Famous Writing Habits
‘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. You have started at six in the morning, say, and may go on until noon or be through before that.
'When you stop you are as empty, and at the same time never empty but filling, as when you have made love to someone you love. Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you do it again. It is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through.’
Though Hemingway is not setting an exact word count as a daily target, it is clear that the act of writing something, anything, daily is an important part of this routine.
‘I awake at 5:30, work until 8:00, eat breakfast at home, work until 10:00, walk a few blocks into town, do errands, go to the nearby municipal swimming pool, which I have all to myself, and swim for half an hour, return home at 11:45, read the mail, eat lunch at noon. In the afternoon I do schoolwork, either teach or prepare. When I get home from school at about 5:30, I numb my twanging intellect with several belts of Scotch and water ($5.00/fifth at the State Liquor store, the only liquor store in town. There are loads of bars, though.), cook supper, read and listen to jazz (lots of good music on the radio here), slip off to sleep at ten. I do pushups and sit ups all the time, and feel as though I am getting lean and sinewy, but maybe not.’
So it seems that setting a word count goal is less important than creating time to write.
‘When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at four a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at nine p.m.’
What the Science Says...
That’s not to say productive mornings belong solely to early birds. In fact, some of the world’s most successful individuals are late ― or lateish ― risers. Mark Zuckerberg, for instance, has said he typically starts his day after 8 a.m., while Buzzfeed CEO Jonah Peretti tends to snooze until 8:30.
There is some new research emerging from BJ Fogg, Ph.D., who founded Stanford University’s Behavior Design Lab. His studies show that the key to building a successful habit is to take small steps, ‘baby steps', he calls them.
- Break the goal down into smaller chunks. In other words, don’t say I am going to write a book; challenge yourself to something smaller, such as ‘5000 words a day’. Small is the key. However, as we see above, setting an exact word count is less important than creating windows of time to write.
- Build new routines around prompts. Fogg identified that the way to make a new habit stick is to build it on top of an existing habit. So, for example, if you make a coffee each morning, use that prompt to start writing as your drink your coffee.
- Create rewards. Research shows that when a person is rewarded for carrying out each step of the routine it is more likely to stick. This reward need only be small, perhaps ‘permission’ to listen to your favorite song. What matters is that you reward yourself.
Fogg has identified the twelve habits he uses, which you can apply to your life today, which are proven to make you more productive.
- After I sit down at my desk, I will put my phone on do not disturb mode.
- After I close my office door, I will organize one item that’s lying around.
- After I finish reading e-mail, I will close the e-mail browser tab.
- After I launch a new Word doc, I will hide all other programs running on my computer.
- After I find myself mindlessly browsing social media, I will log out.
- After I sit down at a meeting, I will write the title, the date, and the attendees at the top of my notes.
- After I notice a call going on for longer than expected, I’ll say this: “It’s been great to talk, but I need to wrap up. What haven’t we covered yet that’s important?”
- After I read an important e-mail, I will file it in a folder for the designated project.
- After I read an e-mail I can’t deal with immediately, I will mark it as unread.
- After I read an e-mail that’s time-sensitive, I will reply with this script: “Got it. I will review it in detail and get back in touch soon.”
- After I leave the office, I will think about one success from the day.
- After I walk in the door at home, I will hang my keys on the hook.
Creating Your Habit
- Set a bigger goal and then break this into smaller steps. For example, your goal might be to write an 80,000 word novel. However, the small step might be to write 500 words a day.
- Create cues. Work out your existing habits and determine which elements you can use to build your writing habit. What do you do each day that can be a trigger for your writing habit?
- Create rewards. Ensure that you develop rewards for each successful writing session. These should be simple, but something that is pleasing. You don’t need to go over the top, but you do need to ‘train’ your brain that good things come from completing your writing habit.
- Measure output. On a regular basis, assess how much you have been writing and if your habit is working. If necessary, look for accountability. This might be as simple as having a conversation with a partner, or friend, where you talk about how much you have written in a given week.
- Be consistent. Remember Fogg’s work, he showed that completing small goals was the key to success. This means that consistency is the key. Your writing habit might be to write just 500 words a day, but these words soon add up. If you wrote 500 words a day, in 160 days you’d have a novel.
If you are interested in how to get the most from your writing, this article provides eight scientifically proven ways to be more creative.