I have struggled for years to write on a consistent basis—something that kept me from feeling like a “real writer”—and it took a lesson from Jennifer Lopez to finally create a writing habit that sticks.
Whenever you read about the habits of successful authors, there’s always talk about how they’ve created a writing habit and why it’s the key to their ability to write prolifically. Lots of talk of early morning writing, every day. But when I would try and wake up early to write like the pros, nothing ever felt worthy of publishing. I never felt I had much to show for it; each morning session would yield lots of bits and pieces, with only a sentence or two that I could imagine publishing. And so, invariably, I would let my morning habit lapse for a few months when I would try and pick it up again.
It was a frustrating loop.
I was watching Netflix when insight into a new approach emerged. I was excited to watch the Jennifer Lopez Netflix documentary Halftime that walked through the journey to her iconic Super Bowl halftime show in 2020. I’ve been a JLo fan for years—I’ve admired her since her days on In Living Color; she’s a multi-hyphenate, disciplined, and powerhouse performer. And 2020 was the year she turned 50, so we have more in common than I realized. (Ok, I know I’m not famous or wealthy, but we are contemporaries in age).
Part of the Netflix special highlighted how much time she spends in the gym and studio, building strength and practicing choreography to prepare her for her gruelling performances. This is practice and training she does every day, outside of whatever work she’s doing to prepare for specific shows.
It hit me in that moment—I’ve been conflating my writing practice with writing full, polished articles—the ones that make it to the “big show.” JLo doesn’t just train when she’s working on a specific show or tour, she puts in the practice every day, even if she doesn’t know what she’s preparing for just yet. She wants to be ready for anything.
I had lost sight of the need for a writing practice. Not journaling, which is separate altogether (although it helps). Just open, free writing on topics that connect to my work, whether loosely or directly. Writing that sometimes will lead to a new article or piece, or perhaps a snippet to weave into a future newsletter. But practice for the sake of practicing alone hasn’t been on my radar. I was trying to go from nothing directly to my equivalent of the stage.
As I watched JLo training hard, daily, I knew that was the piece that has been holding me back from writing prolifically. I haven’t been training for it. I’ve tried to step into the ring/studio/big show and write for the final desired product (which always has a high bar) instead of warming up to it with practice cycles every day.
I used to dance, so I know what daily practice looks like for a dancer. Barre work, stretching, followed by choreography sets—either practice routines made up on the spot by the instructor, or small elements from an upcoming performance. I needed to find the equivalent approach for my writing and hoped that it would unlock one of the secrets for writing prolifically.
Benefits of A Regular Writing Practice
You might be thinking I’m talking about journaling when I say “writing practice” and while that might be how I fill the time if I’m at a loss for what to write, I usually focus on writing about topics that could make it on to my site at some point. In fact, this article started in a daily writing session.
I have a separate folder set aside for writing practice which I call my Writing Sandbox. Over time, this is how it looks:
I have become the consistent writer I’ve always dreamed of being. I’m still working on being more consistent with publishing my work but for now, I’m happy to see the ideas I’ve been carrying around start to take shape on a page.
Having a regular writing habit has also increased my writing velocity—the volume and quality of my writing. I can see improvements in the strength of my writing voice and I’m able to get a higher volume of words on a page in a shorter timeframe. Not everything in my Sandbox will get published, but it feels like a huge win.
If you’re ready to tackle creating a consistent writing habit for yourself, let me walk you through what worked for me.
Keys To Building Your Consistent Writing Practice Habit
- Anchor your writing habit to another “always happens” habit.
Habit science tells us that adding a new habit to an existing, “never fail” habit can help you make it happen more consistently. I decided to connect my daily writing practice with my second cup of coffee. The caffeine from my first cup is kicking in and there is always a second cup.
- Set a timer for 10-25 minutes.
I tried make my habit about writing a certain number of words each day but I found it hard to do. Some days, the words fell out of my brain easily; other days, it was a slog. When I switched it to a set number of minutes, it released the pressure. Some days, I can write 500 words in 15 minutes (even if most of them are junk, it feels great). Other days, I might 2-3 sentences and still feel satisfied that I stuck with my habit.
- Keep a regular list of writing topics and thought starters, all in one place.
I used to have bits of paper scattered around my house with writing ideas that had popped into my head when I was cooking or reading or out for a walk. Some were also on my computer and phone. Now I have a widget on my phone that lets me drop all of my random writing ideas into a single folder in Notion. I don’t need to think about where to look for ideas for my writing sessions—they’re all in the same place.
- Collect other writing prompts.
If you have a long list of writing prompts, you can move quickly into writing mode. There are a ton of writing exercises online, including this one with over a 100 writing lessons and prompts, this one, and some more in-depth non-fiction writing prompts.
Creating a writing habit has felt incredibly satisfying. Now I have a great collection of started articles that let me move rapidly from draft to publish. This article took 25 minutes to complete once I pulled it out of the Sandbox. Try playing with different writing prompts, times of day or habits to use to anchor it into your day. Let me know how it goes!
Happy writing, friends.