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Most years, I have big plans for January. It’s that whole idea of a fresh start, a clean slate. That this year, big things are in store. So I put together a list of goals, broken down into tasks, ready to go when the new year dawns. Usually, establishing a solid writing routine figures in that list. Some years I do pretty well, other years I find myself at the end of January with a list of uncompleted tasks, overwhelmed by guilt and frustration. It is some consolation to know I’m not alone. Studies have shown that as many as 80% of New Year’s resolutions will be abandoned by February. Still, it’s hard to arrive at the end of the year’s first month already feeling like a failure.

This January has been a little different. The past few years have been incredibly difficult. Again, I know I’m not alone in this. And while there are certainly things I’d like to accomplish this year, I knew that I just wasn’t able to jump headfirst into goal setting. I recently started reading Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May, and found myself drawn to the idea of rest and retreat. January and February are the darkest, coldest months where I live, and they can be brutal for those of us who suffer from mood disorders. I decided that instead of pressuring myself to dive into 2024, I would ease in, taking things slowly and using the entire month of January to make a plan for the rest of the year. Because, as Rosalie Muller Wright points out—

The image of a winter garden, seemingly dead and dormant, but with so much happening just below the surface, really appeals to me. Without the winter, there could be no spring. So I have arrived at the end of another January, focusing on hope rather than frustration, because I know that the seeds I’ve been planting are still there, patiently biding their time.

Among those seeds is my desire to develop a consistent writing habit. I’ve gathered a few tips to help set me up for success in that attempt, and I’m sharing them here in the hope that they might help you, too.

Whether you’re easing into the new year or you’ve already checked off an impressive number of items on your to-do list, these ten tips will help you create a writing routine that you will stick with throughout the year.

1 | Shift your mindset

James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, says that each action we take is a vote for the kind of person we want to be. How do you vote for your inner writer? By shifting your mindset.

Instead of I want to be a writer, start saying (and thinking) I am a writer. And what do writers do? Writers write. So show up and write.

Write spellbinding prose or trash, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that the more you write, the more you’ll hone your craft and begin to accept that you are, in fact, a writer.

2 | Lower your expectations

But aren’t goals supposed to challenge you? Not necessarily. As Elizabeth Spann Craig suggests, sometimes the best approach is to make your goal small. Ridiculously small.

At first, the goal might just be opening your manuscript or sitting down at your desk. Remember, you’re training yourself to show up because you’re a writer.

Once you are showing up consistently, raise the bar, but do it incrementally. The goal should always feel within reach. It’s much more intimidating to sit down to “write my novel” or to “write a chapter” than it is to “write 100 words” or “write for 5 minutes.”

Consistently meeting a goal, even a small one, strengthens the habit of sitting down to write. And remember, it’s a goal, not a limit. You’ll be surprised at how often you’ll continue writing after you’ve met your goal, but even when you don’t, you’ll have another win to check off.

3 | Find your peak creative time

We each have a certain time of day when we are more productive at specific tasks. Many of the writers I follow prefer to write in the early morning hours. As in, before the sun comes up. That’s definitely not going to work for me. I just can’t see myself feeling creative at 4 a.m., although I kind of wish I could.

Try out some different times. Make a note of how you feel when you sit down, how many words you’re able to write, and how many of those words you end up keeping. All of that information will give you a better sense of when your most productive writing time is.

4 | Schedule your writing time

Once you’ve figured out your peak creative time, schedule it.

Actually schedule it—write it in your planner, just like anything else you want to be sure to get done. This appointment with yourself is just as important as the appointment with your dentist or with your friend for coffee. And when you’ve shifted to the I am a writer mindset, scheduling your writing time will feel more legitimate.

Finding a planner with a habit tracker has been really beneficial for me. There’s something about seeing the checkmarks lining up that is surprisingly motivating. I’ve included a free printable writing tracker for you to download at the end of this post.

5 | Minimize distractions and obstacles

The key to developing a new habit is to make it easy by removing as many stumbling blocks as you can ahead of time. If you’re working on developing a morning run routine, you’re more likely to succeed if you lay your running clothes out the night before. Removing obstacles ahead of time is equally important in developing a writing routine.

We all face different obstacles, but here are a few ideas for minimizing some common ones:

  • Be clear with those you live with. Let them know they are only allowed to disturb you if the house is on fire. It may be hard at first to get them to abide by the rules, but remember that I am a writer mindset—the more consistently you stick to your writing schedule, the more those around you will respect your writing time.
  • Turn off your phone, if possible. If not, put it out of reach and make sure it’s set to only alert you in case of emergencies, like an imminent tornado or a call from someone you can’t ignore.
  • Keep everything you need for your writing sessions in the place where you intend to write. If you’re anything like me, a side trip to retrieve a favorite pencil will turn into washing the lone dish in the sink, realizing you have no clean dish towels, throwing the dish towels into the washer, seeing that you’re low on laundry soap, adding laundry soap to the grocery list app, skipping over to check Instagram . . .

6 | Create a ritual

Our brains are amazing. They are wired to make connections. When you repeatedly follow one action with another, your brain will form a link between the two. Your ritual should be simple and quick, such as:

  • Picking up a special pen
  • Donning a certain item of clothing
  • Lighting a scented candle
  • Listening to music or nature sounds
  • Making a cup of tea or coffee

My current work in progress is set in the fall, so part of my ritual is lighting a fall scented candle and making a cup of Harney & Sons pumpkin spice tea. Whatever ritual you choose, you’ll find that, over time, your ritual signals to your brain that it’s time to write, making it easier to get started.

7 | Stop while you’re still excited

It may seem as if you should keep writing until you come to a natural stopping point, but most writers find it’s better to stop mid-scene or even mid-sentence. Stopping while you still know what happens next gives you a natural jumping off point for the next day’s work. And even though you know what is going to happen next, maybe jot down a few notes to jog your memory if you’re as forgetful as I am.

Now, when you sit down for your next writing session, you won’t be staring at an empty page. Your future self will thank you.

8 | Tell someone

Having an accountability partner greatly increases the chances that you’ll show up regularly for your writing sessions. Knowing that you’re going to have to check in with a friend and compare word counts might be just what you need to get you into your writing chair.

Don’t have any writer friends? Join a writer’s group. Online groups, such as Sisters in Crime, often have word sprints or other group writing activities that can give you that extra push to get some words down.

Are you active on social media? Post about your writing goals and promise your followers an update each day. It doesn’t get any more accountable than posting your word count for the whole world to see.

Your accountability partner doesn’t have to be a fellow writer. It can be your mom or your spouse or anyone who supports you in reaching your goals. When I told my family I was writing a book, my teenage son took it upon himself to ask me multiple times a day if the book was finished yet, and if not, why wasn’t I writing.

You know that cliché of the writer scribbling away all alone in a garret? Forget that—go tell someone and make yourself accountable.

9 | Write when you don’t feel like it

If you are reading this post, I suspect you know from experience that there will be days—lots of them—when you don’t feel like it.

Most days, I will put off writing by any means possible. But when I sit down and force myself to write something—just a sentence, a paragraph—it puts me into the I am a writer mindset, and I find that maybe I do feel like it after all.

On days when you’d rather clean toilets than write, make a deal with yourself that you can stop as soon as you meet your goal. While there will be days when you don’t want to stop once you get going, there will also be days when it’s a struggle to reach even your ridiculously small goal and you stop as soon as you hit it. That’s okay. You still showed up.

Which leads us to #10 . . .

10 | Be flexible

One of the many things the past few years have taught us is the value of flexibility. When the world shut down, writers who could only write in cafés were in trouble. So were the ones who could only write at home in the silence that fell after their families left for school and work.

Try to find a way to pivot your writing routine when life demands it, or when you just need a bit of change. I prefer writing at home, but I’ve also spent a lot of time writing in coffee shops while waiting for my one of my kids to get out of class. Luckily I can bring some of my rituals along—hot tea and thunderstorm sounds are portable.

Sometimes you’ll be able to pivot, and sometimes you won’t. Some days you just won’t be able to stick to your routine. That’s okay. Don’t let one missed session throw you off your game.

Just remember to show up the next day.

Ready to get started on that routine?

Like most things of value, establishing a writing routine that works for you will take time. You’ll need to experiment to find the routine that’s right for you, but that writer inside you is worth the vote.

Do you have a writing routine?
What is your favorite time to write?
Let me know in the comments!


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