“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” – Aristotle
I read a lot about other authors, what habits and tools they use. Having written stories and articles for over two years I’ve developed my own writing routine and habits. It’s one thing to learn how to write, it’s another thing entirely to actually produce some output on a regular basis.
Some authors aim to write a book a year (Stephen King, Brandon Sanderson), others take ten years to finish a novel. Everyone’s routine is different. The most important thing is that you find both what works best for you and that you find a way to be productive, actually produce work, and bring it to the masses.
#1: Write 500 Words a Day
I recommend that you write every day. That way you’ll never lose focus, flow and most importantly, the connection with your characters.
It doesn’t matter if it’s not beautiful prose yet. If the dialogue is rusty or your character(s) a bit one dimensional. You can fix that later.
Get it all out from start to finish! Set yourself up for writing 500 words a day. This should be manageable for almost everyone. It’s still ambitious, but not ‘shout at your laptop ridiculous’.
Do you still find it too ambitious? Then write 200 words a day. Or take advice from fellow Medium writer Shaunta Grimes: write for 10 minutes every day.
One important thing: spend those 10 minutes or 200-500 words on your creative passion project. That way, you move forward with that short story or novel. If you want to write something else, you have to make time for that besides those 10 minutes or 200-500 words.
For the sake of this article, writing 500 words a day makes the first draft of an 8,000-word short story in a little over 2 weeks. That’s a great production flow in my opinion!
I set ambitious deadlines for myself and almost invariably beat them. The trick is to create small goals.” - Hugh Howey
Now, I don’t know how much time you have available for writing every day. Perhaps you write on the side like me. Or writing is your main focus. The above quote by Hugh Howey can help to push yourself even further if you’re up for the challenge.
I set ambitious deadlines too but I almost never make them. The thing is because the goals were so ambitious I achieved more than I thought I would. Play around with it if you want. In the end, it’s about finding YOUR ideal process.
#2: Find Your Writing Moment
“Writing first thing in the morning means you never have to feel guilty later in the day for avoiding the work.” - Cal Fussman
Previously, I’ve written about finding the time to write. Since we are developing a habit, find a moment when you can write every day. Ideally, right when you wake up.
Why? Because that way you’ve accomplished one of your most important tasks already. Plus, it’s easy to put writing in your morning routine. (Especially if you set yourself up to write 200-500 words).
Not enough time? Wake up earlier! Yup, I love my pillow as much as the next person, but if you want to write on the side, you better hustle. And you better wake up and not snooze.
Ah, there’s nothing better than waking up and jumping straight in. Don’t bother taking a shower. Grab a mug of coffee or tea and just sit there in your bathrobe. Who cares?
“You try to sit down at approximately the same time every day. This is how you train your unconscious to kick in for you creatively. So you sit down at, say, nine every morning, or ten every night. You put a piece of paper in the typewriter, or you tum on your computer and bring up the right file, and then you stare at it for an hour or so.” - Anne Lamott
#3: Develop a Habit for ‘The Stuff Other Than Writing”
Congrats! You’re on the path of producing work. Which is THE most important thing. Polishing up your work and editing comes later.
Plus, you have to think about the fact that people should actually read your work, right? Unless your goal is to only let your grandmother read your work.
Perhaps you want a website, a Medium profile, social media accounts, a service for sending newsletters. There’s more to writing when you want to get read!
Use some time for this during the day (if you can!), or leave it for the evenings and weekends.
Want to know more about how you can best to “that other stuff”, like marketing, promotion, and publishing?
Check out some of my previous articles on these topics:
#4: Learn and Connect
Writing is a lonely endeavor. Many authors suggest to get in touch with other writers, to learn and grow together.
Did you know that J.R.R. Tolkien and C.R. Lewis were in the same writing group?
Being with like-minded people who have similar goals can help you get to the next step in your writing endeavors. It’s great not only to network and meet friends, but you can also critique each other’s work, share experiences and best practices. In short: you can help each other get better!
Check meetup.com to find a local writing group or get together. Get in touch with other Medium writers (that’s what I do mostly). Plus I have two friends who blog and/or are working on a novel.
Besides actually writing, I think it’s also important to keep learning. Learn more about your craft, dive into the best practices and works of your favorite artists, read, follow a creative writing course, study (online) marketing and publishing. Believe me, once you do this, your growth rate explodes.
#5: Rinse and Repeat
Follow the first four steps and do this every day. At least, if you really want it.
Naturally, there are the hungover days, Netflix binge days, holidays, etc. I’ll cut you some slack, you don’t have to work on your writing hustle then. (If you really don’t want to). I’m currently traveling for three and a half months and I’m not able to write every day. And it’s ok. I don’t force myself. I need new experiences for fuel. I know that when I get back home and into my routine, I can write more too.
My Routine on a Normal Basis
“I get up at 7:30 and work four hours a day. Nine to twelve in the morning, five to six in the evening. Businessmen would achieve better results if they studied human metabolism. No one works well eight hours a day. No one ought to work more than four hours.” - Kurt Vonnegut
I started out with writing 500 words on a short story almost every night. On other nights, I was building my website, and arranging other stuff. However, the writing itself was the most important.
Slowly my habits changed. The amount of work I put out changed. It all started with writing one short story every month.
This has gotten a bit out of control with publishing about 6-10 blog posts per month too, hosting a podcast and writing a novel. Oops. It’s hard work but I love it. To me, writing is my escape, my sanctuary and about the only thing that gets me in the old ‘flow state’.
Here’s how my days look like:
Morning: Writing 500-1,000 words on my novel
Afternoon: I’m lucky, most of the time I work from home (freelance marketing). Usually, I’m able to carve out some time to work on “The Stuff Other Than Writing”, answering emails, emailing influencers, social media posts and interactions, publishing on Medium, etc. Sometimes I’m even able to slip in a blog post!
Evenings: In the evening I either write about 500 words on one of my short stories, or I’m working on a blog post. Blog posts I usually write in one go or in two days, to let the ideas simmer.
Weekends: During the weekend I tie loose ends, continue writing of course, maybe record and edit a podcast, edit.
So there you have it!
Developing a writing habit is THE key if you want to achieve anything with your writing. You must write. EVERY DAY.
I hope the 5 steps and a look into my habits will help you in developing your own writing routine for writing short stories or any other writing endeavor.
Find out your (daily) writing goals. Plan them in your calendar. Are you at your best early in the morning? Do you like to write at night, when the house is quiet? Stick to it, and do it every day. Your work will accumulate fast.
My advice is to stick with writing in the morning and use the time you created in the evening and weekends for website building, marketing, email, social media, etc.
“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
What does your writing routine look like?