5 Habits to Be a More Effective Writer

Posted on: Jul 02, 2024

Photo Credit: PeopleImages // Shutterstock

By Brendan Fitzgibbons

“To begin… To begin… How to start? I’m hungry. I should get coffee. Coffee would help me think. Maybe I should write something first, then reward myself with coffee. Coffee and a muffin. Okay, so I need to establish the themes. Maybe a banana-nut. That’s a good muffin.” —Charlie Kaufman in Adaptation

Let’s be honest: sometimes the hardest part of being a writer is, well, writing. Keeping a consistent writing practice can be extremely difficult, especially given the ways modern society tries to steal your attention at all times.

Just in the time I’ve spent writing this intro, I fought off the urge to check how my latest Instagram video is doing for the 17th time, send a song I’m really liking to my cousin, call my dad, do jumping jacks and get a second giant slice of pizza at the Charlotte International Airport.

The only way to fend off these erratic productivity killers is to establish a foundation of positive writing habits you can fall back on. Especially when you’re in the throes of modern monkey mind.

Usually, when people see a life-changing habit list, their first thought is that it will take a tremendous amount of hard work. The good news is that this list requires mostly minor tweaks that could change your life forever.

Prioritize Writing

The very first thing you do when you wake up will most likely set the tone for the rest of your day. If you’re like most of us, the first thing you do when you wake up is check your phone.

As author Tim Ferriss pointed out, starting your day by tackling the biggest task that most aligns with your dreams and goals (in this case, writing) can drastically improve your day. Ferriss refers to this as the Domino Effect: once you tackle the biggest task of your day, all other to-dos, or dominos, fall much easier.

You don’t have to jump out of bed and run to the computer, but when you prioritize the majority of your writing first thing in the morning, when your brain is most malleable, it will likely trigger the dopamine reward system in your brain. You’ll feel awesome and build confidence for the next day’s writing session.

Author Brian Tracy argues for the same approach in his book, Eat That Frog, where he states that you must identify your hardest task for the day and do that one first. If you’re like many writers, sitting down to write can be surprisingly difficult. Especially if you’re out of practice, which leads us to the next tip.

Start Small

One of the foundational keys to building a new, successful habit is to start small and build from there. This methodology can be counterintuitive, especially when you consider the laundry list of epic New Year’s resolutions we make every year. But there’s a reason NYE resolutions only have a 20-40% success rate: they’re often too ambitious, and humans often overestimate what they can achieve in one year and underestimate what they can do in 10 years.

However, one way to overcome this is by setting extremely small goals. For example, it’s more advantageous to set a beginning goal of writing for 15 minutes a day and consistently hitting that than saying you’ll write for two hours a day and never meet that goal. That’s because hitting the 15-minute goal will trigger dopamine in your brain and give you confidence to eventually push past the 15-minute threshold. 

Mute Distractions

One fantastic way to keep up with your small but expanding writing goals is to turn off all distractions and set a timer. This includes switching off all notifications on your phone and ideally turning on the ‘Do Not Disturb’ function on your phone.

Once you’ve limited all notifications and distractions, set a timer for the duration you want to write. Once the timer goes off, you can choose if you want to continue. I can almost guarantee that if you continue this practice for two to three weeks, you’ll find yourself wanting to extend your writing time.

Set Deadlines

Deadlines, like coffee, are a writer’s best friend. One of the most difficult parts of being a writer in between projects is sticking to deadlines that can seem arbitrary. Remember, as author David Bayer often says, your brain is a “goal-achieving machine” and doesn’t know the difference between what’s real and what’s not. You will find yourself even more motivated when the deadline is driven by a director, network executive, producer, or production company.

Join a Writing Group

One of the best decisions I made in the last three years of my writing career was to join a writer’s group. Joining a writer’s group would require you to incorporate elements of all four of the previously mentioned writing habits. It will also add arguably the most powerful motivation for your writing…shame.

There’s almost nothing more motivating than being in a writer’s group because it requires you to do the work every week and present it in front of your peers. That’s no small ask because, quite simply, we all want to be accepted. Particularly by other writers. A writer’s group brings a new level of motivation, weekly deadline accountability and peer motivation that will most certainly help you reach the finish line.

Check out great resources like Notes Community and Poets and Writers Group for a great start on finding writer’s groups. As always, keep writing.

Brendan Fitzgibbons is a comedy writer and actor living in Los Angeles. He’s written for Comedy Central, The Onion, NBC, HuffPost and Bravo. As an actor, he’s appeared on Comedy Central, MTV and “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.” His podcast, “Spiritual As****e” was named a Top Indie Podcast by Stitcher.

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