Sure, we’ve all heard it by now: if you want to be a writer, you’ve gotta get into the habit of writing every day. After all, Stephen King built his career on writing 2,000 words every day, according to his memoir, On Writing. NaNoWriMo extols the productive virtues of doing 1,666 words a day, on average, to hit their 50,000 word target in November. And any number of writers, trying to break down the challenge of producing a first novel, are fond of reminding us that writing just 350 words a day will allow you to finish a 100,000 word novel inside of a year.
Truthfully, not every writer cleaves to this approach. Some take weekends off. Some approach their work from a project-based mindset, working furiously to produce a project and taking a short break before starting the next. Long-time friend of AWM, Kim Wilkins, adopted the practice of word count bingo in order to meet her novel deadlines while managing the other aspects of her life. Even those who do love the idea of writing every day can find the process daunting, particularly when it hasn’t yet become a habit.
Fortunately, the internet is here to help.
Listed below are some of the top online tools and productivity techniques we’ve come across here at AWM, all designed to help writers get into a daily habit. If you’re looking to start your own writing streak and looking for tools to make it easier, try one of the following.
One: The Seinfeld Method
Originally posted over on the Lifehacker website, the Seinfeld method is dead simple and surprisingly low-tech. The process is simple: get yourself a large wall calendar that showed the whole year on a single page and a red marker. From there, the technique is based on some advice the author was given by comedian Jerry Seinfeld:
He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”
If you’re not fond of the wall-calendar idea, you can achieve a similar chain using a chrome app based on the method, or you can download a custom Don’t Break the Chain PDF for free at TheWritersStore.com.
On a personal level, this is the technique that’s worked best for me. While I haven’t made it to a full year without missing a day, I’ve had a pretty good track record of writing for at least 100+ days before taking a break, and I’ve always found it pretty easy to come back. My current streak started back in September of last year, and it’s still going strong.
Based on the principle of Morning Pages taken from The Artists Way, 750words.com is a website where people gather to write…well, 750 words every day. Although the stated goal is do it in the morning to clear your mind and get ideas flowing for the rest of the day, the site gamifies the process of writing every day, offering you writing stats and achievement badges for hitting milestone goals.
This makes the site ideal for writers who are looking for a little more motivation to write beyond…well, writing every day, and the ability for 750words users to form social groups that monitor and encourage each other is particularly beneficial if you can gather together a couple of writer buddies and unleash your competitive spirit.
Three: Google Docs Writing Tracker
This one takes a bit of technical know-how to set up, but writer Jamie Todd Rubin has been tracking his daily writing stats using Google Docs for a few years now, and he’s shared the code he uses to automate the statistics for anyone interested in doing the same. Part of data that’s tracked is the writing streak – how many consecutive days the writer has logged in and written using Google Docs – and Jamie’s personal streak is at 533 days at time of writing based on his open analytics tracking.
While this plays on the same impulses as the Seinfeld method above, the break-down of words written on various projects – Rubin separates his fiction, non-fiction, and blogging – is likely to keep writers with a data-junky streak some added impulse to get back to the keyboard.
Four: Install a Phone App
There are any manner of phone apps designed to help people track and develop new habits – there’s a nice summary of useful options over on the Fast Company blog if you’re looking for a starting point – and unlike many of the options above they don’t require internet access or rely on you working close to your calendar in order to track things. Most of us live with our phone within arms reach, and you may be surprised how quickly a habit can build when you can schedule reminders and check your stats at any time.