Your first book isn’t going to happen by itself. If writing a novel or non-fiction book is something you’ve dreamed of, the only way to make that dream a reality is by putting it into action — day by day.
And the best way to do that is to develop some simple habits that will make the dream a reality, one step at a time.
I’ve learned a lot about writing habits over the years. As a journalist, a freelance writer, and a speech writer, I’ve written thousands of articles over the last 17 years. I’ve also written a novel, numerous short stories, a couple ebooks, and am now working on a non-fiction book.It’s a struggle, daily.
But I’ve found that certain habits go a long way, and after awhile, they’re not as difficult as they are during the first week or so. Get past that first-week hump, and it’ll get easier. And that dream of your first book will come true.
Note on forming habits: I recommend trying to form only one of these habits at a time, starting with the first one and working downwards. Focus on each for at least 2-3 weeks, until it is ingrained. Then move on to the next.
- Writing time
The most important habit you can form is the daily writing habit. Even if you only write a page or two in a day, that’s OK. The important thing is to do it. Eventually, you’ll get there. Some days will be good, some will be not so good. Still sit down to write. It’s important that you have one dedicated time for writing. You might do more, at other times, but make that one time be sacred. It might be first thing in the morning, right after lunch, right after work, or right before bed. Choose a time that you can do every single day, without fail. Dedicate at least 30 minutes to writing … at first. Later, you’ll need at least an hour, preferably two.
- Simple tools
Get into the habit of focusing on the writing, and not the tools. You need to block out all distractions, especially Internet and email. Disconnect from the Internet, turn off the phones, plug some headphones into your ears to block out other distractions, clear your desk. If you use a pen and pad, choose simple ones. If you use a computer, use the simplest word processor or text editor possible. I recommend Dark Room or WriteRoom or some variant thereof — just plain text, with no formatting, in full screen mode. It’s you and the words and nothing else.
- Writing log
This can be as simple as how many words you wrote today. Check your word count when you finish, and log it in. You could also add in notes about what you wrote, how you feel about it, etc., but the important thing is to log it in so you can see your progress over time. It helps enforce the daily writing habit, and it motivates you to keep going.
- Idea time
You will probably be thinking about your book all day, if you’re engrossed in it, but it’s good to make it a habit to think about your book at certain times of the day. Exercise is a great time for that, as is house cleaning, driving, walking, government work, and any other activity where you don’t need to think much. Make that time dedicated to thinking about the book.
- Capture ideas
You will have ideas at different times of day, in different places. You will overhear dialog that you want to remember. You will think of brilliant character flaws while at the grocery store. You’ll think of eccentric plot twists while driving. You need some way to capture ideas — I suggest a notebook or index cards, but whatever works for you is fine. More importantly, you need to make it a habit to write your ideas down wherever you go.
- Just start
There will be days when you don’t feel like writing. That may actually be every day. But if you let that stop you, you’ll never write a thing. Instead, you need to make it a habit to just start writing. It doesn’t matter what you write, or whether it’s any good. Just start. Make your fingers move. I find a good way to start is by typing something ritualistic, such as my byline on an article, or common formatting stuff. That gets my typing going, and then I just continue that. Once you get started, you might find that writing will come easier. In any case, get into the habit of just starting, no matter what.
- Write when inspired
In addition to the routine writing time you designate (in Item #1 above), there will be other times when you’ll want to write. Especially when you get a burst of energy or inspiration. You need to get into the habit of taking advantage of those times, and sitting down and writing immediately. Even if you’re not at your computer, have your idea notebook, and just start writing. Inspiration comes at the most inopportune times — you need to use it whenever it comes.
The dreaded word for many a writer, but revision is one of the most important aspects of the writing process. No one gets it right in the first draft. No one. If you aren’t willing to revise, you might as well not write. But you don’t need to develop this habit right away. Get into the writing habit first, and then begin developing rewrite habits. My suggestion is to begin half an hour of rewrite time, daily, after a month or two of developing the writing habit.
- Book bible
Most writers won’t bother with this, but that’s a mistake. If you are serious about your writing, a book bible is a must-have. However, you can work on that last. This is ideally a binder with everything about your book contained in its pages: plot outline, character sketches, notes, bits of dialog, small details, scene description, research, etc. You’ll find this extremely useful. The habit to develop: get a binder, write notes on characters, plot, scene, dialog, and keep it updated, as soon as you’re done writing. So: write, log it, then update your book bible.