How to Build a Writing Habit That Sticks

Doug Landsborough
April 20, 2023

Have you ever heard about those pesky things called habits? Sometimes they’re good (like saying thank you), and sometimes they’re awful (like me picking my nails when I’m bored).

But what about a writing habit?

As an author, turning your writing routine into a solid habit is one of the best things you can do for your work in progress, your writing career, and your creativity. Once you get your writing habit in place, there’s virtually nothing but weeks standing between you and your first draft.

And I know “weeks” may sound like a long time, but compare it to the months or years spent by authors who never solidified their writing habit. Doesn’t seem so long anymore, right?

Best of all, a writing habit isn’t some magical unicorn only available to New York Times bestsellers. Nope, regular folks like us can harness this powerful writing tool.

How do we do that? Well, I’m about to run you through:

  • What a writing habit really is
  • How to develop a writing habit
  • How to maintain your writing habit (the most underrated part)

As we go through this, I want you to keep one vital tip in mind: habits aren’t built overnight. Depending on which study or source you’re looking at, it takes anywhere from a couple dozen to a couple hundred repetitions to successfully form a habit.

Add on the complexity and creativity of writing fiction, and you get a process you simply can’t rush. But if you’re willing to put in consistent effort (not even a lot of effort, but consistent effort), then you can make this habit thing stick.

What is a Writing Habit?

What do we mean when we say “writing habit?”

Writing has become a habit when it’s something you do so regularly that you don’t need to wind yourself up for it or meet some perfect, often impossible conditions to start.

It’s like work: you show up each day and do it. Except writing fiction is a heck of a lot better than any job, and you actually like doing it.

There are some authors who only write “when their muse hits them” or “when they’re inspired.”

Some tough love that might upset some readers… that’s just wrong. Your creativity is always there, waiting for you to tap into it. It’s a muscle waiting to be flexed.

The thing with muscles, however, is that they need regular use to stay flexible and strong. Let a muscle stagnate and you’ll have a hard time using it when you want it.

That’s why we want to build a habit out of our writing. Sitting around and hoping the moon aligns with Mercury while it’s in retrograde isn’t going to get your book finished, will lead to you hating your craft, and that specific astrological event might not even be possible.

I’m a writer, not a scientist.

The point is, developing a writing habit makes it easier to tap into your creativity. It makes you write higher quality work, and that work comes out more quickly. And you get to do what you love on a regular basis.

Or you can wait for a sign or your muse to tell you what to write once every few months. You tell me which you’d prefer.

How to Develop a Writing Habit

Now onto the good stuff. Sure, anyone can say developing a writing habit is good for you and your author career, but how do we actually make one?

Let’s break it down into four easy steps.

Step One: Set a Writing Schedule

Habits are intentional. Well, good habits are intentional. Bad habits are the only ones that just accidentally fall into place.

To add some intentionality to our writing and turn it into a habit, we have to make a point of chunking out part of our day for writing. The best way to do that is to set up an actual writing schedule. 

Choose how often you want to write. The more often (i.e., daily vs. weekly), the faster your habit will form and the more you’ll write. Less often, however, will help avoid burnout, which is a very real threat to habit-building.

Most writers will aim for daily writing, which could either be every day or every weekday, depending on your preference. Others will look at their current schedule and book some time every couple of days. Do what works best for you.

Whichever you choose, start small and build over time. If you’re currently writing once a month, dedicating three hours every single day to writing isn’t sustainable or realistic. Try 15-30 minute blocks and work your way up from there.

Step Two: Establish a Writing Environment

The more consistency you add to your writing habit, the more successful you will be in forming it. This doesn’t just mean time, writing device, or music, but it extends to the very place you’re writing in.

Establishing a space specifically for writing will help the little gears in that creative brain of yours click into place every time you sit down to torture your fictional characters. Over time, your brain will recognize what you’re supposed to be doing in that environment and spit out some bestselling words.

Now, creating a dedicated writing space in your home just isn’t possible for many people. There are only so many square feet in the house or apartment, and you need to be practical, right?

If that’s the case, consider adding some elements to a place like your desk or the kitchen table that are only there when you’re writing. Things like candles, a fidget, a decorative plant, a sign that says, “Go away, I’m writing.” Anything that can turn a shared space into your writing space.

Step Three: Break Writing Tasks into Manageable Chunks

This might be the most important part of establishing a writing habit. As we discussed earlier, it’s really easy to burn yourself out when trying to establish a new habit, especially a writing habit.

I get it! You’re excited and eager. Maybe if you aim to write 5,000 words per day, you can write like three entire manuscripts this year.

And then you reach day four and feel like writing your book is a new form of torture.

Decide to start by setting a time to work for (which is recommended) or set a daily writing goal (which you can do in Dabble, but is best for people who have some consistency under their belt).

And start small. If you’re setting a time goal, go for 15 minutes. If it’s a word goal, aim for 250 or 500 words to keep it under half an hour for most people. 

As you establish and maintain your writing habit, you can gradually increase your manageable chunks.

Step Four: Reward Yourself for Writing

A habit becomes stronger when you reward yourself for small wins. This isn’t carte blanche to spend $50 every time you hit your daily writing goal.

But it is permission to give yourself an appropriate “good job” for reaching milestones. My personal rewards look something like this:

Two days in a row: a fancy Starbucks drink.

One week: Ordering lunch

One month: A bottle of good whiskey

Apparently, I write with my stomach. Think about what milestones will keep you motivated and what appropriate rewards could be.

How to Maintain a Writing Habit

I’m going to drop some bad news before we get too much further: developing your writing habit is the easy part. Maintaining a habit is another beast entirely.

That’s what we’re here for, though. Just like we had four steps to start our habit, here are four steps to keep it going for… well, forever.

Step One: Track Your Progress

Remember how habits have a tendency to grow over time? Seeing that happen is one of the strongest motivators a writer can have.

And one of the best ways to use that motivator is to track your progress.

If you’re using Dabble, your daily word count will be tracked for the last 30 days in the Goals & Tracking window.

I’d also recommend keeping track of your “words per hour” or WpH rate. Before you get up in arms about potentially using math while writing, your WpH is one of the best metrics to determine your writing efficacy.

To calculate your WpH, use this formula: Words Written/(Minutes Written/60)

So, for example, if I wrote 3,000 words in 130 minutes, my WpH would be 3,000/(130/60) or approximately 1,382 WpH.

A month later, let’s say I wrote 4,200 words in 150 minutes. 4,200/(150/60) or 1,680.

That means I’m writing nearly 300 more words per hour compared to a month before. That’s huge! Over time, you’ll see that number continue to increase until you’re cranking out those words.

Note: It’s important to only use minutes spent writing, not minutes blocked off for writing. If you took a couple five-minute breaks, don’t include them in your calculation.

Step Two: Identify and Overcome Obstacles

While you’re tracking your progress, also note what isn’t working. What are the things that pull you out of your writing groove, that take your attention and time away in an effort to (often unintentionally) sabotage your writing habit?

For me, I need to put my phone on do not disturb and toss it on the other side of the room. And I need to make sure my dog is thoroughly tuckered out so she doesn’t grab one of her toys and beg me to tug it with her.

Other common obstacles are chores, messes, family (is calling them an obstacle rude?), and distractions like social media.

Record things that get in the way of your writing time, then see what you can do to overcome them.

Step Three: Monitor Your Motivation Levels

Motivation isn’t a constant, and it definitely doesn’t constantly increase. Instead, motivation ebbs and flows over time like a fickle tide.

Your drive will always be stronger when you set out to establish a habit. And then there will be nights when you get two hours of sleep, days when your job drives you crazy, and weekends when you just want to channel the energy of a sloth.

If you find your motivation waning over a couple days, pull it back a little. Instead of forcing yourself through two hours, try writing for just an hour for a few days. Get through the current chapter that’s dragging you down or skip to a fight scene you’re excited to write.

Just give yourself some grace.

Step Four: Make Writing a Priority

Not too much grace, though. It’s easy for writers, especially those who aren’t full-time authors, to put other things before writing.

Don’t do that.

It’s just that easy, right? Unfortunately not.

Just like riding a bike or working out, it takes practice to say “no.” If you’re supposed to write after work and your coworkers ask you to go out for drinks for the third time this week, it might hurt to say no. And you don’t have to!

But then you won’t be able to write after work that day.

An easy way to make writing a priority is to consciously balance the pros and cons of writing and not writing. What’s the benefit of not saying no? 

Because the consequence is another day on top of the 100 days it takes to write your manuscript, a drop in motivation the next time you write, and a hiccup in your hard-earned writing habit.

I don’t want to sound all doom and gloom. Remember, you need to give yourself that grace, and sometimes that means skipping a writing session. But if you’re constantly giving up your writing time for other things, your habit will quickly slip away.

Turn Occasional Inspiration into a Writing Habit

And that’s it! You’ve learned everything you need to know to not just create your writing habit but keep it going. 

I guess there’s one part we missed, actually. That’s to get writing!

You can’t form a writing habit without writing those great words. To do that, you want a writing platform that makes the whole process easier. From goal setting to one-click access to all your notes and characters to automatic syncing while writing on any device, Dabble makes writing your novel easier.

As if it couldn’t get any better, you can get access to all Dabble’s premium features, no credit card info needed, for fourteen days by clicking here. Now go establish your writing habit!

Doug Landsborough

Doug Landsborough can’t get enough of writing. Whether freelancing as an editor, blog writer, or ghostwriter, Doug is a big fan of the power of words. In his spare time, he writes about monsters, angels, and demons under the name D. William Landsborough. When not obsessing about sympathetic villains and wondrous magic, Doug enjoys board games, horror movies, and spending time with his wife, Sarah.