I'm a full-time librarian with a family and a writing career. The best way I've found to get words on the page is incredibly powerful. It's also a bit like trying to build a fire with your bare hands. Many writers try starting a writing streak after hearing about the benefits—and it works about as well as most New Year resolutions. I'm going to share the simple techniques that I use to start a streak and build it into a powerful force in your writing career.
Resistance kills habits as quickly as wet leaves might extinguish your attempts to build a fire. If you're going to start a writing streak, you need to identify what resistance you currently face. Why don't you have a writing streak going already?
A writing streak is nothing more than a daily habit of writing. We all have daily habits. Your habits might not look like my habits. We may share some habits, and not others. For the longest time, I didn't floss daily. When I decided to floss, I made it easy. My floss is out each day for me at my computer (not the bathroom), and I put a daily reminder on my to do list. I see it whenever I'm going to turn off the computer. Even though it wouldn't be hard to get up and walk the short distance to the bathroom, having it at hand means I floss every day now.
A writing streak follows the same rules. You have to uncover what resistance you face that prevents you from writing.
If you look at your productivity killers, you'll probably identify time that you could shift to writing. It won't happen, however, unless you make it simple and easy to overcome resistance.
Suppose you've got a habit of picking up your phone first thing in the morning. You flip through your feeds, check on news, email, etc. It isn't much time, right?
Except it adds up. All of those little moments of time accumulate. There's nothing wrong with it, and I'm not suggesting you have to cut everything else out of your life in order to write. You don't.
Just decide that writing is important.
The best time to write is now. Yes, literally right now. I'm happy you're reading this post, but you could use this time to write a bit on your current story. It doesn't matter when you write. The best time to write is the moment when you actually get words written. The barrier isn't the writing itself—it is getting over the resistance to get started.
If your writing is important, find ways to make it clear to yourself that it is important. Just as I did with the floss, make it easy to get started writing.
If your writing is important, put it first. Not before family or your non-writing career. Make it more important than the scraps of time that get away from you each day. The easiest way to do this is by making your writing literally the first thing you do each day. Get up, rub the sleep out of your eyes, take a drink of water, and start writing. If you set things up in advance and turned off distractions, you should have minimal resistance to starting.
You don't have to write for an hour. It could be five minutes. Get down some words. Then take a break and go about your regular morning routine. You might find that you're less inclined to do other things once you've already started. You'll shower and come back to your writing. Maybe eat breakfast while jotting down some notes or a few lines. If you're fortunate enough to have good public transit for your commute, you might find that you use that time to get more words written. At about 20 WPM, you can get a page/250 words written in fifteen minutes. Even if it's just five minutes here and there, surely you can get that done during the day.
How much weight does a streak carry after three days? A little, but it's still light-weight. How about after 30 days? That's got quite a bit more power behind it. If you've gone a month writing every day, it's much harder to miss a day. Imagine the power after 180 days! It keeps growing.
Your streak should be something concrete and easy to track. Word counts work well. You don't have to set an insanely high word count to have an effective streak. Start with something like 250 words. It's easy to check. Write it down. Make it visible. Keep track. It can be as simple as writing your daily word count on your calendar (print or electronic). It could be a spreadsheet. A tweet. Whatever works for you.
If you're not interested in word counts, pick something else that's consistent. Pages work well too. As do stories. Every day is easiest, but you could do a weekly count instead. If you're going to track a weekly streak, I'd recommend something like a story each week.
Set a goal that won't take you long to meet. You can always do more. If you're at the end of the day and haven't met your streak yet, you want to be able to take the few minutes it will take. I like to have some benchmark, like 250 words (a page), as a minimum count.
Share your writing streak in the comments below. I started a new writing streak yesterday, minimum 250 words/day of new fiction. Blog posts, emails, etc., don't count for my streak.
If you're interested in creating a word count tracking spreadsheet, check out the next post on setting up a simple spreadsheet.
Ryan M. Williams lives a double life as a full-time career librarian and a multi-genre writer with over twenty books. He writes across a range of genres including science fiction, fantasy, paranormal, mystery, horror, and romance. He earned a Master of Arts degree in writing popular fiction from Seton Hill University and a Master of Library and Information Science from San Jose University. His short fiction has appeared in anthologies from Pocket Books, WMG Publishing, and in On Spec Magazine.