I'm a full-time librarian with a family and a writing career. The best way I've found to get words on the page is incredibly powerful. It's also a bit like trying to build a fire with your bare hands. Many writers try starting a writing streak after hearing about the benefits—and it works about as well as most New Year resolutions. I'm going to share the simple techniques that I use to start a streak and build it into a powerful force in your writing career.
A Writing Streak is a Habit
Resistance kills habits as quickly as wet leaves might extinguish your attempts to build a fire. If you're going to start a writing streak, you need to identify what resistance you currently face. Why don't you have a writing streak going already?
- You need the perfect place to write. Check out my post on writing anywhere you get the chance.
- You don't have time. Your family and work take up all of your time and there is nothing left. Check out my post on getting details about productivity killers.
A writing streak is nothing more than a daily habit of writing. We all have daily habits. Your habits might not look like my habits. We may share some habits, and not others. For the longest time, I didn't floss daily. When I decided to floss, I made it easy. My floss is out each day for me at my computer (not the bathroom), and I put a daily reminder on my to do list. I see it whenever I'm going to turn off the computer. Even though it wouldn't be hard to get up and walk the short distance to the bathroom, having it at hand means I floss every day now.
A writing streak follows the same rules. You have to uncover what resistance you face that prevents you from writing.
If you look at your productivity killers, you'll probably identify time that you could shift to writing. It won't happen, however, unless you make it simple and easy to overcome resistance.
Suppose you've got a habit of picking up your phone first thing in the morning. You flip through your feeds, check on news, email, etc. It isn't much time, right?
Except it adds up. All of those little moments of time accumulate. There's nothing wrong with it, and I'm not suggesting you have to cut everything else out of your life in order to write. You don't.
Just decide that writing is important.
Now is the Best Time
The best time to write is now. Yes, literally right now. I'm happy you're reading this post, but you could use this time to write a bit on your current story. It doesn't matter when you write. The best time to write is the moment when you actually get words written. The barrier isn't the writing itself—it is getting over the resistance to get started.
If your writing is important, find ways to make it clear to yourself that it is important. Just as I did with the floss, make it easy to get started writing.
- Startup right. Set your computer to launch your current story when you start up. Make your story the first thing you see, before anything else.
- Turn off your keyboard/turn off the power. This might sound odd, but if you write on a different machine than your writing machine (I use a laptop for writing fiction), unplug your non-writing computer. Or, if you have a wireless keyboard, turn it off. Make it harder to log on and spend time doing other things before you write.
- Turn off your phone. This wouldn't have been something to worry about when I was growing up. Today, if you find yourself checking your phone often, turn it off until you get your writing done.
- Set up in advance. Whatever you use to write, set it up in advance. Make it as easy as possible to pick up your writing and get some words down.
Put Your Writing First
If your writing is important, put it first. Not before family or your non-writing career. Make it more important than the scraps of time that get away from you each day. The easiest way to do this is by making your writing literally the first thing you do each day. Get up, rub the sleep out of your eyes, take a drink of water, and start writing. If you set things up in advance and turned off distractions, you should have minimal resistance to starting.
You don't have to write for an hour. It could be five minutes. Get down some words. Then take a break and go about your regular morning routine. You might find that you're less inclined to do other things once you've already started. You'll shower and come back to your writing. Maybe eat breakfast while jotting down some notes or a few lines. If you're fortunate enough to have good public transit for your commute, you might find that you use that time to get more words written. At about 20 WPM, you can get a page/250 words written in fifteen minutes. Even if it's just five minutes here and there, surely you can get that done during the day.
Defining a Writing Streak
How much weight does a streak carry after three days? A little, but it's still light-weight. How about after 30 days? That's got quite a bit more power behind it. If you've gone a month writing every day, it's much harder to miss a day. Imagine the power after 180 days! It keeps growing.
Your streak should be something concrete and easy to track. Word counts work well. You don't have to set an insanely high word count to have an effective streak. Start with something like 250 words. It's easy to check. Write it down. Make it visible. Keep track. It can be as simple as writing your daily word count on your calendar (print or electronic). It could be a spreadsheet. A tweet. Whatever works for you.
If you're not interested in word counts, pick something else that's consistent. Pages work well too. As do stories. Every day is easiest, but you could do a weekly count instead. If you're going to track a weekly streak, I'd recommend something like a story each week.
Set a goal that won't take you long to meet. You can always do more. If you're at the end of the day and haven't met your streak yet, you want to be able to take the few minutes it will take. I like to have some benchmark, like 250 words (a page), as a minimum count.
What's Your Writing Streak?
Share your writing streak in the comments below. I started a new writing streak yesterday, minimum 250 words/day of new fiction. Blog posts, emails, etc., don't count for my streak.
If you're interested in creating a word count tracking spreadsheet, check out the next post on setting up a simple spreadsheet.