Why do writers have trouble forming a writing habit?

Habit formation is directly linked to self-determination. The good news is that everyone can be trained to be self-determined. So even if you consider yourself the ambivalent sort, you can learn how to be more motivated to accomplish your goals.

Your first order of business is to figure out what exactly is preventing you from forming a daily writing habit? Could it be:

  • No time
  • Too many interruptions
  • Lack of inspiration
  • Unmotivated
  • Too tired
  • Something else

TOO MANY INTERRUPTIONS

From what I’ve seen around writers’ circles, “interruptions out of my control” is the top reason writers say they struggle with establishing a daily writing habit. I totally get it. As a stubborn Scot, I’m quite good at sticking with a decision once I make it. But no matter how stubborn I am, if there is an external factor out of my control that detours me, then the writing is usually affected. Key phrase: out of my control.

We need to be brutally honest with ourselves. Is that external factor truly, 110% out of our control? And if it is, have we done absolutely everything within our control to pivot so that we still get the writing done (even if it means shifting it to another time of the day, or doubling up on a session later in the week)?

Or have we called it a loss and moved on?

I know it’s hard to deal with initially, but if we look at things like this as Life testing our mettle, then we might have enough oomph to put up a bit of a fight. Even with interruptions out of our control, that doesn’t mean we have to lose that day of writing entirely. As I mentioned above, shifting our session to another time of day or tacking it onto another session later in the week, or writing during a so-called “non-writing day” can help us get right back into the writing saddle.

If interruptions are that regular for you, then stop looking at your writing schedule on a daily or even a weekly basis. Look at it across a span of three, four, or six months instead. Don’t break down your word count or page count totals to a daily average. Keep them focused on what you believe you can accomplish within a longer time span. While I think journaling every day could be beneficial to help you keep your writing head in the game, if those sessions also are victimized by interruptions, then do them twice a week instead.

NOT MOTIVATED

The other reason many writers have trouble forming a daily writing habit is because they are unmotivated. There is a seeming lack of a reward at the end of the writing session. By reward, I don’t mean chocolate or money, but a benefit to the behavior of writing.

Side note: I do think Reward/Consequence is an amazing strategy to help us form habits, however, it does depend on your personality. If you’re only doing it for the chocolate at the end of the session, then what’s the quality of your writing looking like? Food for thought . . .

Think of something you do habitually, whether it’s how you make breakfast, or the route you take to work, or opening your emails. Why do you do these things every day? Because you have a preconceived notion of an outcome. You will have food to eat, you will get to your job, you will finally hear from that literary agent.

The more positive the behavior the more likely you’ll make it a habit because the outcome will be positive too. Some writers who struggle with making a habit of daily writing aren’t getting immediate gratification at the end of each session. It would be no surprise that the act of writing daily would feel useless and boring, and ultimately the writer loses interest and motivation.

For some writers, it might be enough to see that they have increased their word count. But that outcome isn’t enough to motivate all writers. If that’s you, then you need to set up another positive outcome (reward) to help motivate you to write every day, and because every writer might have a different idea of what constitutes a positive outcome, you need to tune into your natural writing forces.

there ain’t anything much happier than a writer who is filled with story ideas. Okay, a dog with a toy is a close second. Read this post to learn a great way to get back to writing after a break.

YOU HAVE NO TRIGGER

Studies show that new habits are easier to establish and are more effective when we attach them to a habit that has already been ingrained in our systems. For example, if we always go to the gym at 9:00 am Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and come home two hours later, then we could potentially schedule our writing session at 8:00 am or sometime shortly after 11:00 am.

Why does this work?  The first habit acts as a trigger, and as long as we’re consistent with attaching our writing sessions to that first habit, we’ll develop the writing habit we want.

This also holds true for pre-writing rituals. If you set up 1-3 tasks before you write (lighting a candle, fresh cup of coffee, music), you can set what I call a “writing tone” and that helps establish a habit.

ANTICIPATION VS ENGAGEMENT

Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to tend to a dreaded chore, task, or expectation once you get started and are thoroughly engaged?

For example, I dread structured exercise, or going to the gym. (I much prefer walking on the beach or hiking in the mountains, but that isn’t always possible. Still, I must exercise.) I have to drag myself to the gym or force myself to start my routine, and I’m grumpy about it. But then, after about fifteen minutes, something interesting occurs. I have found a rhythm and feeling good about my decision. The adrenaline has kicked in. I am now engaged and committed and more willing to see it through to the end.

I find this to be true of sitting down to write. Sometimes, the anticipation, the getting to the page, is worse than the actual act of writing. But if you give yourself sufficient warm-up (probably 15 minutes or so), you may find that your mood actually shifts—suddenly you’re writing for an hour without realizing it. Warming up actually leads to increased productivity, as long as you give it a chance.

FEAR GETS IN THE WAY

Come on. You knew I had to talk about it, right? Many of us don’t want to admit that fear is a possible culprit of our weird time shortage (like, seriously, how is that Author Blue can write 5,000 words every day? Where does she find the time? Hmm, I wonder …)

Seriously, though, many writers falter with a daily writing habit due to fear. Fear of writer’s block. Fear of completing the project. Fear of not completing the project. Fear of quality. Fear of not being good enough. Fear of embarrassing our family. Fear of embarrassing ourselves. Fear of bad reviews. And on and on. This fear is so real that we invent reasons to not write:

  • I have piles of laundry to take care of.
  • I must walk the dog.
  • Grocery shopping needs to be done.
  • I’ll write tomorrow.
  • I’m exhausted.
  • Ideas aren’t coming today.
  • Ideas are coming, but they suck.
  • My novel sucks.
  • I suck.
  • I suck so bad not even time wants to be my friend.

Believe it or not, those are fear-based reasons. None of them are worthy enough to put aside your writing. Sure, laundry needs to be washed and the dog taken care of, but if you’re doing those things during your writing session instead of writing, then fear (or some relation to fear, like resistance, avoidance, anxiety, etc) has the upper hand.

A writing session needs to be devoted to writing. Nothing else. If you have an overload of chores or other kinds of responsibilities, and they’re leaking into the cracks of your writing session, then dagnabbit, fill those cracks! Take another look at your weekly schedule and restructure it!

Character arc is one of those necessary pre-writing decisions you need to make for your story. The type of character you want to portray will come through the arc you put him on. Conversely, the arc will help drive your character toward his story goal. Read this post by Kate Johnston | Author & Story Coach to learn how to begin crafting character arcs.

If you’re suffering from lack of inspiration or writer’s block or some other kind of creative shortage, then you need to go back to your basics:

  • Is your writing space comfortable and efficient?
  • Are you working at a high creative energy time of the day/night?
  • Are your teammates helping you out where needed?
  • Have you minimized all distractions?
  • Are you tending to your creative spirit?
  • Do you need a creativity time-out?

If your inner critic is looming over you, then write a letter to him/her/it. Or journal through that self-doubt, reminding yourself that no one ever accomplished anything difficult by not taking a risk.

Bottom line—don’t use the excuse “I have no time” if any of the above are in play. You’re not doing yourself any favors by ignoring the root cause. Once  you can figure out why you can’t form a daily writing habit, you’ll be able to strategize methods to help you find your best system so that you can start writing every day and get those projects done!

Do you have difficulty forming a daily writing habit? What are some strategies you use?

Have a writerly day!

6 thoughts on “Why do writers have trouble forming a writing habit?”

  1. I learned that if you want to do something bad enough, you’ll make the time. People who say they don’t have time are probably logging hours each week on their Facebook feed rather than sitting down and writing. My best strategy is to unplug from the internet. Great post, Kate!

    • I agree, Jill. The time is there, but it’s all in how we use it. And isn’t it ironic how I see most complaints via FB posts from people complaining about not having time to write . . . 😉

  2. What a great discussion. I get the trigger one best–and it’s what I use. I have a routine that leads to writing and it seems to work. I had my first experience in a long time not wanting to write when I was traveling with my kids in Southeast Asia. I had time to write but just didn’t want to.

    RT–share this with writers!

    • Triggers are under-utilized, in my opinion. It’s so much easier to get into the habit of writing when we attach it to an established habit (that we enjoy). I can see writing might not have been a desire during your trip. But I’m willing to bet you did a lot of creative brainstorming in your head as you took in the sights and experiences. That still counts as writing, in my book.

  3. Excellent thoughts and facts here Kate. I’ll plead guilty to many of them as I went through a slump for over a year – for book writing that is. And finally found my mojo again and just wrote a post on the same lines as yours lol, but different of course. 🙂

    • Haha–great minds think alike! You are such a prolific writer through blogging I’m sure the “slump” as you call it wasn’t nearly as evil as some slumps tend to be! But I know what you mean. Book writing requires a different kind of energy, and sometimes you just need a break.

Leave a Comment