It’s probably happened to you a dozen times by now. You set a new writing goal, one you finally feel like you can achieve. (Let’s say 250 words per day for six months). For the first week, you crush that goal every single day. A few days, you even get close to doubling it.
But then you miss a day. Just one — no big deal, right?
Then you miss another. And another.
And before you know it, six months have passed and you have no idea how you managed to not write anything at all for so many days in a row.
This is the reality for way too many aspiring writers. And the solution is so much simpler than you might think.
Consistent writing is the first action step I recommend to people who start writing a lot of things but never end up finishing them. It’s like telling a new violin player to practice for 20 minutes every single day. It’s not about getting better faster. It’s about training yourself to do the work until it becomes a habit — something you don’t have to dread or even think about on good days.
Why is writing consistently important?
This doesn’t mean you have to write every day. That’s a good way to burn yourself out before you even make good headway on your writing goals.
No. It just means that you make an effort to not only create a plan for how you’re going to reach your writing goal, but also that you actually do the necessary work.
But how do you follow the schedule or pattern you’ve created for yourself? Here’s what’s worked for me.
The key to consistent writing is to find the odd thing that motivates you to get the words down — whether they’re your best words or not.
For me, it’s setting a numeric goal and calculating how close I am to reaching it by percentages. I’m a completionist. If I can look at a spreadsheet and see I’m 95% of the way to meeting a goal, I will pretty much do anything within my power to get to 100%.
That means if I have 1,000 words left to write and it’s 9 p.m. and I’m exhausted, I’m still likely to get as close to finishing those words than I would have been without seeing that 95% completion rate.
This is what works for me personally. It keeps me writing consistently, which I currently need to do in order to meet some big writing goals I’ve set for myself this year.
This specific method might not work for everyone. And that’s OK.
But I do think setting a small, consistent goal in the beginning is the best way to train yourself to make it happen almost automatically.
Let’s say, to start out, you set a goal to write 250 words after work every weekday, and 500 words over each weekend. You hang a wall calendar right next to your desk or put it somewhere you can see it while you’re writing. And every day you meet your goal, you get to put a sticker on that day. Draw a picture. Whatever makes you happy.
Or maybe you’re more of a long-term reward seeker. You set a big goal — write 80,000 words by September — and set smaller goals (monthly, weekly, or daily) to get you to that endpoint. And if you reach that endpoint on time, you get something cool. A new gadget, a trip to a new place. A party. Whatever gets you excited enough to motivate you to sit down and write on certain days of the week.
The point is that it doesn’t matter what your reward system is, it doesn’t matter how big or small your goal is, and it doesn’t matter when or how much you write. What matters is that you nail down something that’s going to get you writing consistently until it just becomes a part of your normal routine.
With all the distractions and other roadblocks writers face, we’re bound to come up with some pretty weird stuff to keep us on task. I’ve heard of writing and productivity apps that force you to plant virtual trees or adopt fake pets, and the only way to keep them alive is to keep doing your work.
These things really work for some people. But you’ll never know what works for you if you don’t give a few things a try.
So take some time to think about what really motivates you to complete tasks. is it getting to 100%? Seeing a full month of stickers? Planting a virtual forest? It all starts with deciding on a goal. Then you have to break it into pieces, create an action plan, and sit down and do the actions required.
You’re not always going to get to 100%. Everyone has bad days. Everyone gives up temporarily, at the very least. It isn’t the record holders or the ones with perfect attendance that achieve success. It’s the ones who always keep their eyes on the prize and keep getting up every time they fall down.
If you really want this — if you really want to Make Writing Happen — you will find a way. Even that task takes effort. But it’s worth it. It’s ALWAYS worth it.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.