Three Steps to Start a Daily Writing Habit

It’s one thing to call yourself a writer and quite another to actually write. So what separates the pros from the amateurs? Is it God-given talent? Natural skill? Or something else?

Three Steps to Start a Daily Writing Habit

Listen to the audio version of this essay here:

Is writing a discipline?

Something I often hear writers say is they’d like to write more frequently but lack the discipline. But is this true? It raises an important question: Is writing a discipline or a habit?

The definition of a discipline is:

The practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience.

Wow. Does that sound fun or what? This, however, epitomizes the way many writers treat their craft. They subject themselves to a set of rules, and when they break those rules (i.e. not writing every day), they punish themselves. Can you relate? I sure can.

Contrast that definition with that of a habit:

A settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.

Now, imagine that. Imagine that your writing was so ingrained into your daily set of practices that it was hard to give up. Not something you had to force yourself to do for fear of punishment, but rather something that you enjoyed so much it was difficult to avoid. I submit to you that this is a choice. You can choose to treat your writing like a discipline, another daily chore to be endured, or as a privilege that it is. You can write for the love of it, not the dread of it. You can write a little bit today, just because you enjoy it. Then, do the same tomorrow.

This is what real writers do: they write every single day.  Don’t worry about that now, though. Just concentrate on what you will write today. Before you know it, you will have created a habit. A writing habit. One that is hard to give up.

But you still have to work

With that said, don’t get any funny ideas in your head about writing being some kind of mystical process that doesn’t require effort on your part. Forming a daily writing habit isn’t easy. It forces you to give up your misconceptions about writing and embrace the truth. This takes work.

Of course, we all have skills we’ve inherited and opportunities we didn’t deserve. But what we do with these gifts and opportunities is what separates the outliers from the rest of the pack. The difference between a professional and an amateur is simple — it’s practice. The amateur quits; the pro never gives up.

That sounds a lot easier than it is. So how do you get up every day and write? This is the question that plagues those of us who struggle to stay motivated in our creative lives. We know we have something to say. We’re just not sure how to say it. Fear is often what holds us back. The solution, though, is not beat the fear but to trick it. To outsmart fear.

You do this by forming a habit of writing every day. Do it so frequently that you don’t even have to think about it, so much that your brain doesn’t have time to feel fear. That’s what the pros do. They don’t beat the fear or fight through it; they do the thing afraid. And it’s what you and I must do, too, if we’re going to get serious about our craft.

3 steps to starting a daily writing habit

So here’s how it works. There are three steps, I’ve found, to starting a daily writing habit.

  1. Pick a space. You need an environment that is conducive to your writing. It can be your dining room table or a desk, even the couch. But the idea is that this is special, sacred even. It’s where inspiration happens. Try to set it apart.
  2. Set a time. It can be 5am or 11:30pm. Whatever it is, just try to make it consistent. You need to show up every day at this time and put your butt in the chair. It doesn’t matter if you have any idea what you’re going to write; until you commit to a time, you will never get into a daily rhythm of writing.
  3. Choose a goal. This can be a hundred words or ten thousand. Whatever it is, give yourself grace. Hemingway was renowned for writing 1500 words one day and 300 the next. In my experience, anything from 300-1000 is sufficient to forming a writing habit. I try to shoot for 500.

Do this over and over and over again, as often as you can. If it helps, join the My 500 Words 30-day writing challenge. Within months, you’ll be surprised how much easier writing comes to you.

Sounds good, right? But, you might be thinking, “What if I don’t know what to write?” Great question. Here’s the answer: It doesn’t matter. Write anyway. If you haven’t formed a habit yet, your writing probably isn’t that good. That’s fine. Expected, even. All you’re trying to do is show up, to be consistent enough to start practicing and get good. Still, if you need a prompt or two, here are some ideas:

  • Write about your surroundings.
  • Write about what you did today.
  • Write a section of a chapter to that book you’ve been working on.
  • Write a letter to your kids… or one to yourself.
  • Write anything!

I’m not kidding when I say what you write about doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t. At the end of the day, there is one box you need to check, and it reads:

“Have I written?”

(Check YES/NO)

If you missed your word count, blew your scheduled time, and wrote a bunch of malarkey — but you still get to check “yes” — then consider the day a success. Get up tomorrow and do it again. The goal is to just get going and to get better and more consistent as we go. You can do this. Good luck. Remember: It’s one thing to call yourself a writer; it’s quite another to actually write. Do the latter.

Other writing resources

Sign up for the My 500 Words Writing Challenge and get a prompt every day for a month to help you stay on track. Click here to get started.

Do you write every day? Why or why not? Share in the comments.

108 thoughts on “Three Steps to Start a Daily Writing Habit

  1. Awesome Jeff! Your post is really inspiring.

    I always fear to write. The only thing which holds me back. The other is what I’m gonna write. And other, who’ll read my post. And it is countless.

    But I try my best to keep my butt on chair & start writing. Sometimes, circumstances come where I don’t get time to sit & write & other times I feel myself very lazy.

    One of the things is words, I don’t get words in my brain to extend further my writing. Sometimes, I get blocked & couldn’t write a single word. Only because words are not coming to my mind. How do you tackle this?

  2. This came just at the right time, Jeff. I vowed to myself over the weekend to start a daily writing schedule. Your tips are super targeted to my new goal.


    1. You should join “My 500 Words” 🙂 it’s an awesome community and they’ve helped me stay on track. Also it’s cool to check in with others who are having same/similar struggles. I LOVE the group!!

  3. A message that I keep seeing is that: “being a pro is simple… Not easy, but simple.” Because whether it’s writing, or photography, or anything else one chooses to go after, the rule of thumb is “GET GOING.” Write a million shitty words, take a thousand horrible photos, create a ton of crappy copy… Just get going and in the doing you learn the refinement.

    I HAVE been writing everyday, and because of it, I’ve gained more clarity. The more I write, the more I’m grounded and know what to write. Of course there are better days than others, but you keep putting lead to paper (for fingers to keyboard in this case;)) and eventually you have something shippable.

    Thanks for this Jeff, it was a post that came at a perfect time as it’s the start of a new week and I can center and prioritize my craft.

  4. I wrote 1,000 words a day for a month last year ( and managed it on 28/30 days — so I’m now a convert of the “you won’t know what you write about until you write” school of thought.

    That was almost a year ago now, and somehow I’ve slipped out of the habit again, so thanks for the encouragement Jeff.

    I think my dream is to have a writing shed in my back garden like Roald Dahl used to…

  5. I do write everyday! Well… for the last 30 days or so, I have been. I wake up early in the morning, sit down, and start typing. One of the things that helped me was your imagery of you waking up and groggily sitting down at your computer to write. Writing isn’t glamorous – there’s no music in the background, and my hands are not flying all over the keyboard as inspiration suddenly hits (although that did seem to happen once – when I wrote this blog post: ).

    When I write every day, I feel better – it’s therapeutic. If I miss a day, I now feel off. I don’t always know what I’m going to stay when I start typing, sometimes it’s not until I’m halfway through a blog post (or at the conclusion) that I figure out what my message really is. But then I find it, tweak the post accordingly, and hit publish.

    Writing has brought clarity to my life experiences, and it’s helping me shape a philosophy. I love it.

  6. Thanks for your encouragement Jeff. I’ve been getting your emails for quite some time, but have only recently realized what a wonderful community you’ve created here. A daily writing habit helps a great deal. It also makes me feel more prepared and centered for the day.

  7. For me the hardest part is finding a time and sticking to that time! I tend to write whenever I can find the time and sometimes that’s early morning, sometimes midday and rarely late at night. It seems like early morning is best since you’re less likely to have a distraction!

  8. and love your quote: “It’s one thing to call yourself a writer and quite another to actually write”

  9. This is great info! I used to write almost every day. Then got out of the habit due to fear, life, etc. Just now getting back in the habit. My goal is to write at least 100 words every single day. Whether it’s journaling, working on WIP, or a blog post. Doesn’t matter.

  10. I write my current project every weekday from 2-3 and from 7-8. On weekends if I do anything it’s jot down ideas or stuff to improve my project I work on during the week.

  11. Great advice Jeff! I have to give credit to a mutual friend, Andy Traub, for his book “The Early to Rise Experience.” It literally changed my creative life. For more than a year and a half I have been getting up early (4am! oh my!) and using those precious hours to write and create. And I used to be a night owl! It is possible to find the time. No, really!

  12. I have filled thirty notebooks over five years. Without counting all the digital writing I’ve done, that’s a notebook filled every two months. Is the act of filling notebooks easier? Definitely. Am I publishing? No. I wish it were so simple to say you can write anything, just do it every day, and call yourself a writer. I’d be there. At some point, putting words down has to turn into organizing, editing, and sharing. That’s where I get stuck.

    1. Well it is that simple Cheryl. But as you’ve observed, just writing is not enough to get published. But it’s certainly a wonderful start. You can’t have the latter without the former.

      1. Thanks, Jeff. Do you have any advice about organizing one’s thoughts? My guess is that you’ll say the only way to get beyond emotional blocks is to “just sit down and do it,” and you’d be right.

  13. I write every day. I wake up and go. I am so hard on myself and pray a lot that I can get two pages done in a day, but I’m amazed at how much I’ve written and how good it is.

  14. I will occasionally take a day off but consistently write about 500 words a day. On weekends, it could range into a couple thousand. Writing is a skill and if I take too much time away from writing, it definitely shows in the quality of the content. I like how you reinforce the necessity of habit. Thanks again, Jeff.

  15. I don’t worry too much about set times. As long as I show up to write every day, that’s all that matters. After a while it becomes an ingrained habit. I feel like shit if I miss a day. Writing for me is like physical training, it’s a way to maintain equilibrium. Leave it too long and bad shit builds up. Creative energy has to be used or it turns sour inside of you.

  16. While I find most of your articles to be encouraging, this time I have to disagree with you. I don’t write EVERY day, but I am a writer. I am in the process of writing my third book. There have been days I couldn’t even sit at my computer. To tell someone they are not a writer, just because they don’t write each and every day is completely disheartening to beginning writers. Sometimes life gets in the way of writing. If I have a day of doctor appointments, my brain refuses to function for writing. But that doesn’t mean I’m not a writer. Your belief is too much a blanket statement and too discouraging. It’s a wonderful goal to work towards, but things aren’t that black-and-white in the real world.

    1. Hi Ava. I think what Jeff is saying is for all of us would-be writers who don’t have any habits regarding writing AT ALL and need to form one. And the single best way to do that is to do it every day. Even if it’s just writing one solitary word. Once that’s done, THEN we can figure out what works best for us.

      I know when I’ve been on a writing roll in the past, I’ve gone days without writing (but always had that story percolating in my head), then made my fingers ache on other days getting the words down.

      But I haven’t been on one of these rolls for a long time – and I know I need to do it with baby steps, by forming a daily habit to get there.

    2. Hi Ava. I never meant to say you aren’t a writer if you don’t or can’t write every day. Sorry. What I did mean to say is that if you want to be a writer discipline is essential. I believe that. And writing a little bit every day isn’t S hard as people make it. I only ever meant to encourage but I appreciate your comment. You’re right. You shouldn’t feel like a failure if you can’t do it every day. 🙂

  17. thank you for this article. i have been struggling with writing for quite a while now. the way you break it down in this article though makes it doable to me. so i am going to print this article out, tape it in front of my desk and follow these simple instructions so i can start calling myself a writer instead of just sitting around thinking about it.

  18. your timing is impeccable. I just decided this week to implement the habit of writing daily. I put it in on my calendar, etc. but this is just the kick in the rear I need to really make it happen. And this afternoon, because of your post, I’m going to sit down and put this commitment through my “habit building system” to make sure I really stay committed. Thank you!

  19. An awesome post, yet again! You keep on insisting people to develop this habit, don’t you, Jeff? Lately, I realized how much it helps and soon others will realize too. For people who don’t know what to write, you can follow any of those aforementioned ideas. But whenever I am stuck and I don’t know what to write, I use apps like story generator and writing prompt. Hope, it helps.

  20. Thank you Jeff for the great insights, agree 100% with setting goals, you can do only what you set as a task or goal.

    i started working on a new website lately, and did require lot of focus and most of all content, of course i have a backup which is video, as it makes it simpler.

    Anyways just to go back to writing, i used couple techniques to get rid of procrastination,

    01 – Software, distraction-free

    I use a software called ” OmmWriter ” which is a text processor ” that dramatically increased my focus.
    Evernote is another addition, as i get great ideas sometimes while i’m walking.

    02 – A techniques i learned from Eugene Schwartz

    When i’m out of ideas i take my favorite books and study them the Schwartz way.

    so i get my writing habit going, add to that writing about something interesting.

    I use this technique on great videos i watch on the web as well. “TED, etc…” and add info to a Evernote note so that i can refer to it when i need it.

    03 – Working in small burst ” 30 min ”

    From my experience, working in short shanks increases my writing, i don’t know how but it just works, learn this from Steve chandler.
    set the timer and just go do something fun for 10 minutes when the timer rings. “hint, dancing is an idea!”.

    There is more techniques but those are the main ones i use everyday.


  21. Excellent article Jeff; however, I have to disagree with your early statement: “Real writers do one simple thing: they write every single day.”

    Intellectually, I know that I need to write every day – and if you consider email and other missives writing, then perhaps I do. Nevertheless, the statement proposes that if someone does not write every day, then they cannot be a ‘real’ writer.

    Writers, like artists and musicians, come in all shapes and sizes. Our talents manifest themselves in different ways. Thank goodness!

    Keep up the good work; keep kicking us in the pants. Just remember that, even though I don’t write every day, I’m still a ‘real’ writer.

    Hey, look! I wrote today 🙂

    1. Good point Michael. You can be a writer and not write every day. All I meant by that statement was that an overwhelming number of professional writers I know have a very simple habit. They write every day. Their success is a byproduct of their discipline. Can you be a writer without writing every day? Sure. Should you? Now that’s another question.

  22. Thanks for this Jeff! After your challenging message at FinCon I committed to writing 500 words every day for the month of October. Plus I thought it would be fun to get some of my fellow bloggers involved. So far 16 have signed on for the challenge. So we are going to work on it together and see what happens. I’ve never written for 31 straight days before so it should be interesting…and hopefully rewarding.

  23. I journal, or I write my prayers everyday. Surely that counts. A book isn’t written overnight, like losing weight, its a practiced discipline. Still learning the “how to” in the practice, practice, practice. A runner isn’t a runner until practice is consistent…

  24. It’s ironic how we tend to glorify “talent” and neglect, or rather, belittle an importance of practice. I think we mostly do it to cover up our laziness, or low self-esteem, or fear. I try hard to follow all the rules you described here, Jeff. Since the members of my family have crazy schedules, waking up early and writing in the same place is impossible at times. So, I decided to trick myself into a “writing mode” by choosing an object (an old rock I had since i was a kid) and associating it with writing. So, it became my “writing rock”. It is at the table in front of me every time I sit down to write. Now, the location and time do not matter. It sounds silly, but it works. I realized that it all comes down to your DESIRE to write.

  25. Love how timing works. Had just decided to started putting pencil to paper this morning and started scratching out my thoughts on discipleship on paper. Then, as with perfect timing, I checked my email and there was this article on starting writing. Thanks Jeff, perfect timing. So I joined the Lift as suggested. Interesting website, might us this to challenge my student for discipleship training.
    Thanks again Jeff.
    God be with you.

  26. I’m only now realizing the importance of practice. It’s what I’ve always known as a fact, but never applied this knowledge to myself and my own writing. Maybe it’s insecurity, the fear to really start writing. But I do write every day, even if the next day I’m embarrassed of what I’ve written.

  27. Thanks so much for the wake up call! I love your transparency and “soft” confrontational approach. I’m Starting today. Really, I am. 🙂

  28. These are great steps to form a habit. However, I disagree that the content of the writing doesn’t matter, at least in the long-term. We don’t expect someone to form a reading habit without being excited about the book he’s reading, so how can we expect someone to form a writing habit without being excited about a project? The steps you outlined here will help someone start a habit, but long-term success will depend on passion, and that will depend on content.

  29. Since I’m a writer and a cartoonist, I have to discipline myself to do both. I keep a journal for writing and also blog. I’m close to launching my new cartoon site which will force me to stay current with the artwork and writing. As your Tribe Writer course points out, having a blog is a great way to build the habit of writing.

  30. Accountability helps me a lot. I’m cowriting a book and have a deadline for getting my draft to my coauthor. I’m a bit behind, but have managed to write 20,000 words in the past two weeks, along with five blog posts per week for myself and clients.

    Having other people who are depending on me to get the job done helps with the discipline. (That and needing to be paid for the work I do.)

    It also helps that my coauthor and I wrote a detailed outline for the book, and then I broke that down into little chunks and assigned deadlines for each chunk. Those chunks are on my task list, so every day I just have to look at the list and I know what I need to do for the day.

    Many days I don’t feel like writing, but I write at least one “chunk” of the book and at least one blog post, so even if I have a down day, I make at least some progress. Without breaking it down like that, it would be way too overwhelming.

      1. I usually write during the day, but last night after dinner I sat down to do a quick edit and when I looked up it was midnight!

  31. Hi, Jeff! Thanks for the great reminder! I started writing daily during my lunch break at work about a month ago, and if was definitely rough early on. I slacked off recently with some other things going on, but now I’m back on it again. I’ve even taken to writing some poetry lately, which helps nis things up a bit and challenges me to express ideas in a way I normally wouldn’t.

  32. Augh! i wish i write everyday. there’s work, bills and kids..and all. i have set aside a few times a week, but so often when i sit down i find myself rather jittery for a while, it takes time to settle and then to pick something from all that’s floating in my head or notebook or phone notes to write about! i managed to blog each week. it’s not enough is it? help!

  33. Yes, I write everyday and I’m fortunate to also be part of My 500 words. But when I started it at day one, well, I never quit. We are at Day 273 now. Writing everyday is a great habit to do. And some of my articles, posts, and even a children’s book is a result of steady, writing. Thanks for the group Jeff.

  34. Hey, Jeff.
    Yes, I will follow these steps Until I find myself as a writer and ya after that also.
    And thank you very much for you advice.

  35. What I found helpful is keeping a journal to hold yourself responsible: Just a little notebook; put “Writing” on the front cover and inside, use one line for every single day and put the date and how many minutes you have spent on writing that day. Only count the REAL writing time, if you sit at the desk staring into the distance, subtract that time.

    That way, you feel much more compelled to do something, because if you don’t – well, then you will have it black on white for all future time what a lazy ass you have been on that day. You can hold yourself responsible. It motivates. It works.

  36. Day 2. Check. I wrote at 6:00 this morning, and though it’s only day two, I already feel like I’m taking my dream and gifting (writing) more seriously. Though I’ve always loved writing, I was treating it as an occasional luxury rather than developing it as a daily discipline. Day 1 was a visionary statement of what I hope my words will accomplish… Thanks for the kick-start!!

    1. In a way it is, Tina. Once I started treating writing like a job instead of a hobby, my creativity and production took off. Best of luck to you!

  37. I don’t write every day. I have an MS done and am in edit mode. Do you keep your writing goal when editing?

  38. “It’s one thing to call yourself a writer; it’s quite another to actually write.” Amen! putting action to your words, or is it putting words to action

  39. I am bad with forming writing habits. I don’t make the time that I should. And it changes from day to day. And sometimes, I don’t know whether to free write or work on whatever project I’m working on at the time. I suppose I can do both.

  40. Jeff, I’ve got stacks and stacks and stacks of daily writings. I look at what I wrote 3 months ago and I can’t believe the change, six months ago and I cringe. I honestly don’t think there’s a life hack for it. Writing is a lifestyle, and this post is the cornerstone.

  41. Hi Jeff. I’m a big fan of your blog. I have finished a MS but not published..yet.. And for a very long time I have not done any writing…but now I feel ready again, so will try to write EVERY day to keep it going again as you say. A way that also works for me is to go to forums and talk to other writers and the site I’m using is called and it is a new one. But Forums helped me a while back and I think if I write every day (hope I can do that) and use the forum it will work out for me. Thanks for this lovely blog!

  42. Great piece, Jeff, and some insightful comments here as well. I agree 100%: “one thing to call yourself a writer – quite another to be one.” I also know from experience that “starting a book is easy; finishing one is not.” Best of luck to you all!

  43. I must admit that these newsletters have been of immense help to me, and MOST IMPORTANTLY my writing. Jeff, keep up the good work.

  44. Thanks for the reminder that it doesn’t matter what I write, just that I write. Everyday. Sometimes all I’ve got is “I have nothing to say.” But I sit there, until 20 minutes and 500+ words later, I can check the “yes” box.

  45. Thanks, Jeff. I always knew I wanted to write, and I always wrote – but not all the time, only sometimes. But thanks to you, I strated writing daily, and even started my own blog!
    Please check it out:

  46. Jeff, I’ve been writing every day for the past sixteen days. I’m using the site, and I love it enough to get a paid subscription when my free trial runs out. So far I’m just writing nonsense about my day, but it feels amazing to get into the habit again.

    I fell out of the habit in 2010 when a terrible shoulder injury made me unable to do much of anything, let alone write. Even when I was healed almost 2 years later, I still wouldn’t write because my skills were so rusty and because I had this association of writing with physical pain. But that has finally gone away, so I have no excuses.

  47. The tipping point for me is recognizing writing as a tool. It is a vehicle used to declare amazing truths I’d discovered or using words to empower and encourage others as opposed to the activity of writing defining me or erroneously believing it increased my worth.

  48. I had to read this article again: I think I read it (or a similar article) about a year ago on your website. I started out writing 500 words a day (which was very do-able), just to get myself into the habit. Ever since registering for #NaNoWriMo, though, I’ve been making myself write at least 1,667 words every day, just to practice writing that much, since I’ll have to write that much every day in November to reach my goal. I just write whatever’s on my mind, and it doesn’t take long before my word count passes that number. Thanks for this article! 🙂

  49. Excellent post. I try to develop this habit though I still have some periods when I lose self-discipline choosing something else to do. But still I try as much as I can.

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