It's the number one piece of advice successful authors give to people just starting out. You'll find the words of wisdom suggested in conferences, seminars and books about writing. According to the best, you need to write every day to rise to the top. But in a world where our free time seems to slip through our fingers more than ever before, how do you make writing every day a constant habit?
Some people, including myself, try to take on a massive daily word count goal. In 2011, I told myself and my readers that I would write every day and that I'd get 2,500 words on paper every single day. This was a bullrush of a plan and I had to fight with myself most days to make it happen. After making it through 200 days, I crapped out and stayed away from any attempt to write every day for over a year.
Writing 2,500 words per day in addition to my 2,000 daily freelance words was too much for me to handle. Some days were slow going. If a slow day hit during the weekend, it stressed out my wife and put a real damper on our "time off" together. And don't get me started on vacations. It was awesome to write the four or five books I crafted during that time, but future attempts to write every day will be very different.
The name of the game for everyday writing is sustainable practices. You want to be able to say you were a success in the early going to build up your confidence for the most difficult days. I suggest you start small for the first 30 days and ramp it up thereafter. For example, here's one goal you can set for yourself:
For 30 days in a row, I will write for 30 minutes straight with no distractions.
Getting past the first 30 days is important, because it takes at least three weeks to make something a daily habit. For the weekdays, you want to pick the same time every day if possible. You also want to communicate that time to everybody else who might try to get in touch with you during that time. The weekends may be a challenge, but it's ideal if you can write at the same time as you do on the weekdays. If you can't, try leaving the house to work at a local coffee shop to give yourself a jump start.
Once you've passed the first 30 days, you should give yourself a goal for the next three months to write every day with a bit of a challenge. You can increase the time or give yourself a word count benchmark. For example:
I will write 1,500 words every day for the next 90 days.
Note that this goal avoids statements like "for the entire year" or "for a lifetime" because those kind of long-term commitments can be too intimidating. You want a challenge, which 90 days straight serves quite nicely, but you don't want to freak yourself out. If you succeed in reaching your 90-day "write every day" goal, you can increase the time, the word count or keep things the same.
Lastly, and possibly the most important, is to include a contingency goal. Life happens. You shouldn't beat yourself up or give up entirely because you skipped a day. But you should make sure you have a plan for how to get back on track the following day. Here's an example:
If I skip a writing day, I must go to the coffee shop at 6 a.m. the next day to write to make sure I don't skip two days in a row.
You shouldn't use this contingency plan as a way to skip every other day. The point of the backup plan is to keep yourself from getting so far off track that you give up. Consider it your Get Out of Jail Free card, which you're able to use once per game. Once you've used it, try to bear down and finish out the 30 days, 90 days or longer without using it again.
I like writing, but I don't like writing every single time I sit down to do it. Time and time again, I've had to force myself the write when the muse was on vacation. It taught me that real writers with the big contracts and millions of dollars have to do that sort of thing all the time. It isn't about inspiration. To write every day, you need to get your butt in the chair and force yourself to put words on the page. It won't always be pretty and it will never be perfect. But if you do it, you'll be a writer, plain and simple.