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How to Create a Daily Writing Habit for Life

Author:

Technology Manager, Poet, History Maniac. Also, a prolific writer on varied topics

When Norwegian Johan Vaaler invented the paper clip back in 1899, I am sure he would have never thought that his humble paper clip would help someone (me) in creating a daily writing habit for life.

In his best-selling book, Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, James Clear calls it the ‘paper clip’ strategy which can be used to help people stick to habits. He calls the paper clip as a visual cue; a reminder of how we have progressed every single hour towards strengthening the good habit.

That said, everybody agrees that consistency is the secret of establishing a good habit and a visual cue like a paperclip helps us on a real-time basis measure our progress and eggs us on until we achieve our goal. Visual cues also have an additive effect on motivation. Therefore, as the visual evidence of your progress mounts, you become more motivated to continue the habit.

In his book, James Clear tells the story of a Canadian stock broker named Trent Dyrsmid who used visual cues to track progress on his sales calls. Dyrsmid would begin the day with two jars on his desk. One jar would be filled with paper clips and the other jar would be empty. Every time that he would complete a sales call, Dyrsmid would take a paper clip from the full jar and place it in the empty jar. He would start the day with 120 clips in one jar and proceed to make calls until they were all in the other jar.

As Clear tells us.

‘Within eighteen months, Dyrsmid was bringing in $5 million to the firm. By age twenty-four, he was making $75,000 per year—the equivalent of $125,000 today. Not long after, he landed a six-figure job with another company.’

By moving clips from one jar to another, Dyrsmid got clear visibility of his progress and had a well-defined goal to shoot at every day. The ritual helped reinforce the action he was taking.

And the simplicity of the method lies in its adaptability to be used for any type of activity be it reading, writing, or even exercising. The point is to tie your habit to something tangible, something visible so that you can watch it getting better and better over time.

And here is how I used the paper clip strategy to be a good writer.

Set the prerequisites

To track your success, you need to set the prerequisites first. Some prerequisites are one-time activity and some need to be updated for every writing session.

  • Buy a big bag of paper clips (colored ones work better) and two glass jars of the same size.
  • Create a tracking spreadsheet having the below columns. Plan for the next three writing sessions in advance. This has to be updated at the end of every session without fail.
    • Date
    • Start time
    • End time
    • Actionable writing session goal – This can be something like ‘Write 200 words about topic X’ or ‘Write the introduction paragraph for Topic Y’ and so on.
    • Completed – ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.
    • Close all social media notifications and your phone altogether.
    • Select a comfortable, distraction-free space to write without interruptions. Plan for 30-minute writing sessions to start with or 300 words whichever you are comfortable with.

Remember that you are establishing a habit that you would like to become routine and for that, you have to make sure all the prerequisites are in place to create a congenial environment for writing.

Start writing

Start your writing session as planned on your identified topic using either word count or time interval depending on your appetite.

Pick up a time in which your creative cells are at their extreme peak and when you are having your best focus. As you are just starting out, do not do any editing activity along with writing. Just write in the free flow mode for your predefined interval of time without any interruptions whatsoever.

Remember not to overdo things. Once you have crossed your 30 minutes, just stop. Resist the urge to do more, or the whole house of cards (remember, your habit is still in the nascent stage) might come crashing down. Once you complete the sessions do the following activities.

  • Update the tracker marking the writing session as completed.
  • Once you do that, place a paper clip in the empty jar for the successfully completed writing session.
  • Schedule and plan for your next writing session.

Do not fret if you fail to write due to some reason. That is ok. You just do not earn the clip on that day. Move on.


Lastly, track your routine

A famous productivity maxim states what gets measured is managed, and what is managed is done. It applies to cementing a new writing habit also.

Keep track of how many paper clips you earn per week. The more paper clips you move to the ‘Completed’ status, the more valuable establishing the daily writing habit becomes to you. You can use this information to decide when and how to extend your writing sessions. You can also use this information to find out which of your writing sessions are failing and why. For example,

Do I feel tired writing in the mornings?

Am I comfortable writing about Topic X?

Is my writing environment truly distraction-free?

Once you get the root cause of the problem, you can rework your writing strategy accordingly to what works best for you. Remember not to brute-force yourself into writing. It will not work. Find out your weak areas and circumvent them to find your sweet spot.

Once you accumulate 7 paper clips for two consecutive weeks (a perfect score, initially), you are ready to think in terms of extending your writing sessions in terms of time or word count. Again do not be too ambitious; follow an incremental approach of increasing by 15 minutes at a time and then again revaluate your productivity level.

Carry on until you reach your best possible performance. Remember these little increments reinforce your behavior and add a little bit of immediate satisfaction that finally results in massive results. Continuous improvisation is the key to success here.

As James clear aptly puts it.

‘If you make changes that are small and easy to do, and you layer them on top of each other, like units in a larger system, then you can end up with some really powerful or remarkable results.’

Comments

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on February 04, 2021:

Thanks Devika

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on February 04, 2021:

Your tips are useful and easy to understand. A writer needs time and patience to write daily and to follow a routine.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on February 03, 2021:

Thanks for your comments Chitrangada.As you have rightly mentioned consistency is the key

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on February 03, 2021:

Thanks Chitrangada

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on February 03, 2021:

Good suggestions for creating a daily writing habit. Can be applied for other activities too.

Consistency is the key, I agree, and you explained well with examples.

Thank you for sharing.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on February 03, 2021:

Thanks, Bill. I also value structure a lot and believe that a writer needs to follow a rigorous structured process to achieve the right results.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on February 03, 2021:

Thanks Ann

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on February 03, 2021:

I subscribe to this theory of structure. I write the same time every single day and have for over ten years now. It works for me and I suspect it would work for other writers as well.

Ann Carr from SW England on February 03, 2021:

Good idea for those who need a structure or a boost.

Fortunately, I don't need it but I understand the procedure can help many. I have too many ideas so just work through my list! Might take months!

Ann