research here.

If one is to be a writer, one has to write. In the age of the internet and busy schedules this can be a hard thing to do. A lot of people say they want to be a writer, but only after their children are in school, they retire, the summer comes, etc. . . .

This is not how writing works. You have to make time for writing, if you are going to become a writer. By creating a good, structured habit, it becomes easy to write every day and actually be rewarded by the process. So creating a good habit of daily writing is the best way to get a lot of writing done, even if you have a busy life.

A daily habit can take up to a month to establish, and sometimes more. It is best if you don’t take any days off during the early days of your new writing habit. It is also good if you keep track of everything on a calendar.

The way a habit works is very simple. MIT researchers have boiled down the habit loop to three components. The first is the cue, the second is the routine, and the third is the reward.

If something you do is a habit, the moment you encounter the cue, the routine starts and you experience the reward without even completing the task. You experience it right away.

For example, I have a faulty internet connection. Whenever it stops working I have trained myself to start writing a poem. It is my cue. The minute I start to write the poem, which is the routine I experience the reward: a satisfied and accomplished feeling. Instead of being frustrated by the weak internet connection, I use it as a way to maintain a writing habit.

The most important thing to do when establishing a habit is to pick a cue. A good way to do this is to pick something that happens every day. For example if you eat lunch every day and generally have ten minutes to spare afterwards, the end of lunch is a good cue to start writing.

It’s not ideal if your cue is something that happens most days but not all days. Pick a cue and stick to it for thirty days. The cue can be simpler and less fixed than a time of day. For my friend her cue is making a cup of tea, which she then drinks while writing.

Turning writing into a habit, and not just something you squeeze in when you have time, is one of the most important steps you can take towards becoming a professional writer. Even if you only have ten minutes a day. Remember what Ray Bradbury says “You only fail if you stop writing.”

Bio: Emily Harstone is the pen name of an author whose work has been published internationally by a number of respected journals. She is a professional submissions adviser. You can follow her on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/emilyharstone/