Three Questions Every Writer Should Ask Before Starting a Writing Routine

Novice writers often ask, “How often should I write? And should I write every day?”

Browse the internet and you’ll likely find a variety of responses to these questions. Some responses suggest making time goals, such as one hour a day, while others suggest word goals, such as 500 words. For example, Stephen King in his book “On Writing,” advises new writers to aim for a lofty 1,000 words a day.

To add to the confusion, novice scribes are advised to write every day to achieve consistency with your writing. If you don’t write every day, experts argue, you might lose momentum and motivation. After missing several days, you may never get back to writing.

While their arguments are valid, they may not be practical. Not everyone has time to write every single day because of demanding schedules. Further, the thought of writing every day can be daunting, especially for novice writers who haven’t a clue how to get started. You might say to yourself, “Write every day? I can’t possibly do that! That will take up too much of my day!”

That kind of reasoning assumes that writing is time consuming. But the truth is, writing isn’t nearly as time consuming as we imagine it is. That’s because many of us have built up scenarios in our brain in which we imagine sitting in front of our computer for several hours a day. That scenario might be accurate for well-known authors and professional writers, but not for beginning writers like you and me.

How much time you devote to writing depends on several factors: what you’re schedule allows, whether you’re new to writing, and what you want to achieve with your writing. No two writers will have the same answers. Below are several questions you need to ask yourself before establishing a writing routine.

Question 1: Are you new to writing?

If you’re new to writing, it might be helpful to start with a small goal and work your way up into larger goals as you gain more confidence in your abilities. Set a word goal of 100 words, for example. If after a few days, 100 words is too easy, you can raise the goal to 250 words.

For other writers, a time goal may be a better option, say 15 minutes or 30 minutes. Even five minutes is better than none at all. As you gain more confidence, you can add more time to your sessions, moving from 15 minutes to 30 minutes, for example.

Shannon Ashley at the Post-Grad Survival Guide blog writes that it’s important to achieve consistency with your writing. But how much time and energy you put into it is up to individual writers and what they want to achieve. But it’s not necessary to write every day to achieve that success. It is important if you want to achieve consistency, especially for newer writers.

I recommend setting a small goal of 100 words per session. That is the equivalent of three or four paragraphs, something that is easy to achieve if you write every day. However, if you don’t have time to write every day, you can choose to write two or three times a week or even just weekends. You can still achieve consistency with your writing by committing to writing three days a week.

As you gain more experience, you will learn to write faster and get more writing done in less time. That’s when you can set higher goals for yourself and create more flexible writing schedules.

Question 2: Do you prefer a structured routine or write when you can?

Some writers prefer having a set schedule because they enjoy the structure that it gives them.  Writing every day for a set amount of time or specific word count provides a sense of accomplishment. Just sitting down and writing at the same time every day is an accomplishment in and of itself.

The reality is, there is no set rule that says you have to write every day, writes Ali Luke at WritetoDone blog. It’s simply a goal to work toward. Only you know what is best for you considering your schedule.

On the other hand, some writers with more demanding work schedules may not have a lot of spare time for writing. Or they may simply thrive in unstructured work environments. Sometimes it’s necessary to find time to write wherever you can squeeze it in. For example, you may jot down notes while riding on the bus to work, or cram in a half hour of writing before bedtime. Further, it may not be possible to commit to writing every day. It may be that you are weekend warriors, writing in chunks on Saturday and Sunday.

Knowing which type of person you are – structured or unstructured – can help you decide how to set up your writing routine or whether you should have one at all.

Question 3: What do you want to accomplish with your writing?

If writing is a hobby, then you can be more flexible with your schedule since you are not tied to any deadlines. You can write whenever and wherever you want, and you can make your sessions as short or as long as you want – as your schedule allows. It might be easier to squeeze in writing time before doctor’s appointments and work breaks.

But if your goals are more serious – such as writing an essay or article that you want to have published – then you might need to devote a longer work session to complete it. That’s quiet, uninterrupted time to research, contemplate and prepare your finished piece for an editor. Since it requires greater care, then you will need longer stretches of time to work on it.

The bottom line is this: the more you want to accomplish with your writing, the more time you will devote to your craft. If you love to write, the more time you will make for it. That’s the difference between those who see writing as a casual leisurely pursuit and those who view it as their life’s work.

Four Ways to Elevate Your Writing Habit Into a Writing Practice

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I’ve written previously about how aspiring writers can create a regular writing practice. Yet, the term “writing practice” might be confusing for many people. “Isn’t that the same as a writing habit?” you might ask.

No, they are not quite the same. Let me explain as best as I can.

A habit is any activity that is done at roughly the same time every day, like brushing your teeth after every meal or kicking off your shoes when you enter the front door. Habits are more about time and place – where you do that activity, at what time of day, and how often. Some habits, like nail biting, are done so routinely (like during scary movies or intense sporting events) that you don’t even think about what you are doing or why. It becomes mindless.

If you’ve already started a writing habit, you likely write at the same time every day. That set routine encourages consistency and helps you monitor your progress. A writing practice takes the habit a step further by creating stronger purpose, intention and focus.

I borrowed the concept of a writing practice from yoga. I felt there were similarities in the way they are both very individualized experiences. How you progress through the poses is based on a number of factors, such as your level of confidence, body type and skill level, even how you’re feeling that day. Further, yoga isn’t necessarily dependent on practicing every day, though many people do. If you only make it to one class a week, it’s still considered a yoga practice, not a yoga habit. 

Like yoga, a writing practice consists of a purpose and intention, such as getting in touch with a deep emotional wound, creating better sensory descriptions, jotting notes for a non-fiction book, or experimenting with a different genre. Writing every day might make it a routine but to make it a regular practice, you need to add intention and purpose. It’s this mindfulness aspect – of being one with your creative self – that I believe is missing from most writer’s routines.

When comparing a writing habit to a writing practice, there are four characteristics that separate them.

1. Schedule – Think of all the habits you’ve developed over the years. You might go to bed at the same time every night or maybe brush your teeth every morning and every evening. A writing habit provides structure and routine. If you already have a writing habit, you probably have a set schedule for your writing, say writing for one hour starting at six a.m. every day. A writing practice is less structured, and you can choose to write whenever and wherever it is most convenient. If all you have is two hours on a Saturday morning to write, that is your writing practice.

2. Purpose – The goal of a writing habit is to encourage consistency, to make sure you write every day. When you set up a routine time and place to write, it makes it easier to stick to that schedule. In a writing practice, the goal is to create an immersive experience that challenges you in some way. For example, you might dedicate your writing practice to writing a collection of essays or learning to write a different genre.  The practice not only benefits your writing, but also your personal development.

3. Intention – Some writing habits can be mindless in nature. You simply write because it appears in your appointment calendar. Or you write with no set intention for improvement or progress toward a larger goal. Like a yoga session, you might set an intention at the start of your writing session. The intention is designed to help challenge yourself, whether it’s to finish that chapter you’ve been working on or perfect your dialogue or release some pent-up emotion. Without the intention, you have no opportunity to improve your craft.

4. Focus – Writing habits tend to be more externally focused. Perhaps you set office hours and ask your family not to disturb you. People on the outside will see that you are involved in a regular writing session. On the other hand, a writing practice is more internally focused because when you write, you experience growth and progress within yourself, perhaps through greater confidence or a more observant attitude. No one on the outside may notice the difference in your attitude, but you will.

I’ve summarized the comparison in the table below.

 HabitPractice
ScheduleSet schedule, usually same time every dayUnstructured schedule, not every day, but frequently
PurposeProvide consistency and structureImprove writing or create a more immersive experience
IntentionCan be mindless in natureMindful intention to achieve something with each session
FocusExternally focusedPersonal, internally focused

If you have a regular writing habit, that’s great news. It’s important to establish a consistent routine of writing, especially if you are a newbie writer. However, if you want to turn your writing habit into a writing practice, try adding a dose of mindful attention to your work. You’ll create a deeper, more meaningful personal connection to each writing session.