Nano Tip #17: Make Writing a Habit

One of your brain’s jobs is to turn frequent actions into habits. If you force yourself to turn the lights off every time you leave a room, it eventually becomes automatic. If you open the fridge door every time you’re in the kitchen, that too will become hardwired. You don’t have to think when you tie your shoes or say thankyou; those actions are ingrained.

But what about more complex activities? Can writing be a reflex?

I am here to tell you yes.


Make writing a habit.

But writing requires higher brain functions! you protest. It demands one’s full attention! The writer must focus on every detail, not wallow in habits of phrase!

Well, yes and no. I’m not saying you should write reflexively, typing cliche after cliche. I’m saying that the overall writing experience should become habitual—your brain and body should know when it’s writing time, and must be taught that writing time is sacred.

To understand what I mean, try this for a month:

1) Write at the same time every day.

2) Keep your physical cycles around that time consistent: sleep, meals, coffee, etc.

3) Write in the same chair.

4) Utilize the same protocols for every session (E.g., check email for 15 minutes, then WRITE! Or do twenty push-ups, then WRITE!)

Now maybe school and/or work make these suggestions impossible. But anything you can do to habituate yourself helps. Even silly stuff, like saying a prayer for a good writing day to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or wearing a special writing hat or magic writing ring. These tiny maneuvers, repeated over time, wire your brain so that it knows when WRITING TIME IS HERE.

It’s sort of like when batters step up to the plate and make all those little ingrained motions: scrape the feet, adjust the uniform, spit to the left. Those habits trigger memories of all the other at-bats that batter has experienced, saying to the muscles, eyes, and brain: It’s showtime!

My version: I always start writing the moment I’m done with the morning coffee, right after breakfast. I sit in the same chair, and start by looking over the last few days’ work. I have water standing by, and I don’t answer my phone or email for the first hour. I wear the same basic clothes, almost a uniform.

But it doesn’t matter what I do. You should create your own habits. Or perhaps a better word is rituals. But whatever you call it, repetition has power. Whatever feels natural to you, make it your habit, your tradition, your religion.

Writer’s block is no threat to the well wired brain.

Good luck for the second half of NaNoWriMo! And don’t forget to check out Justine’s post from yesterday, and her new one tomorrow. See you in two days!

By the way, there is exactly one more appearance in the Leviathan tour. It’s this Sunday in Philly, and it’s a benefit for the Philadelphia Free Library
summer reading program. Please come and support your local library!

Sunday, November 22 1:00-3:00PM
Laurie Halse Anderson, Jay Asher,
T.A. Barron, Sarah Dessen,
Steven Kluger, Justine Larbalestier,
David Levithan, Lauren Myracle,
Jacqueline Woodson and me!
ChildrenÒ€ℒs Book World
17 Haverford Station Rd.
Haverford, PA

One other reminder: you can buy interior art from Leviathan here, and color art from the series here, here, and here.

24 thoughts on “Nano Tip #17: Make Writing a Habit

  1. It’s Writing Time for me so I’ll keep this short but I am looking forward to meeting you and Justine (among many others!) on Sunday at Children’s Book World.

    Your tips have been wonderful and my son is waiting none to patiently to get LEVIATHAN for Christmas πŸ™‚

    – Laura

  2. Great ideas, Scott — this is a fantastic series! Question for you — did you try out a few routines to figure out what worked best? Or did you just institute one until it worked? I love the idea of creating a writing habit and think I’ll try it!

  3. Yay for a benefit for Philly’s libraries. I nearly had a conniption when I saw that they were going to close the whole system!! Of course, they were saved, thank goodness, but I’m sure they could still use more support.

    Hope it goes well!

    Also, good tip for today. Obviously this is not just a NaNo tip, either.

  4. I’m not sure I can commit to a writing habit… My brain is always distracted by every-OOH! SHINY! See what I mean? By the way, I’m waaay behind in my NaNo novel. Only at 6335 words out of 50000. 12.67%. I need a routine. Now. Before my head caves in from all this writing.

  5. This tip is actually very helpful. I can’t say I write at the same time every day, but I do try to. Generally during my spare or when I get home from school are best.
    I think I should get myself a writing hat! Or a writing cape! Then I would be really special =D
    I hope you’re doing well, Scott.

  6. Good advice. It works for writing novels (although I have yet to try), but I know it works for homework. That tip got me through my piles and piles of homework in college. (Being a Professional Writing major is quite diffcult. I once had a guy say this to me:

    “Biology majors have lab reports to write.
    Math majors have math problems to solve.
    Professional Writing majors have to write a flippen’ book in a day.”

    Welllll… not quite, but it sure felt like it.)

    I can’t believe this month is already half over. I think all the tips that you and Justine are fab!

    Look at the list of the people who will be in Philly this weekend! I’m so jealous. I already spent gas money on going half way to Philly last week. There’s no way I can splurge again like that. I’m bummed. Ever consider coming to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area in PA? Yeah, I doubt it. Oh well.

  7. Hi Scott,

    this is a very good suggestion. The questions I have are firstly, when you’re on a book tour do you have a routine for writing? Secondly, or do you just write only when your at home and you can follow your writing habit?


  8. I think I’ve managed to make writing a ‘ritual’ and I think that’s why I couldn’t take your last tip of taking a break πŸ™‚

  9. My life is a bit too odd for me to have much a of a ritual (well, I do sit in the same chair every time but that’s because the only other chair in the room is my roomies and it would make no sense to steal an exact copy of my chair). But I guess I’ll go off and write now, getting that feeling that tonight won’t be an easy on.

  10. It makes so much sense because if you have a specific time to write your body becomes used to it. So in a way when this time comes around the creativity juices in your head are already flowing and this way writing comes naturally and it becomes second nature. This seems like great advice and I feel like whoa why didn’t I think about this earlier? (of course I feel like that for most of the advice ever given to me) πŸ˜€

  11. great advice ^_^ it really helps me. ive been trying to write a short story every day after ive finished with the ‘book’ ive been trying to write. i write every dy after school and homework in the ame chair XD.

  12. Thanxs Scott-la this is again excellent advice. Advice i should try and follow. Right now i have absolutely no routine. it’s like whenever i feel like it (sometimes never) so this is great advice. . as long as i can keep myself off of your blog and off facebook that gets me more then anything. . i’m so easily distracted. ANYWAYS. GOODLUCK ALL YOU NANOWRIMO”S OUT THERE!! I’M ONE OF YOU SO I KNOW MOST OF US PROBABLY NEED THE LUCK πŸ™‚ !!!!!

  13. Hi, regarding this:

    >Utilize the same protocols for every session… These tiny maneuvers, repeated over time, wire your brain so that it knows when WRITING TIME IS HERE.

    This is an excellent tip, but I would add to be careful not to use any destructive habits into your protocols. I think Jim MacDonald notes somewhere in his posts on writing in the Absolute Write forum that you don’t, for example, want to make sparking up a cigarette a writing habit. Partly because it’s not good for you, and partly because when you quit, it could have a knock-on effect with your writing.

  14. Great advice!! I wish I could make it regular, I’ve been trying really hard…I really should finish my book…but this week has been impossible…

  15. Question:

    Do you think that if we do have say a given time to write but that time is different on certain days due to schedule conflicts (but this time does not change between weeks) the same result will occur in that there will be a lower level of writers block? Or does it have to be the same time every day?

    Thank You

  16. This advice rocks! I’m really struggling at the moment and this has helped a lot.

    (Just bought Leviathan the other day, by the way. You have the honour of having written the first book I’ve ever bought as a brand spanking new hardcover.)

  17. heey scott duudee πŸ˜› writer of one of the awesomest series ever. i didn’t know where else to write this. i honestly think tally should come up somewhere in extras because the series about her and if shes not in one of the books it doesn’t make sence. but theyre awesome anyways. [p.s. sorry if tally is in the book] i havent’ exactly read it yet. but i read about it and the beggining so yeah..

  18. i totally DO make writing a habit!! i tried writing a futuristic short story like yours where the iPod company has taken over the government and everything is called i-Something………i even made up an iJail, where you get your iWorlder (sort of like a super iPhone that controls every iThing) taken away for a week, and it’s supposed to be turture. it never panned out, though……… you have any suggestions? i still have it saved somewhere, i think……………

  19. is it bad that i was really distracted by the flying spaghetti monster comment? did anyone know it’s a real church?!

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