How to Build a Better Writing Habit

In 2019 I made a pact to write a hundred articles in a hundred workdays. Since then, I have written and published one new article almost every week, and I have kept with this cadence while running a business and studying for my PhD. This is my longest running personal experiment.

Over the years, a few people have reached out asking how I manage to write consistently without compromising on quality, so I wanted to share some strategies to build a better writing habit. Hopefully this may inspire more people to create content they’ve been meaning to put into the world.

Writing that matters

All the productivity systems in the universe won’t matter if you don’t care about your writing practice. You can think of this as your writing ikigai.

In my case, I want to help people live more fulfilling lives, and I believe this can be achieved by exploring our ambitions without sacrificing our mental health. Writing, to me, 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, and become a part of my community. Most may remain passive readers, others may contribute their own ideas, and some may even become friends or collaborators.

While each article I write is just that⁠ — an article ⁠— every time I hit publish, this simple action compounds to build a life that makes me want to get up in the morning.

Taking your writing practice seriously doesn’t mean you need a long-term goal. Rather, it means your writing needs to be aligned with the life you want to live — it needs to feel alive to you.

So before you can build a better writing habit, you need to ask yourself how you want writing to contribute to your life. Do you want to write to clarify your thoughts, to connect with others, to support a business you care about?

Take a few minutes to think about this question, and write it down in your journal or your note-taking app. Next, I’ll share the second important mindset shift you need to make to build a better writing habit.

Killing your inner critic

Many people struggle to create content on a consistent basis because they have an idealized view of what the output should look like. While it is important to put good content out and into the world, you can only improve through the process of creating.

I previously wrote about the importance of quantity over quality in the creative process. 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’d ideally 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.

1. Commit to a schedule. Make a simple pact in this format:

I will write [number of articles] in [time scale].

The most important aspect is to stick to your pact as closely as possible so you can collect enough data to know what works and what doesn’t. So take your other commitments into account and go for a realistic schedule.

2. Tell someone about your pact. The best way I have found to achieve this level of consistency is to commit to it publicly. It doesn’t have to be very public! Just telling a friend or a colleague you’re making a pact to write regularly is a great start. You could even become accountability partners.

3. Make time to write. The last step is shielding time in your calendar for reading, research, and writing. It could be a couple of hours on Sunday evening, or shorter sessions throughout the week. This way, you won’t let your inner critic decide when you’re ready to write (the answer would be: never).

The writing habit loop

Now that you’ve made a pact, let’s break it down into smaller tasks. I call this the writing habit loop. Similar to any experiment, it consists in committing to an action, performing it, reflecting on the result, and implementing any changes during the next cycle.

The Writing Habit Loop

Here is how I use the writing habit loop to write a new article every week:

  1. Generate ideas. Jot down ideas whenever they pop up. I often have ideas when chatting with people and I often interrupt them 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 quite flattering when someone thinks that what you just said is worth writing down.
  2. Sit down and set a timer. Because you have shielded your writing time, you just need to sit down and open a new document. All of the mental energy you would have used to figure out when and where to write can be saved for the actual writing. You may also have heard about Parkinson’s law, the adage that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Giving yourself a time limit can help you stay focused.
  3. Choose an idea. Go through your list of ideas and pick a topic that feels alive and aligned with your current aspirations.
  4. Create an outline. Start by writing a few bullet points based on your 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 idea. These bullet points could be as simple as: What is it about? What’s good about it? What could be better?
  5. (optional) Conduct extra research. Depending on the topic, you may be able to just write about the topic without any further help, but often it’s useful to look it up. 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 seeing it with a different font and format makes it look brand new to my eyes. Just give it one good, focused re-reading, 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. Try to get as much feedback as you can. Don’t be shy. Share your article with friends, on social media, or through your mailing list. Take notes whenever you receive feedback, and make sure to implement what makes sense in your subsequent articles.

That’s it! You have now turned writing into a habit loop. Keep on showing up and improving through each cycle of experimentation. Keep on exploring ideas that feel alive and align with your aspirations.

When you look back in a few months or a few year, you’ll be amazed to see how much your thinking has evolved thanks to your writing habit. And maybe you’ll even make a few friends along the way.

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