Building a Writing Habit


I’ve been whining enough lately about writing and motivation that everyone should know I am doing everything I can to create a proper writing habit. It’s much harder than I anticipated, mostly because I had no clue where to begin. This post piqued my curiosity and turned into an excellent source. Nerd that I am, I turned to additional research and checked out the writing routines of some of the biggest names out there. Here are the pick of the crop:

Anita Desai: Reads poetry by Rainer Maria Rilke, C.P. Cavafy, Osip Mandelstam, and Joseph Brodsky each morning before she starts writing. (Thanks, Goodreads.)

John Grisham: wakes up at 5 a.m. every day and writes one page. “Write your one page each day at the same place and time. Early morning, lunch break, on the train, late at night – it doesn’t matter. Find the extra hour, go to the same place, shut the door. No exceptions, no excuses.” (Source.)

Virginia Woolf: “In her twenties, she spent two and a half hours every morning writing, on a three-and-half-foot tall [standing] desk with an angled top that allowed her to look at her work both up-close and from afar.” (Source.)

Jack London, William Golding, Norman Mailer, Arthur Conan Doyle, Raymond Chandler, Anthony Trollope, Stephen King and Thomas Wolfe: maintain(ed) daily writing quotas of between 1000 and 5000 words. They went to great lengths to always hit those quotas. (Source.)

Victor Hugo: While writing the Hunchback of Notre Dame, he placed himself under house arrest, “[locking] away his clothes to avoid any temptation of going outside and was left with nothing to wear except a large gray shawl. He had purchased the knitted outfit, which reached right down to his toes, just for the occasion. It served as his uniform for many months.” (Source.)

Ernest Hemmingway: “When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there. You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again.” (Source.)

Haruki Murakami: “When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at 4:00 am and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for 10km or swim for 1500m (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at 9:00 pm. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.” (Source.)

Here are the commonalities that stand out:

  • Rise early and write before anyone/thing can interrupt
  • Exercise, or do something, after writing to shake it off
  • Write at the same time, and for the same duration, every day

Personally, I am not an early riser. I see the merit in it, but getting up super early usually leaves me feeling gross and listless for the remainder of the day. Usually I exercise to at the start of my day otherwise I don’t leave myself enough time to do it. I tried to switch that up and was successful once. I should try harder. I love the same time, same place, roughly same output idea. Shaking off the act of writing seems very important. I hadn’t realized how necessary it is to have an activity to help you re-enter the real world.

I have to underscore here that each person noted above, and all the others I read about but didn’t include, are full-time, professional writers. I am not. At least not yet. Right now, I have to figure out my writing routine around my day job, which can be taxing on top of life’s other things. That’s where the John Grisham routine comes in. I refuse to get up at 5 in the morning, but consistency has always helped me be productive, I’ve just let it slip. I will take a look at my day to day activities and will locate some good chunks of time in which I will write.

From a creative standpoint, I love Anita Desai’s routine. I have a book of poetry I’ve been itching to crack and starting my writing with it sounds like an inspired idea. Also, I’ve worked with parts of Hemingway’s routine, specifically ending your writing session when you know exactly what’s going to happen next. This ensures you’ll come out of the gate with words the next time you sit down.

It’s funny, nothing of what I read is new to me. But to see consistency as such an integral factor was almost necessary. I’ve said it before that I am not a writer who can write every single day—even if I have every day to write—but I am a person who can set myself tasks and get them done. That’s almost what I need to do now to get myself into the right kind of habit.

I’m going to check back in on this in a few months to see how I’ve managed. How do you feel about taking on the challenge of creating a writing routine for yourself?


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  1. Grisham’s habit was actually from when he had a full time job. So that one was actually balanced with working life.

    My wife had an appointment with a nutritionist and at the end of the call I asked her how it went. What she said reminds me of this, “The problem with being a smart person is that you know what you should do and yet you just don’t.”

    1. Yes, I thought I had put that in this post but I see I didn’t. I’ll add that in. Writing before work seems like the ideal solution, but it’s not for me at this time.
      That is my issue in a nutshell. I know exactly what I should be doing to succeed and yet here I am not doing it.

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