habit (noun): an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary.
Habits are often perceived as something negative (a drug habit or a gambling habit comes to mind) but it’s important to realize we would be nothing without our habits. Think about it. Most of the actions we perform each day aren’t decision, but habits. The morning coffee we drink. The route we take to work. The food we eat. Watching TV over going to the gym (or maybe vice versa). These are all habits. That’s why it’s so crucial to ensure that we are creating the most positive and productive ones, especially when it comes to our writing.
Because, let’s be honest, it’s really easy to choose our next Netflix binge over two hours of writing (especially if we’re not feeling inspired). Writing is hard work. Cranking out one screenplay, let alone a three or four, per year seems like a near impossible task at times. But the screenwriters who do are able to do so because they’ve developed effective writing habits.
When we implement a “good” habit like, for example, waking up a little earlier in the morning to write five pages instead of hitting the snooze button, and keep doing it consistently, then, over time, the habit develops into something that feels like second nature to us. Eventually we won’t feel like we are “forcing” ourselves to write those five pages in the morning, and instead, they’ll feel as ingrained in our routine as our beloved coffee.
So what types of habits should you try to adopt into your writing routine? Here are some ideas to help get you started:
Have a Goal
Prolific writer Stephen King has said that he tries to write six pages a day. Six pages might not seem like a lot (or maybe it does) when you’re aiming to write a 400-page novel or a 120-page screenplay. However, it’s enough to feel both manageable as well helps you feel like you’re making actual progress towards your project. Maybe it doesn’t have to be six pages. Maybe for you it’s five pages a week or ten pages a day. It doesn’t matter. Just set a goal that you can easily achieve (setting the bar low is okay!) and get it done. Setting a goal helps you stay focused and keeps you accountable.
Carve Out Your Writing Time
When is the best time for you to write? Meaning when is the peak period when you’re not likely to be distracted by roommates/partner/kids and when you’re feeling your most energetic self (because chances of you hitting your target page count if you’re feeling sleepy, cranky, or hungry are slim). Is it early in the morning? Lunch hour? Late at night? Once you realize your ideal time of day, decide how long you will write for. A few weeks will tell you how many pages you can crank out in a given time period. From there you can allot yourself a specific time period in which you will write. For example, maybe you learn that writing at 5 am for two hours allows you enough time to produce your daily page count. Once you decide on your writing time, set it as an appointment like it’s your job. Pre-dawn raids are considered to be the creative sweet spot when your writing mind is gushing with less censoring.
Set Your Boundaries
Author Susan Sontag once wrote that she “will tell people not to call in the morning, or not answer the phone” and “will answer letters once a week.” Enforcing boundaries keeps our habits safe and secure. It tells your friends and family, and yourself, that your writing time is important. It’s not just for fun; it’s essential alone time that you require in order to be productive. Maybe for you, that means telling your loved ones not to disturb you in the morning whether in person or via text. Maybe it means putting your phone in Airplane mode or refusing to check emails until after your pages are complete. Knowing and setting boundaries around your writing habits will keep them intact, and by honoring them, you’re honoring yourself and your craft.
Implement a Reward System
We’re human – we like to be rewarded for a job well done. Granting yourself a reward after you complete your daily writing goal gives you the incentive to complete it, as well as telling your brain that whenever you do this particular habit, you receive something that makes you happy. The brain likes to feel happy. Maybe for you, that means rewarding yourself with a trip to the gym. For example, you can’t work out until you work on your pages. Or maybe it means you get to walk to your favorite coffee shop to treat yourself to a latte. Or maybe it means you get to watch Netflix for an hour. Whatever it is, find the thing that will make the habit worth keeping.
Other than building a successful screenwriting career, of course. Before you know it, writing will automatically become part of your daily routine.