The Three Biggest Surprises When Starting (or Attempting) a Daily Writing Habit
By: Monica Leonelle
(This article was originally published on March 2, 2015 on the Sterling and Stone website.)
Back in August of 2013, I had to face the facts. I had learned to write very fast (at speeds over 3000 words an hour, under the right conditions), but I still wasnt drafting and publishing much content.
There were two problems:
- I was writing faster, but I wasnt writing often. When I looked at the numbers, I would only write fiction 1-3 days in a month!
- I wasnt finishing anything; I had a handful of drafts at 80-90% but didnt have a mindset or process to get them shipped in an efficient manner.
To rectify this and give myself and my bad habits a swift kick in the ass, I decided to embark on a writing challenge. I set up an experiment to see if I could write every day for an entire month, hitting 50,000 fiction words total by the end of it.
Here were the three biggest counter-intuitive lessons I learned:
Tracking Is Crucial To Creating Real Change
I am so grateful for the sheer amount of data I kept on my progress during my experiment. Some would probably say it was overkill, but I disagree! I tracked:
- Start time
- End time
- Total time spent
- First pomodoro, second pomodoro, etc.
- First set of pomodoros, second set of pomodoros, etc.
- Where I was at
- What inputs I used (mic, keyboard)
- Whether I was primarily writing or editing
- The title of the book
- The title of the series
- A notes column where I could write down mood
- What I was struggling with that day
- My original intentions for the week
- What got in the way of those intentions
- Where I was, where I wanted to be
- New experiments I wanted to try
- Real-time evaluation of my progress
- Real-time adjustment of my goals and expectations
I kept both spreadsheets to track many of the quantitative metrics, and a written diary that totaled an impressive 50,000 words on its own to track the qualitative ones.
It was a lot of work to do all this tracking, but well worth it. Even reading back over my data nearly a year and a half later, I continue to learn new lessons about myself and that helps steer my current problems.
Reading through my daily diary also helps me see how far Ive come, which is very motivating when I feel like this whole writing thing is a bit too much. Looking back to see that I was once struggling to get one book out every year, and now I can publish eight books in a year, is so eye-opening! It shows that huge gains year over year are possible in this industry, which is a great thing for all of us!
If you are thinking on embarking on an experiment like this, make sure you track everything. You never know whats going to be important. Dont get rid of a data point until you know from experience that you have no use for it. You wont be sorry!
Im now at a point in my business where I want to improve other growth areas, like marketing, building my email list, and getting more books published. I thought my problems were new, but nope! The starting point is the same. I am now setting up systems to track my metrics and even considering starting up a rigorous diary again, because I KNOW that tracking works to keep me accountable and shed some light on the key changes I need to make to achieve my new goals.
Tracking works! Use it.
Small Tweaks Create HUGE Returns
My self-publishing record is:
- 2009 one book
- 2010 zero books
- 2011 one book
- 2012 two books
- 2013 one book
- 2014 eight books, one short story
Do you see the pattern? In 2014 alone I published more books than I had in the entire five years beforehand. Thats a huge return! And I attribute those gains to just a few tweaks in my writing process, many of which I discovered during my two month experiment. Here they are:
- I learned how to write very, very fast (tracking words per hour)
- I learned how to write for many hours in a month (50k words of fiction is about the norm for me now)
- I learned how to manage my editing process (I use ghostwriters—very cool stuff)
What this taught me was that the 80/20 Pareto Principle is true. I had read for years (mostly from the likes of Tim Ferriss) that a lot of success comes from just a few things done slightly differently than before. All my changes literally feel like little tweaks—but the results? They astound me.
This year, I think I might get 3-4 times as many books published as I got done last year. Sounds crazy, right? But again, its the little tweaks that Ive focused on that are getting drastically better results.
This isnt meant to be hype, its just my personal truth. A lot of people say there is no magic ingredient, which I wholeheartedly agree with. All of this is still hard work. But after seeing my own results, I do believe that for each individual, there are small shifts in mindset that can really change everything for you.
A Daily Writing Habit Is Not Right For Everyone
I tried to write every day for the whole month of September. I thought Id done well. But when I looked back at the raw data, I realized I had only hit fifteen out of the thirty days—in other words, I had an Every-Other-Day Writing Habit!
But I didnt even have that. What I found was that I frequently wrote for, say, five days in a row, and then I took off five days in a row.
The next month in October, I held roughly the same pattern, writing even fewer days that month. I still hit 50,000 words, but it happened in large bursts rather than in a slow-and-steady, methodical process.
I had been beating myself up for YEARS over this pattern. But after tracking steadily and collecting the actual data, I realized that my pattern had nothing to do with my willpower or my productivity. It had to do with my energy!
Energy is Step #4 in my framework for writing faster for good reason. You see, theres a spectrum of energy patterns that humans hold. At one end, theres the bursters, the people who sprint through big project all at once. At the other, theres the plodders, the people who prefer to make consistent, daily progress. And of course, you can be anywhere in between, too.
So before you embark on a daily writing habit, consider which one you are. Burster, plodder, in-between? If youre not sure, think of other non-writing-related projects youve completed—did you sprint or marathon through them?
You probably lean more toward one or the other. And if youre a burster, you will likely never have a daily writing habit—but thats perfectly okay! Instead, structure your goals to match your energy pattern. You might end up accomplishing much more!
When I accepted my nature as a burster, I realized how futile and arbitrary my daily writing habit was, and instead focused on words per month. So much easier!
Get Write Better, Faster
If youre interested in setting up your own experiment to improve your writing habits, or if youve been trying to write on a regular basis and it just hasnt happened, you may enjoy my new book, Write Better, Faster: How To Triple Your Writing Speed and Write More Every Day.
The book goes deeper into my 4-step framework to writing faster: Knowledge, Flow, Training, and Energy. It also answers tons of questions from readers like yourself, provides a lot more data from my experiments, and even goes through an example of my writing process of Outlines, Beats, Sketches, and Draft.
Finally, I talk about my 2-month experiment that helped me establish a daily writing habit and write 50,000 words of high-quality fiction (the same goal as National Novel Writing Month!) two months in a row.
At over 300 pages, it should be a pretty interesting read for the beginner who is struggling to finish a first book, or for the NYT Bestseller who wants to keep her readers fed and happy with new, fresh content.
You can get the book, Write Better, Faster: How To Triple Your Writing Speed and Write More Every Day exclusively on Amazon with three options: purchase, Prime Member borrow, or Kindle Unlimited Member borrow.
BUT its on sale only for a little bit! It will likely go to $4.95 after the launch festivities end. Please grab it now if interested and share this article to your friends so they can get the early bird price, too!