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How to apply atomic habits to writing

3 min read

There’s a widespread book called Atomic Habits, written by James Clear. It says that if we turn small changes in our behavior into atomic habits that we perform every day, it can lead to big changes.

An atomic habit is a little habit that is part of a larger system. Just as atoms are the building blocks of molecules, atomic habits are the building blocks of remarkable results. If you want better results, then forget about setting goals. Focus on your system instead.

James Clear

The whole book is amazing and I recommend you to read it but let’s focus a little more on turning “tiny changes into remarkable results” and how I think it could be applied to writing.

So, you have this novel you want to write. In your mind or maybe on paper, you’ve set a goal of 90 to 100 thousand words and a deadline to reach that count. That’s the first part of your writing plan. And now you don’t have any idea of how to get there.

Building habits is definitely the first thing you want to work on. Consistency and repetition (as we talked about before) are what makes everything easier. But if you think that sitting for one hour straight trying to write the perfect chapter every day is a habit, well, it could be most likely you’re gonna feel overwhelmed and frustrated if you’re not used to it or if you don’t achieve that daily count.

That’s where I think atomic habits fit. James Clear suggests that we build a healthier change of behavior under a set of four rules: (1) make it obvious, (2) make it attractive, (3) make it easy, and (4) make it satisfying.

What it means is that we should:

  1. Set a time, location, and environment to sit and write and stick to it.
  2. Create and anticipate a reward for finishing every writing session so we can stimulate dopamine and increase motivation.
  3. Break the writing project into small bites of easy writing tasks in our sessions like a scene instead of a whole chapter, or maybe sentences instead of a whole paragraph, focusing more on taking action instead of being in motion.
  4. Make it pleasant and reward yourself so you crave repeating your habit. Nobody wants to repeat something that didn’t make them feel good.

So, here’s my plan:

I’m working on the final draft of my current project now and I want to finish it by the end of March.

Every day, I’m gonna use a few minutes of coffee break in the afternoon at my desk, after a good cup of coffee and with gypsy jazz in the back in a low volume and I’m gonna write a few sentences or a scene of my novel.

After I finish that session, I’m gonna have something that I love as a reward.

A couple of hours later, I’ll do it all again and make it two writing sessions a day.

I think it’s gonna work.

One last thing. I love the idea of taking action instead of being in motion. Sometimes we write and rewrite and we spend hours in research or trying to find the best words or something like that but in the end, it feels like we didn’t move.

Motion is good. We have this linguistic influence in our vocabulary for goals and projects, where we have to be “on track”, and “moving forward” is good, while “being stuck” is bad. But focus on checking these small tasks can be more effective. Because sometimes we might be moving on in our itinerary but we may miss good points we should visit.

So, keep that in mind.

Now, between the lines…

How do you plan your writing sessions? And how do you set your goals for writing a book or any other piece of writing?

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