Writing Habits: How to go from sporadic writing to 3,000 words per week in 3 months.
Heads up boys and girls. This is a LONG and in-depth article. If you read it all and follow the steps, good things will happen.
There’s also a content upgrade in the second step, so be sure not to miss that one.
Have many of you guys and gals suck at writing consistently?
Come on now, don’t be shy.
Too scared to admit it? OK, Let’s try this…Close your eyes. Now raise your hand if you really suck at writing consistently.
Go ahead and open your eyes.
More than likely, almost everyone is raising their hand. If they’re not, they’re probably a liar, or a robot. EVERYONE ELSE struggles with their writing habits. If you look at the stage, even I’m raising my hand.
Imagine with me for a moment…
You just bought one of those list-building courses. You know the type. Get 1,000 subscribers in your first month, or (my favorite) get 10,000 in 3 weeks! You’re probably a little pissed off depending on the price, but whatever, you’re still psyched.
Subscribers are the main goal, but what these courses really promise is freedom. Freedom from the long, hard d&*k of “the man”.
Follow the system, and earn your way into the Promised Land.
Sounds easy enough, right?
My story with building a blogging business
I’m a student of Ramit Sethi, and as you might’ve guessed, I bought his Zero To Launch (ZTL) program. Believe me when I say I’m not a millionaire yet – not even close.
His courses promise the same freedom, but you have to work. Nothing he does is a get rich quick scheme, to say the least. He’s upfront and honest about it. Follow the system. Do the work. Get amazing results.
But that doesn’t mean it’s all sunflowers and sunshine.
I bought ZTL in December 2015, though I didn’t REALLY get started until January 2016.
My New Year’s Resolution was going to be my online business. I would follow the course, implement his strategies, and by May 2016, I’d be well on my way to riches.
He’s got an amazing system. For proprietary purposes, I won’t give too much away, but it’s worth almost every penny.
The system covers everything you need to do in order to take your business from nothing to website, to audience, to a successful launch.
My journey with ZTL has been a rollercoaster, to say the least. I started with a blog in the “success” niche – what the hell was I thinking, right?
After about 2.5 months of little to no success (ironic), I pivoted.
I niched down and started focusing on habits. Specifically, how to build better habits. The science of this only goes so far, and there’s only so much for me to write about. But when it comes to the amount of habits people need to form, the possibilities are endless.
At this point, I was 6 or 7 months into the program. I had a slowly growing email list of subscribers, and I was finally starting to get some consistent traffic. Note – consistent, not massive.
I took a step back and analyzed how my business was doing. In short, not very well.
As you can see, I started getting some new subscribers, but not many.
“What was wrong?” I said to myself.
I had published a few guest posts and had gotten a decent amount of traffic and subscribers from each. It was then that I realized something…
Prior to my most recent guest post, I hadn’t written one in almost 2 months.
What the hell had I been doing?
Well, you could say I fell into what Ramit calls “Marketing Tactical Hell”.
MTH is a cruel thing. You don’t realize you’re in it because you’re so busy doing all of these super important things!!
So I went back to ZTL and returned to the system. I published another guest post. This time on The Change Blog. Success. I got another 50 subscribers.
Fast forward another month or so and…crickets. This time I immediately knew what the problem was – I needed to keep writing guest posts. But I still hadn’t done it.
In ironic fashion, I found myself needing to develop better writing habits. Yeah, me. The Habits Engineer.
So that’s exactly what I did. I followed my own advice to create my habit of writing.
Ramit’s course was incredible. It had everything I needed to do, but I just so happened to choose writing as my content medium. And in the last 26 years of my life, I hadn’t done much of that. At least not like this.
I enjoy writing. Maybe at some point I’ll get into creating videos or doing a podcast, but for now, I like this.
I like it even better now that I’ve become consistent with it. I also like to think I’ve become a better writer. Many thanks to Brian Harris, Neville Medhora, and James Altucher for the unofficial mentoring (I’ve never actually met them, but have studied their writing closely.)
This has been one hell of an introduction (about 800 words, but who’s counting), and that brings us to what I really wanted to teach you.
Today, we’re going to solve all your traffic and content problems by creating a daily writinghabit.
What kind of results can you expect? Well for me, I had written about 15,000 words and published around 10,000 in 6 months’ time. All sporadic with no real schedule.
Since forming my new habit (that was 3 months ago), I’ve written about 35,000 words. That’s just over 11,500 per month or about 3,000 every week. Here’s the breakdown:
- New opt-in reward for my site: The Ultimate Guide to Better Habits (~9,000 words)
- 6 posts published on my site (~8,000)
- 5 guest posts published on various sites (~8,000)
- This epic post (~5,000)
- 4 posts in queue for guest blogs and my site (~5,000)
What does this mean for you? You could write 7 massive 5,000 word guides. Or 4 eBooks. Or 35 blog posts. The possibilities are endless.
Taming the beast: solving the greatest challenge of blogging
If you’re already blogging, you should have the system and tools you need to get your business off the ground.
If you read Brian Harris’ site, you also have the tactics and mterial you need to create remarkable content.
At this point, you should be crushing it, but for some reason you’re stuck. What gives?
Life gets in the way.
Maybe your boss hits you up for a new project. Your kids are home for the summer. You got stuck in traffic. It’s wedding season and all your friends are shacking up.
Fast forward a couple months and you press the “Publish Post” button on your blog.
To no one’s surprise, here’s what that looked and felt like:
No comments. No traffic. No one cares except for you and your mom.
Hands down the most difficult part of blogging is creating and publishing remarkable content CONSISTENTLY.
I used bold and all caps on consistently because I wanted to yell it at you. Creating and publishing remarkable content doesn’t mean shit if you don’t do it on a regular basis.
This is something Ramit talks about in ZTL. He gives you an example schedule to squeeze in your actions and tells you to stick to it. Do something every day.
I credit Ramit for putting this in his course. It’s an extremely important aspect. But it’s also REALLY FREAKING HARD.
Most people who start a blog have a lot of other things going on. It’s not their full time day job or something they went to school for. It’s often a side project, and one that needs committed to.
If you only write when feeling inspired, or when you find the time, chances are you’re not going to make it.
This is the reason 99% of bloggers don’t see success – they never made writing (or creating content) a consistent habit.
For newbies, writing is always a chore. It’s a task on their insurmountable list of things to do. It’s work, and work isn’t easy.
Guess what is easy…
Habits are something Ramit talks about as well. Habits are easy. By definition, they’re things you do without thinking. They’re autonomous.
All great writers know this. There’s a quote by William Faulkner that goes:
I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately, it strikes at nine o’clock sharp every morning.”
Wow. Powerful stuff, right?
This is what the best of the best do. The 1% of bloggers. They make writing a habit and put “work” on autopilot.
How can you make this a habit of yours?
Let’s dive in!
8 Steps to Creating A Daily Writing Habit
Alright. Now the exciting stuff.
Up to this point, you’ve spent most of your time either procrastinating or in Marketing Tactical Hell. Unfortunately, productivity isn’t always about being efficient, it’s about being effective.
Efficiency means absolutely crushing whatever task you’re currently working on.
Effectiveness means focusing on the right tasks.
Now that you hopefully realize that creating remarkable content is what’s going to pay dividends, it’s time to start being effective.
Instead of following all that bullshit “just write” advice. We’re going to take a slightly different approach:
Think first, write second.
Part 1: Putting together your writing playbook
If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin
Everyone knows planning is crucial to success.
By putting a plan together, we set ourselves aside from the rest of the population. It’s what’s going to drive execution. Also, when that thing called “life” gets in the way, we can simply go back to our plan. No thinking required.
This is something I call frontloading your work…sound familiar? Thanks Ramit :).
Set it once and let it ride, baby!
Step 1: Define and set your goal
In 1979, new grads from Harvard’s MBA program were asked a simple question: “Have you set clear, written goals for your future and made plans to accomplish them?”
When the answers were analyzed:
- 84% of graduates had no specific goals
- 13% had goals, but were never written down
- 3% had clear written goals with plans to achieve them
Those 3% went on to make 10x as much as the other 97%. Combined.
Right now, we’re going to set a goal for you and write it down. For the purpose of this post, I’m going to walk through the “super newb” example. Keep in mind that this is the exact process I followed to go from barely writing at all to consistent writing machine.
You should decide on a goal of somewhere between 50 and 250 words per day. I do not recommend starting any higher than 250. I started with 50 because it was stupid easy for me.
When you want to form a habit, consistency is FAR more important than performance, so I made sure to pick a target that I could do every day without fail.
Note – The goal that you choose (e.g. 50 words) is the bare minimum that you need to write to consider your daily habit a success. Most often, you’ll surpass that 50-word goal, but the idea is to write at least 50 words every day. This makes your habit a no-brainer to do and takes away all excuses, even if you’re mentally exhausted.
Go ahead and write your goal down on a piece of paper, then tape it by your computer.
Now, I’m going to show you how to track your goal with your phone.
Tip – If you prefer pen and paper, skip the rest of this step and move on to Step 2. I’ll show you how to track the old school way in Step 8.
I prefer to use HabitBull (and it’s available for both IOS and Android phones).
First, download, install, and sign-in to HabitBull.
Got it? Great.
When you open the app, click on the Add button to create a new habit:
Activate the drop-down menu and then select “Work & Study”.
Tap on “Writing”.
Now we get to choose how you’d like to track your habit. For the “super newbs”, I recommend choosing the “With a simple Yes or No each day” option. For the more advanced or nerdy folks who like keeping track of the numbers, choose the “With a Number” option.
Note – Don’t be embarrassed to go with the “super newb” option. Remember, that’s what I used, and it’s what I usually recommend for newer writers.
Choose your favorite color and then type a name for your new habit. This is where I put my target number. Then, if you want, put in a description for your habit. Press “NEXT”.
We might be newbs, but we’re also champions. For the “On which days do you want to do this?” option, select “Every Day”.
Then, set a target for your new habit.
At this point, the app should say that it 66 days to create a new habit. This is based on research done that showed forming habits takes anywhere from 18 to 254 days. This actually varies wildly depending on the behavior (e.g. writing) and the person forming the habit. HabitBull chose to use the average, or 66 days.
Keep in mind that this is not true for every habit. If you were trying to drink an extra glass of water each day, for example, it might take you closer to 18 days. If you wanted to make weight training a habit, it might take 254.
Oddly enough, at least for me, it turned out to be somewhere around 2 months to form my consistent writing habit, so you win this time, HabitBull.
Note – You may be different. Actually, you probably will. It might take you less time, or it might take much longer. Habits aren’t a one-size-fits-all, so the only way to truly know is to test.
For now, I’d leave it at 66 days to success and just plan on using that as a good target. Then tap “CREATE”.
Congratulations! Your new habit goal is now set and ready to be tracked.
Step 2: Develop your Writing Cycle
With your writing goal set, now it’s time to start putting an action plan together.
Up to this point, you’ve been in Marketing Tactical Hell. There have probably been hundreds of different things you wanted to do for your blog at any given moment. In this step, we’re going to solve that.
We’re going to get super clear on what the Most Important Task of the day is (for your blogging habit) and focus ONLY on that.
If you want to become a consistent blogger, the process is fairly repetitive. You need to come up with catchy headlines, draft an outline, and then write your post. Rinse and repeat.
To get out of MTH, we’re going to get very specific and intentional on what small repetitive task you should be working on. Remember that each task involves WRITING, thus you will be building on your habit every single day.
This list of actions is something I call the Writing Cycle. Ideally, there’s 7 actions in the cycle, one for every day of the week.
Note – If you’re just starting out, you probably won’t complete your entire action every day. That’s pretty tough to do with a goal of 50 words. That’s OK. You don’t have to always do X on Monday, Y on Tuesday, and Z on Thursday. You need just a list of actions to choose from, so that you know what you need to be working on. If you don’t finish writing an introduction on Monday because you’re stuck or short on time, then make note of that and continue on Tuesday. In an ideal world, we will be working you up to completing 1 action every day. Eventually, you’ll be able to write much more than 50 or even 250 words. But don’t worry about that for now, we’ll scale up later.
Here’s an example of what your Writing Cycle could look like for creating remarkable content:
- Brainstorm 4 good headlines – something I pulled from Neville Medhora’s awesome book about copywriting.
- Create an outline
- Write an introduction
- Write out 1 section of your post (repeat until each section is finished)
- Write a summary/conclusion section with a clear call-to-action
- Create a content upgrade as a PDF
- Edit your post
The Writing Cycle takes away all distractions and narrows your focus on one, simple action to complete. If done every day, this is how you make writing a consistent habit.
SPECIAL BONUS – I’ve created a sample Writing Cycle for you in checklist form as a PDF. It’s based on the actual cycle that I used (and still do) for creating my content. It also contains a link to a super useful YouTube video for developing killer headlines.
CLICK HERE TO GRAB YOUR PDF OF MY WRITING CYCLE CHECKLIST.
To make things incredibly easy on yourself, I suggest either printing out the PDF I provided, write one down on paper, or type up your own in Evernote or a Word file. Then, keep it somewhere visible, within easy-access to look at before writing for the day.
Step 3: Schedule your writing habi
If you’ve learned the science behind habits, you know that a new habit needs a trigger to spark the desired behavior. When starting out, it’s hard to do something every single day, but it’s easy to set a trigger for yourself to do it. Over time, this trigger will become attached to your behavior of writing, and it will become autonomous.
The easiest thing you can do for yourself is use your calendar to schedule your writing habit. This does a couple of things for you:
1. You can use your calendar’s features to set multiple reminders to write. This creates a trigger for your new habit.
2. It makes your actions intentional. Take a lesson from habits expert James Clear…
A study in the British Journal of Health Psychology found that 91% people who planned their intention to exercise by writing down when and where they would exercise each week ended up following through.”
This means that by simply scheduling your writing habit, you are 91% more likely to follow through.
I know, scheduling these kinds of things sounds a little silly, considering most people just use their calendars for meetings and appointments. In my opinion, that’s a huge mistake.
I use my calendar for literally EVERYTHING (see massage reminder above). If during the middle of the day I remember that tonight is trash night, I’ll schedule a task in my calendar for later that evening “Take Trash Out”. The faster I put something down on paper and out of my head, the less I have to worry about it, and it actually ends up getting done.
So, the last step in planning your writing habit is to physically schedule it into your calendar. Find a time that works best for you and lock it in. Typically, the mornings are going to be your best bet. This is when willpower and creativity are highest.
If you can’t squeeze it somewhere into your morning schedule, then sometimes I just like to set a soft deadline for myself. Remember, that we’re forming a habit here. You only need to write 50 words per day, every day, to continue building your habit. If it’s 10:30 at night and you realize “Oh shit, I haven’t written today,” then no problem. Just grab your computer and type the first 50 words that come to your head. Boom, you stuck with your habit.
Don’t forget to schedule this soft deadline on your calendar and pull your action from your Writing Cycle, obviously.
Summarizing your Writing Playbook
That completes the section on how to put together your Writing Playbook. Here are the 3 steps that you need to take right now:
Step 1. Create your goal by writing it down or putting it into HabitBull
Step 2. Define your Writing Cycle and store it somewhere easily accessible.
Step 3. Schedule your writing habit.
All of that should take less than 20 minutes to complete, and that’s pushing it. Now that you’ve got a plan together, you’re much more likely to follow it. And it’s going to be that much harder to justify skipping.
I mean, how hard is it honestly to write 50 words a day? It’s not. It’s stupid simple, and that’s what we’re aiming for.
Part 2: Executing your writing playbook
With our plan in place, now it’s time to execute. As you know, the best plans are completely useless without taking action. In Steps 4 through 8, that’s exactly what I’ll teach you how to do.
Step 4: Eliminate distractions
OK, so we’ve nailed down a time in your calendar when it’s time to write. It’s now Monday morning at that time, and you should be writing.
Instead, you open up your computer and start doing anything but writing.
- You check Facebook
- You check your email
- You browse Reddit
- You open up another file on your desktop and suddenly you’ve been working on a spreadsheet for 45 minutes. What the hell?
- You started watching YouTube videos
It’s no wonder you’re so disoriented when your desktop looks like this:
Photo credit Marcus Nunes
Files. Files everywhere!
We are much more influenced by our environment than we know. If left to fate and self-control, environment wins almost every time.
That smell when you walk past an Auntie Anne’s in the mall? That’s not an accident. It’s designed to use your sense of smell to make you buy a delicious pretzel. Same with pizza shops.
I don’t usually crave a piece of gum, but when I see the package on the counter, I’ll usually reach for one.
So when I open up to a cluttered desktop, I see things that catch my eye and start getting distracted. By having an organized desktop with only the items you’re working on, it becomes much easier to focus.
In this step, here are the actions I want you take:
1. Declutter your desktop, except for the bare essentials. You should have a couple of folders, and then the only file(s) you should have visible are ones that you are currently working on.
2. Use a program such as Self-Control or Freedom to block tempting websites. I’m talking Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, whatever your weaknesses are. This is only temporary while you work.
3. Put your phone on silent / turn off notifications and set it across the room or in your bag. I’m a personal sufferer of vibrating phone syndrome, so this was necessary for me.
That’s it. Do those 3 things and you should be 99% better off than your peers.
Note – Don’t be afraid to experiment a little with your environment design. For example, I am extremely tempted to play video games when my desktop computer is right near me. As a result, I no longer do my core writing at home. I either go to a coffee shop or at the office. What other ways can you creatively eliminate your distractions?
Step 5: Pick an item from your Writing Cycle
OK, with your mind 100% focused on your task, how do you know what to work on?
Easy – we pull out our Writing Cycle list from Step 2.
Whether it’s hand-written or electronically stored somewhere, take a look at your list of actions.
Your only action for this step is to choose the item that will benefit you the most in completing your next article.
If you’re starting from scratch, time to whip up some headlines! If you’re picking up where you left off, maybe now you need to write an introduction.
Pick one and then let’s get started writing.
Note – Some people love to plan their day the night before. If this is you, no problem. Instead of doing Steps 4 and 5 the morning of, add them to your power-down routine the night before. Personally, I like to get up a little earlier and plan my day so that it’s fresh in my mind. If that’s not you, that’s totally fine.
Set up your distraction-free workplace so that you can immediately start working when it’s time the next day. Then, have your Writing Cycle action ready to go. It might be a good idea to use a sticky note and place it on your computer. That’s what I do when I need to remember something from the night before.
Step 6: Write!
This is it. The moment you’ve all been waiting for. You’ve got your plan in place, you’ve got your workspace all set up, and you’ve even defined what you’re going to be working on.
Now’s your time to shine.
Write 50 words. Or whatever your writing goal happens to be.
The first day you do this, you’re probably going to crush it. You might set out to write 50 words but end up at a whopping 250, or 500, or maybe even 1000! Wowie.
Whatever the case, just make sure to write your bare minimum.
If you crush it for the next few days or even a week, I want you to promise me not to change your goal. You might start thinking, “Wow, I’m much more awesome than I thought. I should probably up my goal.”
NO! No, no, no, no.
It’s happened to me. I’ve seen it happen to others. You will inevitably face a situation where you’re not going to be able to hit your new, impressive goal. But you can always hit 50.
When it’s time for you to put pen to paper, just make sure you:
1. Focus only on your Writing Cycle task.
2. Write until you hit a mental block, run out of time, or reach your goal.
It’s going to vary wildly depending on what kind of day you’re having.
At first, writing 50 words won’t really require much other than sitting down and getting it done. Eventually, you’re going to increase this amount over time. Instead of taking 5 minutes, it may take 20, or 30, or even an hour. Dare I say you might get to the point where you write for 2-3 hours a day?
For now, the “super newbs” don’t need to worry about this. But for the more advanced, now’s a good time to introduce the Pomodoro Technique.
In general, I’m not a huge fan of productivity hacks and tricks. The “tomato” as it’s often referred to, though, is hard to ignore.
When you need to focus on just one thing, that’s where this technique really shines. Its concept is to break your workload into 25 minute chunks with planned 5 minute breaks in between.
Basically, set a timer for 25 minutes (or 30, 35, 45, anything less than an hour really), work on a single task, then set it again for a break of 5 minutes (or roughly 1/5 the amount of time you work for). During this break, do nothing work related and just relax or do some push-ups. Whatever gets you goin’.
Now, you could go out and buy one of those goofy-looking tomato timers. Or, you can do something much easier.
As usual, I’ll give you a couple of options.
Option number 1 is to go to tomato-timer.com. Here, you’ll find your basic, run-of-the-mill Pomodoro timer. It’s stuck at 25 minutes, so if you want some flexibility, you’re out of luck, but it does provide desktop notifications, which come in handy.
Option number 2 is Google. If you thought it was going to be your cell phone timer, wrong! Remember, your cell phone isn’t in the vicinity of your writing space, so that’s out of the picture.
But Google isn’t. Google is everywhere.
Go to Google and type in “set timer X minutes”. X being the number of minutes you want to set your work timer for. Then press enter.
And you thought you were going to have an excuse not to use the Pomodoro Technique today. Nope. It’s THAT easy.
Know what else is easy? By accomplishing this writing step, you’ve just successfully completed the most important part of building a blog WRITING, duh.
Step 7: Reward yourself
Remember earlier when I mentioned the science of habits and how triggers were an integral part? Well, habits are a 3-part loop, and REWARDS are the final piece.
This step is simple. And fun. All you have to do is reward yourself for working on your new writing habit.
A simple pat on the back or “hell yeah, Jason!” can be effective. Personally, I prefer things that are more enjoyable. I like rewarding myself with snacks…
You guys ever have these things??
Sometimes I’ll let myself just relax and watch 30 minutes of TV. Other times I’ll go for a walk. It really doesn’t matter what the reward is, as long as it positively affects your brain.
Do this after every time you write and you will be well on your way to a consistent, ever-lasting behavior.
Step 8: Don’t Break The Chain
By now, in order to blog consistently, you know you need to be focusing on writing (or creating other content), you also know exactly how you can develop your new writing habit.
So now the question becomes, how to keep it going?
Going back to Step 1, we picked a target for how many days we were going to write in a row. If you remember, I chose to leave it at the HabitBull recommended 66 days.
In order to make your new writing habit stick – and last forever – you have just one job: “don’t break the chain”.
The quote I’m referring to is one by possibly the most successful comedian of all time, Jerry Seinfeld.
Whether you’re a fan of him or not, you can’t argue that the man is damn consistent. If you’re interested in the full story, James Clear wrote a piece for Entrepreneur back in 2014. In it, he goes into full detail.
For you guys, I just wanted to touch on the important principle: “don’t break the chain”. Your only job to make writing a consistent habit is to show up. Every. Single. Day.
In Step 1, if you chose to create a HabitBull habit with me, the app makes it super easy for you to do this.
You just tap on today’s date under your habit, and it automatically keeps track of things for you. Hopefully, your calendar will eventually look something like this:
If you prefer the traditional method and chose to just write your goal on a piece of paper, no sweat. This is the Seinfeld Strategy is action, baby! Grab an old school wall calendar and start lighting it up with red X’s. Every day you perform your habit, put an X.
The concept remains the same.
After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job is to not break the chain.” – Jerry Seinfeld
If you slip up, no problem, but be pissed about it and get back on the wagon the next day. In a month’s time, if you’ve succeeded, you’ll look at your calendar and see mostly red X’s. That’s what really counts.
Let’s get your daily writing habit started, RIGHT NOW!
OK, maybe you enjoyed reading this article and didn’t want to take action right away. Now’s the time to get started.
Part 1: Put together your writing playbook
- Define and set your goal. Walkthrough the HabitBull example with me or just use pen and paper.
- Take less than 20 minutes and define the actions in your Writing Cycle. Then store it for safe-keeping and easy access.
- Schedule your writing habit. Make your intentions clear and provide yourself a trigger by scheduling the behavior into your calendar.
Part 2: Execute your playbook
- Eliminate distractions. Set up your workspace and design your environment to focus only on your task.
- Pick an action item from your Writing Cycle
- When your trigger prompts you, perform your writing behavior. If you’re more advanced, use the Pomodoro Technique to help.
- Reward yourself. Complete the habit loop and give yourself incentive to perform the behavior every time.
- Don’t break the chain. Keep track of your progress in HabitBull or on a wall calendar with red X’s.
Really struggling with your writing habit?
Get in touch with me over at the contact page and I’ll help you where you’re stuck.
Don’t forget to grab your Writing Cycle bonus. Plus, there’s also a ton of information and different strategies on how to form good habits scattered throughout the blog.
I hope this post helped as much as humanly possible. If it helped you, be a doll and share it with a friend :).