How to build a better writing habit

I have written and published one new article on this blog every single week day for the past four weeks. That’s 20 articles in a month. These are not diary-style posts where I talk about my daily life: they’re in-depth articles about productivity, creativity, and mental health.

It’s worth noting that, while I’m in the privileged position to have a pretty flexible schedule and to not have kids, I have kept with this cadence while running a business and studying part-time for my masters.

A few people have reached out in the past few days asking how I manage to write consistently without compromising on quality, so I figured this would be a good article to write to celebrate the one-month anniversary of this little experiment. Hopefully this may inspire more people to create more content they’ve been meaning to put into the world.

Work that matters

I want to start with a disclaimer: all the productivity techniques in the universe won’t matter if you don’t care about the work you do. This is completely subjective, but you need to find meaning in your work. In essence, the tasks you want to complete in a consistent way have to align with a bigger, meaningful goal.

In my case, I want to help people live happier, healthier lives, and I truly believe that this can be achieved by being our most productive and creative selves. Writing is a way to get these ideas out there and to build a sustainable business while doing so.

Every time I publish a new article, new people discover my work, sign up to the newsletter (it’s pretty good, you should subscribe!), and become a part of my community. These people may remain passive readers, but they may also become friends, customers, or business partners. While each article is just that⁠—an article⁠—every time I hit publish, this simple action is deeply aligned with my overarching goal.

So before you try to figure out how you can be more productive, ask yourself how your daily tasks align with your long-term goals. I talk a bit more about this idea in my article about mindframing and explore many areas where this concept can apply, but for the sake of simplicity, this article will focus on how to create content consistently.

Kill your inner critic

Many people struggle to create content on a consistent basis because they have an idealised view of what the output should look like. While it’s of course important to put good content out and into the world, you will only improve by creating.

I previously wrote about the importance of quantity over quality in the creative process. Basically, research shows that the more you create, the more creative you become. This means that instead of working for two weeks on one piece, you should first commit to publishing several pieces following a consistent schedule. Depending on how much time you have, this could be daily, bi-weekly, or weekly. Don’t go for perfect, go for good enough. The most important aspect is to stick to your schedule.

The best way I have found to achieve this level of consistency is to commit to it publicly. There is no better drive than the fear of disappointing other people. And while this is a fear that should be managed and even suppressed most of the time, it’s a very effective tool when it comes to forcing yourself to publish content on a regular basis.

In my case, having a weekly newsletter is what helps me. In this age of spam, transactional relationships, and false promises, it’s a big leap of faith to give a stranger your email address. I want to make sure that, each week, I have something interesting to send.

Small tasks, big goals

Now that you’re ready to pick a schedule and stick to it, let’s go back to your overarching goal. If you do really care about this goal, it will help you see each of the underlying tasks as important too.

How to build a better writing habit with the writing loop
The Writing Loop

Here is how I break down writing an article into smaller tasks:

  1. Generate ideas. Instead of waiting until you’re ready to write, make it a habit to jot down ideas when they pop up. I often have ideas when chatting with people. Sometimes, it’s just a couple of words they say, and sometimes it’s the whole conversation that inspires me. If you know me in real life, you know that I often interrupt people with “wait a second, that was super interesting, let me just make a note of it.” And no, people don’t find it rude, quite the contrary. It’s pretty flattering when someone thinks that what you just said is worth writing down.
  2. Sit down and set a timer. Because you have a fixed schedule for creating content, just sit down and open a new document. All of the mental energy you would have used to figure out when and where to work can be saved for the actual writing. Another thing that helps is to set a specific end time for writing. You may have heard about Parkinson’s law, the adage that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. Give yourself a time limit. You may not hit it, but it will make you more productive.
  3. Pick a topic. This needs to be something you care about and aligns with your bigger goal. Want to teach people to code? Get more people into tech? Advance your career by positioning yourself as a thought leader? Build a portfolio so you can get your dream job? Go through the list of ideas you wrote down, and make sure to pick a topic that both gets you excited and aligns with your mission.
  4. Create an outline. Start by writing a few bullet points based on your first initial thoughts about the topic. Nobody will see this, so, again, kill your inner critic and just let your imagination flow. Ideally, you want to have 3-5 bullet points touching on different aspects of the topic. These bullet points could be as simple as: what is it about? What’s good about it? What could be better? What are some good resources to explore the topic further?
  5. (optional) Google it. Depending on the topic, you may be able to just write about the topic without any further help, but often it’s pretty useful to look at what other people have written before you. The Internet gives you direct access to the brains of pretty smart folks, so I personally think it would be a shame not to use it. This is great for your readers, since you can link to further resources. But, importantly, it’s great for you: you’ll get to learn new things in the process of writing.
  6. Re-read it once. Yes, only once. I usually re-read my articles in preview mode on my website, because somehow seeing it with a different font and format makes it look brand new to my eyes. In any case, just give it one good, focused re-reading. Fix any typos and re-phrase anything that doesn’t sound right. But do not spend too much time trying to make it perfect.
  7. Hit publish. Don’t look back. Bring that baby into the world.
  8. Share it. Feedback is precious. Try to get as much as you can. Don’t be shy. Share your article on Twitter and through your mailing list. Explicitly ask for feedback and suggestions. Take notes, and make sure to implement what makes sense in your subsequent articles. This very article is a good example of this process—it wouldn’t exist if a few people hadn’t asked for it.

At first, it won’t be easy to commit to this new routine. But, after a while, it may become a ritual—a meaningful practice with a deep sense of purpose.

Here are some tools you can use to make the process easier:

  • 200 Words a Day: a community forming a writing habit and improving together. Created by an indie maker who currently has a 260-day streak.
  • 750 Words: the original website. More words, but not necessarily meant to be shared with the world. Great to get your ideas flowing without self-censorship.
  • My setup is just Google Calendar for scheduling + Google Docs for writing + Google Keep for jotting down notes on the go, so don’t let the need for a specific tool stop you from writing on a regular basis.

If you’re interested in the process of writing, my favourite book on the topic is aptly called On Writing, by Stephen King. It’s the top one on my list of books to increase your creativity.

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