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8 Steps to Starting a Writing Habit That Sticks

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Originally posted on andrewdeyoung.com:

"I wish I could find the time to write more."

I hear this all the time. Everyone I meet wishes they could write more, it seems: some would like to write a novel, while others just want to blog more consistently or keep a personal journal. But between jobs, friends, family, kids, and the constant distractions of everyday life, they just can't find the time.

I've been there. Time and time again, I've tried to establish a writing schedule, only give up a few days later.

But then, a couple years ago, I gave writing another try--and this time it actually stuck. At the time, I had no idea what was different this time around, and I wasn't about to screw things up by overanalyzing. But now, looking back, I see that I made a few almost accidental choices that set me up for success.

It worked for me. It could work for you too. So here they are, 8 steps to establish your own writing practice--and make it stick:

1. Make writing a priority. Life is a matter of priorities. No one has time to do everything. The best you can do is make a list of the things that really matter to you, start at the top, and work your way down. Where does writing fit in? Most people will say that spending time with their family and friends and doing good work at their job are priorities, and that's as it should be. But how does writing stack up against doing housework? Working out? Watching TV or tooling around on social media? The only way you're going to write consistently is if it's a priority--below spending time with your kids, maybe, but higher than live-tweeting the latest episode of Sherlock.

2. Really make writing a priority! This may seem silly, but I'm listing it twice because you have to do it twice. Seriously. What do you when the workday is over, the kids are in bed, and you're feeling exhausted? Collapse on the couch and watch some TV? Then guess what: No matter what you say your priorities are, your actions say that TV is more important to you than writing. (And that's okay--there's some bonkers good TV on these days!) But if writing is what gives you joy, then just do it! Don't waste your life away mindlessly doing things that don't make you happy. Prioritize a few things--like writing--that are really worthwhile. Then, whenever you have some free time, return to those activities, again and again.

3. Figure out what motivates you to write. You can prioritize all you want, but you're not going to make it very far if you don't have anything to write about. Why do you want to write? Identify three or four topics that fascinate you, that obsess you. Write them down--they don't have to be earth-shattering. Then keep coming back to them, over and over again.

4. Forget everything you've heard about what it really takes to be a writer. You don't have to write every day. You don't have to write a prescribed number of words. Whatever you've heard about what it really takes to be a writer--forget it. The only worthwhile writing routine is whatever works to keep you writing. If you write every day, bully for you. But if all you can manage is fifteen minutes of writing on your lunch break three times a week, then that's fine too. Whatever you're doing, just don't give up.

5. Set a goal--but start small. If you're not writing at all right now, maybe it's not such a good goal to write every day. You might be able to sustain that pace for a while, but it won't last--and then you'll end up beating yourself up and quitting altogether. So start small. Set a goal that is both ambitious and attainable--a little bit more than what you're doing right now, but not so much that you'll get exhausted and give up.

6. Think about writing throughout the day. There's nothing more depressing than setting aside time to write, sitting down at your laptop--and then struggling with every. Single. WORD. Writing isn't easy, but you can minimize your own frustration and set yourself up for success by thinking about your next writing session throughout the day. Get an idea of what you're going to write about before you sit down. You'll end up feeling better about what you accomplish, and start to associate those positive feelings with the act of writing.

7. Build in feedback loops. Make yourself a spreadsheet and give yourself a little X for every writing session; or if you prefer, hang it on your fridge and give yourself a gold star every time you hit your word count. It feels good to see your progress, doesn't it? Every gold star you earn will spur your motivation just a little bit, and make it that much easier to keep going.

8. Take a break. So many people I talk to are afraid of losing momentum on their writing projects. There's this weird idea out there that if we stop writing for even a day or two, we'll never come back to finish what we started. Too often, this proves to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Well, I skipped a day, we seem to think, I guess I may as well quit. That's just nonsense. Trust me, that novel, that poem, that essay, that blog post--it'll still be there when you get back. So rest. Breathe. Do something you love, something that renews you. Go for a run. See a movie. Grab a drink with a friend.

Then get back at it.