Carol Shields, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Stone Diaries, used to write a new page every day, then edit the page she’d written the day before, then do it again the next day, until after a year or so, she had a new manuscript. Stephen King says in his memoir On Writing: “I like to get ten pages a day, which amounts to 2,000 words….Only under dire circumstances do I allow myself to shut down before getting 2,000 words.”
Granted, Stephen King doesn’t have a law practice demanding his attention.
But writer after writer agrees: in order to succeed at writing a book, you need to make it a daily habit. If you save your writing for a day when there are no client fires to extinguish, your laundry is done, and the kids are out on play dates, that book you’ve been dreaming of writing might never leave your brain.
One of the best ways to create a writing habit is to set concrete daily goals for yourself. These are some of the most common and effective writing goals:
- Write a set number of words every day.
A lot of writers commit to writing a certain number of words every day. Stephen King is extraordinarily prolific, so his 2,000 words is not the best point of comparison. Even without a day job, most writers would find that goal unattainable. But what about 200? Could you write that many words every day? The average book manuscript is about 70,000 words, so if you wrote 250 words a day, within seven months you’d have a complete manuscript.
- Write a page every day.
Carol Shields was on to something with her habit of writing a page every day. And she managed to raise five children and teach English and Creative Writing while doing it. Could you carve out the time to do this too?
- Write a certain number of minutes every day.
If you’re like me, your day is tightly scheduled. Even creative tasks like writing need to be scheduled in my taskmaster: Google Calendar. Allocating yourself a set time every day in which to write is often the best way for busy professionals to commit to a daily writing habit. Can you block off half an hour first thing in the morning? Or close the door for 45 minutes as soon as you get to the office? If you have young kids, you might try blocking off some time every evening after they go to bed (even if you’d rather pour a glass of wine and put your feet up!).
It’s tough to carve out writing time when you have case files and dishes demanding your attention, but once you make writing a daily habit, the people you share your home or office with will learn when not to disturb you (well, maybe not your toddler). But it will become easier.