How to build a healthy writing habit

We all had the experience of writing something up in a hurry the night before the deadline. The adrenaline, the chaos, the outcome that could have been so much more…

I used to think that as I progress through education, I magically get rid of this ugly habit.

But that’s the thing – it’s a habit!

The longer you do it, the stronger this habit becomes. To break this circle of despair, you need to replace the habit of leaving everything to the last minute with something better. Perhaps, something less stressful and more sustainable. I am not saying that my way is the best way, but if you in need of a new solution you might want to try it.

This system for building an enjoyable writing practice is pretty simple: you plan to write OFTEN and execute this plan. As you develop a habit of writing often, you give yourself more chances to actually get your writing done. For that reason, let’s focus on building a healthy writing habit first.

The way to developing a healthy writing habit has 4 steps to get you set up for the success.

Start with why

I know what you think. You think that this is a stupid first step; that it’s a waste of time as you already know why you want to do the writing.

But hear me out and spend a few minutes on that.

Why do you want to do the writing? Who is the writing for? Is writing really the best way to get your idea across?

Maybe a video, animation, podcast, poster, or infographic would be better? Maybe you need both: your writing and some visuals? Maybe doing the visuals first, would actually make your writing easier?

Also, the most important has to be asked: is this writing necessary and should it be done now?

If it is your PhD or master thesis we are talking about, of course, it needs to be done. But maybe putting some thought into which chapter should go first could be beneficial. Not to mention how much time it may save you along the way.

Find what you like

Writing is hard. It goes slowly as it requires (sometimes many) iterations. It is therefore important to find some things you like about writing.

Maybe you like a feeling of accomplishment that comes with finishing the writing project, a paragraph, or even a sentence for that matter.

Sometimes it helps to put the words on the paper. So if you are this type of person, go ahead and write all the positives on a sticky note and stick it above your desk or somewhere where you will see it often and get reminded.

Build it up

It is easier to build a habit by attaching a new behavior to an existing one. If you have something you already do routinely, you can try to attach your writing session to that.

For example, I prepare a cup of tea every morning. Therefore, it was quite easy to “attach” sitting down to write after that. The message for the brain is simple: If I prepare the tea, then I write.

You can use other things such as “finishing lunch, then sitting to write”, “walking into the office, sitting down to write”, or “putting kids for a nap, sitting down to write”.

Make it fun

I know two ways to make writing fun, and I incorporate both of them (the more the merrier).

The first one you already know about: I love tea, so while writing I sip my tea. To be honest, I sometimes look forward to writing (how weird is that?), and I think the tea-drinking part is part of the equation.

The other way to make writing more fun and almost exciting (!) is to set up prizes. The prizes can be as simple as putting a tick in your calendar on the day you did your writing. I know people for who stickers worked well (me including). Other options include a coffee or walk after, a trip to a nice place after a good week of writing, or many many more – I will leave it to your imagination.

Bonus tip

Be kind to yourself and also be realistic. Try your best, but don’t get too upset if you fail to write from time to time.

There is no way that you will feel great every day, and that your writing will flow every time you put “the pen on the paper”. The point however is to make your writing practice more enjoyable so that you are more likely to do it OFTEN.

Doing the writing often is the only way to a long-time success. And that’s what we are really interested in. If you write often enough you have a chance to plan and realize all your writing plans.

Try this system out and let me know how it went. I am kipping my fingers crossed for you (and for myself too).

If you need more help with your writing, you may want to read these:

How to make your writing feel great any time (not only in your “tiger” time) – Alternative Postdoc

3 stages of writing for research – the writing process that will change your life – Alternative Postdoc

How to improve your writing quickly: 6 tactics that saved my PhD thesis – Alternative Postdoc

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