In the last module, we dug into the different levels of a project (drafts, sections, and chapters), and thought about milestones: mini-goals on the path to your final, finished project. Hopefully you’ve already set and completed a small milestone, and you’ve got a slightly larger one in mind for the next three or four weeks.

Do pop by the forums and let us know how you’re getting on, if you’ve not done so already.

In this Module, we’ll be looking at different ways for you to build a good writing routine: by setting targets, writing at your best time of day, or writing for set periods.

No two writers work in quite the same way. Some write best in the mornings, others at night. Some like to aim for a target number of words, others prefer to write for a certain length of time. Never let fellow writers, or writing teachers, convince you that there’s one true way to write. All that matters is that you produce work that you’re happy with, at a reasonable speed.

Building Your Writing Muscles

At the moment, you might not be used to writing very much. Perhaps you manage to write for an hour or two each week, at best.

You might be happy with that, in which case, great! But chances are, you’d like to do more. Perhaps you want to finish a book, create some really strong content for your blog, or even write for a living. Whatever it is, you know you’ll need to write in a more focused, sustained way.

The good news is, that’s absolutely possible. Your ability to write is a bit like a muscle – one which gets stronger the more you use it.

I’ve seen this in my own writing life: as a student, I wanted desperately to be a “writer” – but most weeks, I only wrote a thousand words or so of my novel. That was fair enough during busy term times, but I didn’t get any more even in the vacations, when I had plenty of time on my hands. After eight years of writing for a living, I can now happily produce four or five thousand words in a single day.

Just like physical muscles, your writing muscles need a good routine of regular exercise. In this Module, I cover some things to try. You don’t have to use all or even any of these, but they’ve all worked for a good number of writers, and chances are that one of them will work for you too.

(You may also find that different routines work with different types of writing. Be flexible, and enjoy experimenting.)

We’ll begin with two different methods of setting yourself a session/daily/weekly target:

Target Method #1: Write for a Set Time

This is where a lot of writers start out when trying to build a routine. They set a goal like “write for an hour”. You tried this out in week one, writing for 15 minutes or so, with a timer running.

Time targets are great if you want to:

  • Get into the writing habit (e.g. writing for 15 minutes every single morning)
  • Focus on the quality, rather than the quantity, of words produced. Even if you only write 100 words, you’ve still hit your target if you stuck with the writing for an hour.

What’s a good time target? I’d suggest aiming for 20-45 minutes per day, to start with. If you want, you can try doing more once you get comfortable with that. It’s often useful to work for short bursts (e.g. 30 minutes) with short breaks in between – that way, you stay focused.

Target Method #2: Write a Set Number of Words

Another popular way to get into the writing habit is to set a target number of words each day (or, if you prefer, each week). Some writers, including Stephen King, recommend 1,000 words per day. I think this is too much for most people. If you’ve got a lot of other responsibilities in your life – like a day job or a family – then you’ll probably want to set your daily target a bit lower.

Word count targets are great if you want to see:

  • Steady, predictable progress – if you write 500 words a day, every day, you’ll know that you can finish a 15,000 word ebook in a month, or a 75,000 word novel draft in five months.
  • Forward momentum – instead of fiddling around getting the words right, or staring into space just to fill up your writing hour.

What’s a good word target? Try 400-500 words per session to begin with, then adjust up or down to suit you.

There’s nothing stopping you from mixing word and time targets (e.g. “write for an hour and produce at least 500 words”) – though if this feels too pressured, focus on just one or the other.

Important: You DON’T have to write every day, or even most days, but it’s a good idea to have at least one writing session a week.

>> Click here to go to the second part, where we’ll cover three ways to maximise your productivity during your writing sessions