Up until six months ago, I was stuck in a writing pattern: avoid, avoid, avoid, SO MUCH GUILT WRITE FOR 4 HOURS, avoid, avoid, avoid… This boom and bust cycle sort of worked for me. Or it did until the rubber hit the road and I had a job offer contingent on finishing my (only half done!!!) dissertation in 3 months. That’s when I decided to change my habits….
I am now a person who writes every day. Let me take a step back because I know that we’ve all heard people say they do this and I was among those rolling their eyes so hard whenever I heard about it. How do you write every day? Who has the time or the inspiration? Learning to write every day meant unlearning a bunch of stuff about what writing every day would look like. Like…
- I should freewrite: I have heard creative writing people talk about writing “anything that comes to my head” first thing in the morning, and this idea is so unbelievably cringe worthy for reasons I can’t explain. Truth: Writing every day, in small increments, on research projects, gets the project done.
- I need to have a fully formed idea to write: I thought “writing every day” would mean sitting down and writing, say, 1/3 of a literature review or an entire introduction. Truth: Writing can be notes on a topic, a brainstorm about arguments, or notes on some studies I’ve read recently.
Once I unlearned the idea that writing every day meant sitting down and freewriting about what I had eaten for breakfast, I learned that developing a daily writing habit actually makes writing a lot less painful. Here are my “rules” around writing now:
- Write during “A time”: A time is the time where I have the most concentration. For me, that is first thing in the morning. I write every day at 9 am, except for on teaching days, when I write less intensely around 2 pm (notes on articles are saved for those days).
- Set a timer. Write for 15-30 minutes: Instead of waiting for 4 hour blocks of time, I now write for 15-30 minutes a day.
- When the timer beeps, stop: Another thing that writing daily has taught me is it’s way easier to avoid burnout when you take on a big task like writing slowly. At the most, I am now writing for 30 minutes, twice a day. If I write for 3 hours one day, the next day I’ll be so sick of the project I won’t even open Word. Setting a limit keeps me from being overwhelmed.
- Take at least one day off a week: I currently take the whole weekend off from writing. There might be some Saturday sessions as I approach writing deadlines, but for now it works for me.
- Discuss goals, create rewards: My most basic reward for writing is reading. Reading is easier than writing for me. It’s more relaxing. I schedule time to read later in the day after I’ve written. I also make the smallest. goals. possible. when it comes to writing. “Add 4 sentences about practical applications.” “Add those 2 articles to the theory section.” Why? Because “finish this paper” is a hard goal to meet. Most days, I won’t meet that goal. Better to feel a sense of accomplishment!
I had a ton of resistance to changing my writing habits at first. And the first few weeks I tried this, I got really discouraged if I “messed up” and missed a day. It was easier once I told someone else (my bf) what I was trying to do so that that person could give me encouragement. I also started to experience my favorite perk of daily writing and that encouraged me–which is that it’s just easier to keep track of a project when you open it daily.
The longer I waited between writing, the more time I needed to get back into the project because I had to go back and reread everything I had already written every time. Now, I write a little bit every day, and it’s way easier to pick up where I left off. I also find that I more subconsciously “solve” my writing problems because I remember my projects more frequently–I am totally one of those people now who has epiphanies about arguments while walking (#nerd) and has to quickly jot them down in a phone note.
Writing every day is still a habit I’m developing, but it has made a huge difference in what I accomplish (along with my anxiety levels) over the past six months. It’s definitely the best work decision I’ve made for myself recently. What do you think? Do you do it? Would you try it?
13 thoughts on “How I became a person who writes every day”
I have developed a similar habit for a behemoth report I produce on a monthly basis. I work on it for 20-30 minutes/day, and set a goal to deliver the finished product on the 23rd of each month. That way, I am guaranteed a “free” week after the report is delivered when I don’t have to worry about it. For the first 7 or 8 years in my current role, I would wait until almost the end of the month, until I had every bit of information I could possibly need, and then I would spend a couple of days in total stress mode building and editing the report. It’s so much easier to split this project in to small, manageable daily tasks. I also use a timer to keep from working past the half hour mark! I will typically work on the report from 11:30-12, and take a break for lunch when I’ve concluded my task for the day.
That’s a great idea!! Sounds like it makes the whole thing much more bearable!
Alright, I’m about to print this post and tape it to my desk lamp for inspiration. I love to write, and I always have, but I definitely don’t have good writing habits. I tend to say things like, “oh, after this 8-hour workday and hour long commute home and after I walk the dog and feed the dog and make dinner and eat dinner, I will write an entire blog post.” Which is obviously unrealistic and so anxiety-inducing that I never do it.
I have a sort of secret side writing project that I’ve been dreaming up for a while now, but never I assign time to work on it, so I think I’m going to take some of these tips and try just working on it in small increments every day!
That’s so great!! Breaking it into small steps really helps me when the project feels HUGE and IMPORTANT (in theory I’m supposed to be writing a book right now! but nope! not a book! just a paragraph today and one tomorrow and one the next day….). If you wanna set goals and swap them on instagram I think having someone else know my goals for the week helps me too!
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This is so helpful! I’m exactly in your situation (quite a bit of my diss left to finish in order to graduate), and I really want to revise my writing practice when I start as an assistant prof in the fall. This sounds like a much more manageable approach than the binge-writing style that I currently practice. Definitely trying it out!
I will say–for the first year writing every day still felt bad and filled with anxiety. It definitely took a long time to build the habit but the writing peace I have now is very worth it, even on hard days I get 30 minutes of writing done because it’s very ingrained. Definitely worth it to survive 2020 with some writing done.