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  • Writer's pictureMadii Cato

Successful Writing Habits: Deciding How and When to Write

Whether you are sitting down in front of the first draft of your very first novel or working toward your next bestseller following the immense success of your previous book, writers often reinvent their writing routines and schedules to increase productivity and renew motivation. New routine, new me. It’s a great way to break the mindset of an old project or a bout of writer's block and create a new environment. Many writers sit down at their desks thinking this new schedule will help them crank out pages upon pages of brilliant writing, but did you know it's not the schedule that creates success in writing?

A Strict Writing Routine Doesn’t Always Create a Great Book

person writing on laptop with coffee

Some writers flourish with a strict schedule and business-minded approach. Many of our favorite writers have shared their ideal writing schedules for us to experiment with, be motivated by, or just to satisfy general curiosity. I think as humans, many of us get excited and inspired by seeing someone successful we admire having a routine or schedule that we could also manage.

Famous Writing Routines

If you aren’t familiar with Neil Gaiman’s writing schedule, he sits down to write and gives himself one of two options: to write or to do nothing. Many people hear that and think, well if the only other option is to do absolutely nothing, I would be interested in writing. Even if it was just a few lines as I brainstorm. The option to do nothing is freeing and allows you to continue writing without pressure. This is a more extreme example of an easily accomplished schedule because it isn’t time or length specific.

V. E. Schwab writes for 2 to 3 hours—in 25-minute intervals—after her morning routine, followed by admin work, a workout, dinner, and then more writing one hour before bed. Thinking about how the process of a famous author is within reach helps us confidently decide to put that same amount of work in to help us achieve our own publishing goals. Many of us already write in 25-minute sprints! Many of us also have a free hour before bed.

Finding Your Own Writing Routine

Do you know what all of these famous authors’ routines have in common? They are all very different. Some are planned to the word expectation each day, some are measured by time, and some focus more on individual scenes. There likely aren’t two famous authors who have the same writing schedule.

The possibilities when choosing your own schedule are endless. The key is to pick a schedule that will help you reach the end goal you want. If you want to finish this draft, create a schedule that focuses on adding words to one manuscript. Don’t incorporate writing in multiple projects and limit your mood-setting time. If your goal is to write consistently, create a schedule that revolves around holding yourself accountable for when and how long you write instead of the number of words you get down.

What will help you piece together your next great book is a routine that is tailored to your personal and manuscript-specific goals.

Difference Between a Writing Process and a Writing Schedule

woman writing by the window

Many people use these terms interchangeably, but I would argue that they can be very different things for many writers. A writing schedule is the more technical component and the writing process is the more functional component of a writing habit.

While the terms themselves aren’t the most important parts, let's break down the connotations that come with each of them.

Writing Process

A writing process refers to the method of writing itself. Do you write best with music on? Do you write scene cards before you flesh out the scenes themselves? Do you write linearly or out of order? These things are what make up your writing habit? Whether you sit down and write immediately or take a few moments to look at your mood board on Pinterest determines your writing process.

Like many other habits, you can change your writing process whenever you feel it's necessary, but it might take several weeks for your new routine to feel natural and comfortable. During those first few weeks, consistency through discomfort is the only thing that will allow you to separate the good and bad parts of a new process.

Writing Schedule

On the more technical side, a writing schedule is how often and how long you write. Whether it’s every day or once a week, whether you write in 25-minute sprints or an hour at a time, these are the things that make up your writing schedule.

A successful writing habit is a mix of these two things components. If you are finding it hard to accomplish your ideal writing habit, it might help to think of these two things separately. Is it your process that needs to be adjusted or your schedule?

If You Want a Great Product, Focus on the Tasks that Lead to Production

two students reading and writing

Writing a book is simple, right? You just write words and eventually you have a complete book! I know many of us have scoffed at that thought. There are an infinite number of sidequests on your adventure to being a published author, or even just a writer of novels for the hobby. From the idealization of the story to the outline, scene cards, character cards, chapter separations, and beta reader feedback forms, there is so much that can be done to be productive in this niche without adding words to your manuscript.

I think it is important to explore how all of these things can be useful to you, but just like any other hobby, if you try to learn everything all at once you’re going to get either distracted or overwhelmed. Pick one or two things you want to focus on outside of adding words to your manuscript and fully commit to them. If you decide one of them isn’t serving your goal, stop focusing on that task and incorporate a new one.

A Common Pitfall

Something writers frequently struggle with is getting lost in the motivational part of writing and not committing to the writing and production of their work itself. For example, watching your favorite authortuber is a great way to get your head in a writing mindset, but it’s not writing. Reading a book on writing craft can fill you with inspiration and help you improve your prose, but it’s not writing. These things aren’t bad but allowing them to take over your writing habits—or writing processes—will drastically hinder your progress with your manuscript.

Not Only Words

Your regular tasks don’t have to be exclusively related to increasing your word count to be productive and work toward your true goal. If your goal is to publish, creating a timeline for yourself, beginning to market your book, and researching developmental editing techniques are all productive activities that will help you get closer to publishing. It’s all about finding a balance and evaluating which tasks you are spending bigger portions of your time on. If you have non-word-count tasks on your to-do list, make sure you are asking yourself, "does this help me achieve my end goal?" for each one.

Adjust Your Expectations

writing on post it notes

Creating your first writing habit will be the hardest because you are creating a process and schedule without any baseline to build from. After you start writing regularly and have a better idea of how long you can write at once and how often you can accomplish that, creating and adjusting a habit will be a lot easier.

Remember to give yourself grace during this stage, because the worst thing for your budding writing habit is to stress yourself into burnout. It’s all right to expect too much of yourself sometimes and it’s all right to take time off when you need it—even if it wasn't part of your original plan. You can use these hiccups to help you refine your expectations. If you planned on writing five days every week, but over the last two weeks you had to take two days off, then maybe writing four days a week instead is a more appropriate goal.

This is not permission to stay in your comfort zone! Your writing habit should not be something that stresses you out and constantly feels like a strain on your life, but it also shouldn’t be something you shrug off flippantly if you want to have a successful writing habit.

Use a Goal Setting System with Layered Goals

I am a huge advocate for the SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-bound) goal-setting method. After using this throughout many areas of my life for a few months, I felt like a goal-setting champion. Creating and approaching my writing goals felt like second nature because these goal-setting methods are guides that help you consciously work with the important aspects of goal setting.

You don’t have to use the SMART goal method with your writing to create a successful writing habit, but I urge you to find a goal-setting method that works for you. These methods help make sure you are setting healthy goals that won’t lead to burnout. My favorite part of the SMART goal system is the difference between attainable and realistic. Attainable is something you are physically capable of: I am able to write a novel in a month if I focus my time on it. Then when you move over to realistic, you evaluate if your attainable task is something you can actually accomplish alongside everything else in your life: even though I could write a novel in a month, it would be hard for me to maintain my other chores and hobbies, so my goal will be to write a novel within three months instead.

A lot of people think expanding or adjusting the time frame of a goal like this is admitting you are incapable of doing something, but the more self-aware you are with your goal making, the more your goals will work for you. And you need a writing habit that works for you to help you produce your best work possible.

Layer Your Goals

Much like writing projects themselves, your goals should contain many layers. You’ll have a single overarching goal—to get published—but unless you break that goal down into smaller steps—writing the first complete draft—your larger goal will forever stay in the distance. Use the goal-making system you chose for the larger goal, and then continue to break it down into smaller pieces. This may take more than one layer.

Goals in Each Layer

​Layer 1

​Get my book published one year from today.

Layer 2

Draft the book in three months.


Edit the book across five months.


Start marketing the book while editing.


Format for publishing platforms one month before release.

Layer 3

Make a drafting schedule by <this date>


Review the drafting schedule after two weeks, is it still SMART for me?


Have 20,000 words written by <this date>


Share the first chapter with my critique partner on <this date>


Have 30,000 words written by <this date>

Important notes about this very general example:

  • Each layer becomes longer as you separate the goals into more manageable pieces.

  • Goals are specific and measurable with numbers and dates.

  • They also include review periods to refine your goals.

Write Out Your Ideal Writing Habit

Record your ideal writing habit, the process and the schedule, down in ink somewhere. It can be in a planner, a Word document, or handwritten on a post it note. Writing your ideal habit down helps you think about it clearly while you plan and will give you a great resource for self-accountability.

If you wake up one morning extremely tired and sit at your desk, completely out of the productive writing mood, then re-reading your writing goals can help remind you that getting your book written is achievable. You don’t have to focus on the daunting task of writing a whole book, but instead on your smaller task of writing for just one hour that day.

The Success Part of Your New Successful Writing Habit

A successful writing habit is one that you regularly improve and leverage to help you meet your writing goals. Success doesn’t come from never missing a day. Success doesn’t come from having the most rigorous schedule you can manage. You’ll find that the feeling of success comes from looking back and realizing that you’ve made massive improvements from where you used to be.

As you create, refine, and push through various writing habits looking for the one that best suits you—or adjusting an old one that doesn’t work anymore—you’ll find success in learning what habits serve you and which ones you need to let go of.


sharing on social media graphic

On a final note, research has shown that sharing your goals, whether in person or online through social media, makes you 65 percent more likely to achieve them. Talking about your goals and process along the way helps keep you motivated, battles impostor syndrome, and is one of the only healthy things peer pressure can do for you.

If you don’t have a writing community to stay accountable with, consider joining our community on YouTube or Instagram!

Happy Writing,



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