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Seven ways to build a writing habit in 2022

Ready to make the new year your best year yet? These tips from the pros will help you keep writing all year long.

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3. Find your spot

Some writers prefer to write at home. Others prefer the stimulation of a coffee shop or library. I’ve trained myself to write in the car outside my teen’s dance studio. Before the pandemic, Chugh rolled out of bed at 5:30 a.m. and headed for her attic. “I got up before the kids and the world got up, before the email lit up,” she says. “I’d go from my bedroom straight to the attic, and I’d be too tired to, like, critique myself and talk myself out of writing. I’d just wake up and spill myself into my laptop before my brain got going.”

At the end of each writing session, she implements a technique called “parking on the downhill,” leaving a note for herself about precisely where to start writing the next day. “Not like, ‘I’m on chapter four,’ but, ‘Work on that first sentence of the paragraph that starts page 29,’” she explains. “Parking on the downhill gives you this immediate place to go. There’s no trying to remember where you left off, feeling overwhelmed.”

For her, writing in the same place every day is useful, though not always practical in her current circumstances as a professor and a parent. She points to research showing how a specific environment can trigger knowledge and memories. “Let’s say you’re going to take a math test. It’s helpful to study in the place where you’re going to take the test. If you’re studying the Pythagorean theorem in a classroom, and you take the test in the classroom, the location will remind you of the theorem,” she explains. “So there’s a benefit to sticking with one location, but there are also so many successful writers who say they don’t need to be in the same place every day.”

4. Determine a reward

I used to train owls for educational presentations at our local raptor rehabilitation center, and so I know well that rewarding desired behavior is crucial. An owl steps up on a perch because it earns a snack. Likewise, people need to reap a reward for writing. For some, the process of sitting down to put a story into words is enough. Others need a more tangible incentive.

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When you’re developing a writing habit, it’s critical to choose a reward that works specifically for you, whether that’s a special drink or 20 minutes of guilt-free Instagram scrolling or National Novel Writing Month’s emailed pep talks and fun graphics.

“We have all sorts of other bells and whistles to help motivate writers as well,” NaNoWriMo’s Brennan explains. “If you’re writing directly on our Young Writers Program website and you hit a certain percentage of your word-count goal, you cue a burst of trumpets. On the NaNoWriMo site, you can earn different virtual badges based on your progress. We also have special winner graphics you can share on social media when you hit your goal. Bragging can be very motivating!”

Participants can update their manuscript word count on the NaNoWriMo website, which moves a tiny arrow on a red and white target graphic closer to a bull’s eye. That target was enough to motivate me to write the first draft of my newest middle grade novel…well, that and the occasional coffee shop latte.

Chugh likes to reference behavioral scientist Katy Milkman’s book, How to Change, when talking about rewards. She points to Milkman’s technique called “temptation bundling,” which pairs a difficult task with a pleasurable component. “Let’s say you hate revising and keep putting it off,” Chugh explains. “You take the thing you hate and bundle it with something you love, so anytime you revise, you get to eat ice cream or take a hot bath or whatever. When people temptation bundle, they make a lot more progress and form longer-lasting habits.”

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5. Embrace community

Some people find it motivating to bundle their writing practice with the reward of co-working in a group of others remotely or in person. Dávila of A Very Important Meeting believes something special happens when writers get together to sit quietly together, then write, and conclude the hour with 15 minutes of talking with other writers.

“There’s something about looking up on Zoom and seeing this tile collection of other people who are writing that feels very much like a community,” she says. “Writers tend to find their rhythm with a particular meeting among the 18 a week we’re holding right now. For example, if you come Wednesdays at 9:30, you start to see the same people over and over. People give each other advice. Maybe someone has submitted a piece, or they have a story that they’re looking to place somewhere, and someone else says, ‘Oh, you should reach out to this editor at this magazine. I sold something to them that was very similar.’”

Perhach appreciates the age range of people who come to her meetings. “It’s just so awesome to have a 22-year-old writer who’s talking to older writers and getting life advice,” she says. “I love the mix of people from all over the country and, sometimes, from all over the world.”

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The concept of writing with a community inspired author Rennie Saunders to found Shut Up and Write! in 2007. “I moved to San Francisco, where I didn’t know anybody, and I needed other people being creative around me,” Saunders explains. He chose a coffee shop and put out a call for others to join him. “I told myself I’d show up, and if nobody else did, at least I’d get an hour of writing done,” he says. “The first week, I had two people. The second week, I had five, and the third week I had 12.”

Now, the organization has nearly 100,000 members in 335 cities and 50 countries, meeting both in person and online. People join the group to work on fiction or fanfiction, memoirs or dissertations. “We’ve had lots of people get published, and we’ve helped people get their doctorate,” Saunders says. “Our goal is to create a robust community so that every writer in the world has a place where they can come and find support and connection and tools to help them.”

He believes that the more we listen to other voices, the better we become. “In the midst of the loneliness and the mental strain of the pandemic, you can get together with the same people once a week to write and not talk about our problems. Maybe we’re just writing together for an hour, but you see me, and I see you, and we acknowledge each other. People want that consistency, that habit, the accountability, and the community.”

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