Write Even When you Don’t Have a Deadline
Love them or loathe them – deadlines work. We love them because they stop us procrastinating and force us to work. We loathe them because they stop us procrastinating and force us to work. But what happens when you don’t have one? How can you still finish what you start?
The science of behavior change tells us that we’re driven to take actions in two ways: intrinsically and extrinsically. When we’re intrinsically motivated to do something, we do it for internal rewards; we do something just for the hell of it or because we love the activity. When we’re extrinsically motivated, we do it because we’re compelled in one way or another by an outside source – like being given a deadline by a teacher or tutor.
If you’re an author just starting out on your self-publishing journey you might want to write and you might love writing but when there’s nothing forcing you to do it besides sheer force of will, other priorities can get in the way and writing then takes a backseat. We know this because we’ve been researching, ruminating and wrestling with what makes writers write – and not write – for the past three years.
At Write Track, we make digital productivity tools for writers. Our system uses the science of habits and behavior change to help us to help writers stay motivated and productive. We take the same kind of ‘persuasive technologies’ that work in well-known fitness apps and websites like Fitbit and WeightWatchers, and apply these to writing.
Why Did we Start Looking into Writing Habits?
It all started when my co-founder Bec Evans worked as a centre director for a UK writing school. She saw that the main difference between the writers who successfully finished their work and those who didn’t wasn’t just talent. Whether they self-publish or publish through traditional routes, successful authors have talent in spades, but they also have something else… a habit. They were able to develop a regular daily writing practice when others could not.
We believe that the way writers finish without a deadline isn’t through sheer force of will – through grit and determination alone – but rather through having an effective writing practice that works for them. So how do you get one of those?
Here’s our six-step guide to finding a writing habit that works for you:
1. Name your goal
You might have had the idea for a book swimming around at the back of your mind for years. The first step in achieving your dream is to make your project real by giving it a name. It’s only by making your dream concrete that you can work towards it.
2. Set yourself a tiny step
Once you’ve named your dream, you need to make it attainable. The biggest hurdle to developing a habit is getting started, and writers often fail because their goals are too ambitious. First things first, just ask yourself what really small thing can I do next to move my writing forward?
3. Attach it to an existing behaviour
Habits don’t happen in isolation; you need triggers to prompt you to act and reminders to get in gear. One way to do this is to associate the habit you want to adopt with an activity you do every day on autopilot. So, for example, if you know that you have a cup of coffee without fail every morning, make writing for fifteen or thirty minutes the thing you do as you drink it.
4. Make it harder for yourself – but slowly
Once you’ve identified a tiny habit and attached it to an existing behaviour, you need to grow it into a bigger habit. For the first week, you might write for just five minutes a day. But then, slowly crank up the time you write. Soon enough you’ll be writing for longer – without even noticing.
5. Monitor, adjust and experiment
As with all changes in behaviour, it helps if you log your progress – that way you can look back and see patterns. It also helps you to know when the good and bad times are so you can organise your time more effectively. It’s important to tweak your goals as you go along – remember that nothing is set in stone.
6. Use power-ups (and never ever beat yourself up)
Writing regularly is hard. That’s why you have to use ‘power ups’ to stay motivated. The key is to use small incentives to help you keep going the next day – and the next. Crucially, never beat yourself up for missing a day’s writing – that’s a sure-fire way to kill your motivation.
Write Track describes itself as ‘a goal setting community for writers’. It ‘s formed of Bec and Chris, each of whom have extensive experience of writing as well as working with writers. For more information, go to their website or get in touch with them on Twitter: @Write_Track