Building Consistency Habits

Last week we discussed the basics of setting up a habit of writing (editing, marketing, etc.) regularly, but today we’re going to focus more on the nuts and bolts of putting together a plan for consistency. The more things you can do to set yourself up for success, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to get the results you want.

We’ve already talked about setting aside time, planning your goals, and setting up a “trigger” to help you get started. Let’s look at some other things to try.

  • Find inspiration. Some days, nothing wants to come. If you have ready sources of inspiration, things you can look at or listen to or think about, even if they’re not directly related to whatever you’re working on, they can get the old muse juices flowing and can help loosen up your brain when it comes to what you are supposed to be doing. I use Pinterest boards and an idea file for this purpose.
  • Give yourself something to aspire to. You know how they tell people who want to lose weight to hang “goal” pictures where they’ll be seen? You can do the same thing here. If you’d like to find an agent, you can hang the bio of your dream one on the wall. You can print out the book deal pages from Publisher’s Weekly and put them on the refrigerator. You can stick the latest bestseller list on your corkboard. Having a physical reminder of what you’re working toward can provide some extra motivation.
  • Don’t allow exceptions. If you give up your writing time every time something else comes along, you’ll never get anything done. Yes, some days things won’t get done. You’ll have sick kid, or a big project at work, or need to go visit your mother. But if you’re making exceptions for other things–watching television, playing video games, whatever–you’re doomed. One “Well, just for today” can turn into weeks, or months, of inactivity.
  • Remember that little bits help. Sometimes you can’t reach your daily/weekly/monthly goals. Life gets in the way somehow. Rather than giving everything up as a loss, remember that even partial progress still counts as progress. Sure, that 100 words a day may not be the 500 you wanted, but at the end of the week you’ll still be 700 words closer to your goal than if you just gave the time period up as lost.
  • Track your progress. This may be the most important thing to do (beside the “trigger” that we talked about last week). I know I am 500% more successful if I have some method of tracking going than if I don’t. I prefer to use Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. I have various ones–ones for month-long goals, ones for longer projects, ones where I can track multiple projects a month, ones for editing. I also highly recommend sticking graphs in your spreadsheets. There’s something very fulfilling about graphs. Even if you’re behind, I find that the graphs can still provide motivation to try and catch up. If you don’t know how to program an Excel spreadsheet to automatically create graphs when you input data, the Internet has a ton of tracking spreadsheets you can download and modify. But you don’t need to use a spreadsheet, if that doesn’t work for you. You can mark days off on a calendar, make yourself a sticker chart, use a word counter–anything that allows you to keep track of how you’re doing.
  • Make yourself accountable. Along with keeping track of how you’re doing, having some form of accountability can help motivate you to make sure you’re working. This can be a person–or a group of people–such as a writing partner or group. It doesn’t have to be, however. Maybe you don’t get to watch the latest episode of your favorite show until your writing is done for the day. Maybe if you reach your monthly goal you get to buy that pair of shoes you’ve been eying. And along those lines…
  • Reward yourself. These can be little, such as a daily reward of half an hour of reading or a piece of cake, or big, such as dying your hair purple after your first major publishing deal. While you shouldn’t rely on rewards to get you to do your writing, they certainly can help you feel better about the whole process, especially when you’re still working on building up the habit, and can help you through rough times.
  • Make it fun. Let’s be honest. If you hate something, all the triggers and tracking and rewards in the world aren’t going to make you do it. If you dread getting around to your writing, or you actively put it off, look at what you’re doing. Is there a way you can change things up that will make it more fun? Or more comfortable? Or easier on yourself? Challenges against friends can be a good way to spice things up a bit. Do you have to do things the way you are? Maybe you do, but there still might be a way to make things more enjoyable. Don’t be afraid to switch things around until they’re working for you.

Here’s my current tracker, for people who’d like to see an example. When I started this blog post series I realized that I’d let my own consistency fall by the wayside, so I’ve rededicated myself (and started this tracker on March 22, as you can see). And, not too shabbily, I’ve written 20,000 words in two weeks. This is my long challenge tracker, adapted from a spreadsheet put out by ROW80 (which I shall talk about next time). Another sheet has the graphs on it, and the color changing (from red to green when I meet my goals) is also very rewarding.

Tracker Example

(The reason why the numbers are all weirdly decimal-y is because I’ve divided 94,000 words by 71 days. There is a way to make your equations round up to the nearest whole number, but I have not been annoyed enough by the giant decimals yet to remember how to do that.)

Anything else you’d add, Squiders? Next time (which might be Thursday, or might be next Tuesday) we’ll discuss additional processes to help build up your writing habits.

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