Not unlike running a business, in order to create good writing habits you’ll need to develop a strong discipline, a clear focus, persistence, and above all, the motivation to see you through your bad days.
Imagine you’ve made a set of contractual commitments with clients and you wake up one day with a cold that won’t go away. You still go to work to fulfill those commitments and then crash later. Right? That’s precisely what successful authors do.
Once you learn the habits these authors use to produce great book after great book, you’ll have no problem adding discipline, focus, persistence and motivation into your writing routine because that’s inherent in your “training” as an entrepreneur.
In this article, I will not only show you how to develop powerful writing habits, but I’ll also go into detail about the specific actions you need to take every single day in order to develop a strong writing muscle.
How Do You Develop Good Writing Habits?
In order to achieve this goal, you’ll need to master each one of the following four pillars: Discipline, Focus, Persistence and Motivation.
Creating a book requires commitment to write regularly. Writing success depends on your ability to be consistent in your commitment to your book, day in and day out.
Whenever you sit down to write, you have to develop the discipline to say no to distractions and temptations – distractions that can range anywhere from house chores to taking care of business emails outside of your business day.
In my article How to Write a Compelling Book in 12 Steps: A Must-Read Guide for Nonfiction Authors, I talk about compartmentalizing your time. You should never sit down to write your book during business hours and, by the same token, you should never conduct any business (or other non-business activities) when you sit down to write your book.
Now, since you’re already running a business, having the discipline to achieve a task or goal is second nature to you. All you have to do is to consider your book-writing project with the same serious business commitment you apply to any other contractual commitment you have with your clients. Once you make this decision, you’ll begin to set the foundation for developing great writing habits.
This is another area where you have the upper hand over most people, simply by being in business for yourself. Having laser-like focus and running a successful business go hand in hand.
The reason most “wannabe” entrepreneurs are unsuccessful is because they keep jumping from opportunity to opportunity, from shiny object to shiny object. Lack of focus is the top killer of new businesses. It’s not having a bad idea, being in the wrong niche or even a lack of talent.
There are plenty of people with great ideas, working in an under served niche and with lots of talent who are unable to get their businesses off the ground, simply because they’re unfocused.
This is also true when you sit down to write your book. There are thousands of websites, books and eBooks with advice, courses, webinars, tips, lists, etc. about book writing.
But, if you decide to choose one route when you begin writing your book only to switch gears when you get stuck to follow another approach (a different shiny object), this lack of sustained focus will kill your book-writing project.
Do spend the time on research. But once you commit to one path, stick with it all the way to the end.
Persistence is the hallmark of entrepreneurs. If you were to give up when the going gets tough you wouldn’t be in business right now. So, this is another area where you have the upper hand over most people.
Being new at book writing (assuming this is your first book) you’ll have to deal with the uncertainly inherent in doing something rather complex for the first time.
Even with the best advice, you’ll get to a certain point in the writing process where you’ll be tempted to slow down (e.g. the dreaded “middle” section of your book) or to put the project on the back burner when things perhaps become much harder than you thought – after all, your main business is hard enough, and now you’ll have to handle two hard things at the same time.
It’s critical at times like these to let your persistence muscle kick in to help you grind through those obstacles so that you can stick to your writing schedule.
Make sure that you never join the ranks of people who started writing their book full of excitement and possibilities only to never finish it, simply because they lacked persistence in the face of adversity.
The final pillar of writing success is motivation. Since the financial outcome of your book project lies way in the future, it’s sometimes difficult to be consistent in your level of motivation, especially when you have a bad day in your main business, or say you are coming down with a cold and your energy level is down, or countless other reasons…
So how do you keep your level of motivation up when the going gets tough in your main business? Simple. You have a number of binding contractual obligations to perform your services in order to get paid, and that alone (coupled with your professionalism) will ensure that you get the job done.
And it’s really not that different with your book project. In order to achieve the same level of motivation you afford your main business, you need to also enter into a binding agreement with a third party in order to ensure your book’s completion.
What you have to do is to set a hard publication deadline for your writing project. For example, you have to commit to a paid speaking engagement, say, a year from now, when you’ll be introducing your book to the public.
I provide more examples of hard deadlines in my 12 Steps article mentioned above, but in a nutshell, you need to get yourself into a public commitment where your professionalism and reputation alone will ensure that you stay on track.
How Do You Develop A Writing Routine?
Routine is about creating a set of behaviors that can be automatically repeated without having to think much about it.
When it comes to writing a book, as in any creative project, your routine has to be appealing to you so that you not only stick to it, but you look forward to it with anticipation.
Here are three guidelines to help you establish a routine that is both enjoyable and sustainable:
Choose a writing space that you find appealing and that you look forward to going to every day.
What this space or place is depends on your personal style. Some people have a favorite spot in their house, perhaps a writing room, a home office, a small desk or table near a bay window with a nice view. These are great choices if you require a quiet environment in order to think creatively.
Some people, on the other hand, need to be out of the house surrounded by other people in order to get the creative juices flowing. So, they’d prefer to go to a coffee shop, a library, or other public place. Whatever works for you is perfectly fine.
What you need to keep in mind, however, is that whichever space you do choose, make sure that you can work for an extended period of time (up to two hours) without any interruptions.
Carve out a set block of time each day for writing, and never change it.
This could be early in the morning before anyone else in the house wakes up, or it could be in the evening after you come home from work.
The key is to make sure that you never miss your writing block (outside of force majeure, of course). It’s like your morning coffee – you always have it at the same time and, just like coffee, your body craves it and expects it at that time every day.
Make your writing block fixed – say, two hours every day.
What you don’t want to do is to have a flexible writing block that could be one hour one day and five hours the next (even if you feel that you are “in the flow”).
If your writing routine is fluid then it’s not a writing routine. The risk here is that you’ll begin to be tempted by the death knell of good writing habits: Inconsistency (“I’ve written for four hours straight today so I think I’ll skip tomorrow”).
Be firm with your routine and make sure you stop at the end of your writing block. If you still have ideas flowing at that point, then write them down in a notebook for tomorrow. Don’t write until you are creatively spent every time, because you’ll then begin to resent writing.
How Long Should You Write Every Day?
You want to write for a set amount of time every day – and by the way, it’s perfectly okay to take one day off per week but not more than that. In my experience, especially for writers that don’t derive their income from writing, a 2-hour daily block is ideal.
One hour is not enough to get up to cruising speed and three or more hours will start to burn you out creatively. Two hours is the happy medium (or, at most, between 2-3 hours depending on your nature) which takes into account the fact that you also have a day job to take care of.
You’ll find that following this approach you’ll be able to comfortably write between 400 and 500 words per hour. So at this rate, you should be able to produce a 200-page nonfiction book, fully written, edited and published in about 10 months (for more details and a full breakdown of this timeline, read my article How Long Does it Take to Write a Book to Help Grow Your Business).
What Are Good Writing Habits?
Let’s get now into the specifics. Below you’ll find a list of 10 powerful habits that are key to developing a strong writing muscle:
- Establish a Clear and Immovable Writing Schedule – We talked about this already but it’s worth stressing again: keep your schedule consistent – don’t shuffle it around from day to day.
- Practice Always Makes Better – It’s critical to be consistent and write every day in order to develop your writing muscle. If you are going to take a break from writing, make it only one day per week at the most.
- Write As If You Were Being Paid – Don’t write as if it was a hobby of yours. Write as if you were a professional author (which you’ll be anyway the minute you close a new prospect as a direct result of publishing your book!).
- Set Clear Boundaries With Those Around You – This is of particular importance when it comes to your family, should you choose your writing space to be at home. It’s very important that they understand that you’re not to be disturbed for any reason (short of an emergency) when you’re sitting down to write. This also applies to your friends. Ask them not to call, text or message you during your writing blocks. Make sure they understand that you’ll be setting the do-not-disturb feature on your phone so you won’t be able get back to them during this time.
- Always Write For an Audience of One – Every sentence you write in your book has to be addressed directly to your reader. Successful nonfiction books written by entrepreneurial authors or professionals with a practice always establish a personal relationship with each one of their readers and you want to create this bond from your first paragraph to your last.
- Read the Top Books in Your Niche – It’s imperative that you learn why the books from the pros in your business niche work so well. Read those books wearing your writer’s hat to find out how they manage to connect so well with their audience.
- Edit Your Writing Regularly – Don’t self-edit as you write, as that can be counterproductive. Instead, at the end of each writing week make sure to set aside some time to self-edit the week’s work. This might take up a quarter to half of one of your weekly writing blocks, but it will dramatically improve the overall quality of your writing.
- Focus Only on the Writing Task Right Ahead of You, Not on the Hundred Tasks that Follow It – Look at your book outline or table of contents to choose what you’re going to be writing about next, but once you’ve made that choice forget your table of contents and focus strictly on the one section you’re currently writing. Don’t think about what remains to be done – critical thinking will stall your creative juices.
- Find Your Voice and Stick to It – Authenticity is key for nonfiction books. You are, after all, writing about your own life experience in your profession. Always write in a way that reflects who you are. Don’t try to be someone you’re not – readers will see through it.
- Create a Reading Group Made out of People from Your Audience – This is particularly important for entrepreneurial writers. Enlist early on a small group of advance readers by drawing from people you trust and who happen to be part of your target audience. You’ll need their feedback as you finish different parts of your book, in order to make sure you are addressing their problems and challenges effectively. You don’t want to finish your manuscript, only to find out that as great as your solutions may be from your point of view, they missed the mark from the point of view of your audience.
Follow the above guidelines and you’ll be able to truly fast track the creation of your nonfiction book.
All the best in your writing project!
If you enjoyed this article and are in the process of writing a nonfiction book, be sure to check out my free nonfiction success guide, drawn from years of experience editing books for bestselling authors (including a New York Times bestseller) and ghostwriting for CEOs and politicians. Simply click here to get instant access.
Leave me a comment below if you have any questions or a specific need that I can help you address – I operate an author services firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurs, professionals and business owners who want to publish books as a calling card for prospects, to establish their status as an expert or to generate additional leads for their businesses.
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Bennett R. Coles is an award-winning author of six books published through Harper Collins (New York) and Titan Publishing Group (London). He is also the publisher at Promontory Press, editor for multiple bestselling authors (including a NY Times bestseller), ghostwriter for CEOs and politicians and the founder of Cascadia Author Services, a boutique full-service firm that specializes in premium author services specifically designed for busy professionals. Our end-to-end services include writer coaching, ghostwriting, editing, proofing, cover design, book layout, eBook production, marketing, printing and distribution.