How To Start (& Stick With) A Writing Habit

6 Tips For Starting a Writing Habit

How do you get a writing habit going?

How do you generate a writing habit from nothing?

That’s a different concept than the habit itself, and from the writing it creates. And not all writing habits are the same, or have the same value.

In a previous post, I made a few suggestions about what your writing habits could be.

But in this post, let’s talk about how to frame your writing habit and where to start, and how to stick with your writing habit.

Warning: You will need to be ruthless in your decision-making.

Step 1: Decide which writing habits are worth it.

Make time in your schedule in the morning or evening?

Writing every day?

Coming up with ideas?

We’re going to have different perspectives on these, but it’s important to share new ideas so you can try them out and decide what works for you.

For instance, I don’t write every day, but I do try to come up with ideas most days especially when I haven’t yet chosen my next idea to pursue. This is more motivating to me and helps me power through.

You will need to go through a discovery process to understand what writing habits are best for you.

Find a few foundational writing habits before adding on more.

2. Create a low bar for your new writing habit

Start with ten words.

Or one page. (You can’t write a novel until you write a page).

Or start with 10 minutes.

Or get up early for 3 days and see how it goes.

Stay up late for 3 days and see how it goes.

Set proper expectations for your writing habit before you declare yourself a failure. Give it a shot. Experiment. If it doesn’t work, go back to number one and try another option.

But create a low expectation for what you’re doing until you have done it consistently for a while. And then change it.

3. Keep Track of Your Writing Habit

At the beginning of 2021, I downloaded a habit tracker called Streaks. I have a few habits I try to keep up with, one of them is writing for at least 10 minutes per day. I accomplish this fairly easily because of my day job, but that notification is a good reminder.

4. Read part of a book each day

Another habit on Streaks? Reading a book each day. No, I do not read a full book each day, but I try to read a chapter or 2, sometimes more. This exposes me to different writers while also staying off of the immediacy of social media.

5. Keep a Notebook or a Digital App for Notes

As part of my writing workflow, I use Google Keep to take quick notes or sometimes a piece of paper. This is especially helpful if I have an idea during my focused work, and don’t want to jump on Google to explore it further. I can write it down, keep working on what I was doing and return to it later.

It also may be easier for you to take voice memos or quickly film yourself to remember ideas. This works, also.

6. Keep Going…For Awhile.

When developing your new writing habit, the most important day isn’t necessarily the first, but probably Day 5. Then Day 10. Then Day 30. But honestly, by Day 5 you should know if a particular writing habit/schedule will be beneficial to you or not.

I’m not a huge fan of continuing at all costs, and everyone should know when to pull the plug. But there’s also a matter of fighting through the resistance, too. Give yourself a fighting chance — a chance to break through that resistance to see if your habit is worth keeping.

Need More Time To Write?

Here’s How I Work Writing Into My Schedule

Fair warning…

The tips in this post don’t have anything to do with getting up earlier and 4:14 AM timestamps on Instagram.

I’m *very* tired of those posts.

…Because that’s not when I thrive at all.

I’m not a morning person, and my children know things will not go well for them unless I’ve had 2 cups of coffee.

Yet, I still find time to write, even with a family, a full-time job, and other responsibilities. I’ve managed to write a few novels, and do other projects — some more successful than others.

The Truth About Finding Time To Write

Instead, I had to find a method that worked for me, and those habits are listed below.

Truthfully, I struggle to do these habits myself — I’m not the image of a perfect writer — but when I do implement these writing practices, they are game-changers.

There’s a huge difference in my mentality and output.

To a few of you, these will seem ridiculously obvious, to which I can’t argue…I have a message for you at the end.

The TL;DR Tips

Okay, now on to the actual tips….

I’m going to list them out below, and then include a bit more explanation below, but if you want the TL;DR this is it:

  1. Find one night (or multiple nights) of the week where nothing is planned.
  2. Choose your topic or topics.
  3. Write for one hour.
  4. Stop.

1. Find one night (or multiple nights) of the week where nothing is planned.

Let’s leave COVID aside from one minute, and go back to 2019 or hopefully a time in the near distant future where your calendar will fill up again. You will be invited to things, things will be happening, and you will have responsibilities.

  • Look at your calendar and pick a night of the week where nothing is scheduled.
  • Write in your planner or calendar that you will write for one hour.

If you are the busy bee in your group of friends or in your family, and you have a full-time job, and you want to be a writer, you will need to say “no” sometimes.

Say it with me: NO.

You can’t do everything. I’m not saying skip all of your parties, movie nights, trivia nights, and drinking nights, but you will need to say “no” to one of them. I’m not even telling you which ones.

But you need to be more ruthless with your time.

This also means cutting out Netflix, Hulu, or whatever.

Josh — that’s when I spend time with my significant other!

Great, awesome.

Tell them you love them and that you will be on the couch with them in one hour.

In the modern world, a lot of couples spend time on separate devices watching separate shows and playing separate Animal Crossing games. If that’s how you spend your time, then you can definitely sacrifice some of it to write.

Notice I didn’t say do this every night. PLAN ON WHEN YOU WILL DO IT.

Then your significant other will know, you will know, and it’s on the calendar. Once you’ve already scheduled it, it will become easier to skip random Netflix surfing because you know what’s on the schedule.

If you really want to kickstart this plan, block out a few nights of the week. That sounds like a lot but take a look back on #3.

It’s for one hour. You can do that.

2. Choose your topic or topics. (15 Minutes)

Now that you’ve scheduled and blocked out your hour of writing, you must choose a topic. If you’ve been following along on my ideation plan, you can use this time to either develop an Idea List or to start prioritizing and working out your key points.

A lot of writers get tangled up in this step because they think they’re supposed to write on one topic…

…That’s not necessarily true.

If you’re working on several projects, you may need to bounce around a bit, if you’re working on an idea — then just start writing and see if that idea has legs.

That’s fine. You’re not a failure.

You’re making consistent progress, and that’s a good habit.

3. Write for one hour.

I’m saying an hour not only for writing, but also the writing process.

The writing process involves:

Planning, organizing, writing, revising, pausing, and editing.


Let yourself create an outline, brainstorm, edit, and try new strategies or paragraphs. That’s what this time is for. Sure, you may be able to create one article in that time or even take steps towards two. But I’m not being that prescriptive about it. If you’re a writer, start making your own decisions.

But, I’d also like to cap you at an hour. This is enough time to feel some momentum…

It makes you feel good about your progress and gives you a nice exit ramp.

And you told your significant other that you would do something with them, so you have a hard stop no matter what.

…But an hour is also not too long if things start to wane.

Some nights you will feel like you can keep going — and maybe you should! But your average will be an hour. Some nights will be better than others, and the hour mark is easily achievable if things become too hard.

To keep the Internet from being a crazy distraction, you may want a website blocker to help you — especially on those writing nights when you’re not doing research.

4. Stop.

You have other things to do — or at least other things you enjoy. You made time for writing, and now you can stop. I’m a big believer in taking many swings and chipping away. An hour allows you to do that. And the more nights you plan out for your hour, the more progress you can make.

You Don’t Have To Be A Morning Person or A Night Owl…

I hate this crazy dichotomy. Instead, I’ve tried to develop writing habits that don’t make me stay up too late or get up too early. Granted, this is not always the case and I try to force writing in around my other commitments…and then I end up feeling groggy and ridiculous the next morning.

Obviously, you can do this plan during the morning if you want to. Even at 4:14 AM. All I’m trying to say is that it doesn’t have to be that way.

But if you want to schedule your writing for that time of day, then this plan will work equally as well.

This Is The Power of Planning

However, when I plan ahead, guess what happens?

My expectations are reset.

I don’t feel bad about not writing one night, because I didn’t plan on writing that night.

See how that magically works? I don’t guilt myself into something because I’m sticking to my schedule. And you don’t even have to get up early if you don’t want to.

I don’t feel bad about saying “yes” to some things and “no” to others, because I understand the trade-offs being made in order to write more and more effectively.

Circling Back…

At the beginning of this post, I cautioned you that many of these tips will seem obvious.

If that’s you, I’ll hit you back with another question:

  • How often do you operate like this?
  • How often are you putting these into practice?

Even if there are one or two people out there that this will help, then that’s a success…

…And if that is you, then please reach out and say hello.

Try These 3 Daily Habits To Have A Rich (Writing) Life

I produce a lot of writing each day, including here on Medium, on LinkedIn, and for my day job as a marketing leader. I’m constantly reading, editing, and revising.

In the past, I have become stuck on the eternal question — what to write about next? For my day job, I have to figure that out. Content is a huge part of our strategy.

But for Medium or personal writing? The urgency isn’t always there. So here are a few habits that I’ve developed to help me be consistent (even if I’m not publishing or writing each day).

1. Make a list of 10 potential writing ideas each day (or at least a few times a week)

I’ve started doing this every day, and it’s helped me immensely both in my personal and work writing (Here’s a more in-depth post on this).

But here’s a hint I didn’t go over: many of these ideas can come from other places. You are rarely ever starting from scratch!

  • Read a good article on Medium? Take an idea from that.
  • Read a good article in an online newspaper? Take an idea from that.
  • Rereading your own articles? Take an idea from that. This one especially is a common strategy that I use. It actually helps you build out your library of content and avoid dead-ends in your content.
Continue reading “Try These 3 Daily Habits To Have A Rich (Writing) Life”

How Do You Start Freelance Writing? (With No Experience)

I’m very fortunate to have made money writing online and specifically for businesses. 

I’m not a Medium thousand-aire or a personal blogging genius. My own sites have faltered and fallen apart (though I’m working on putting them back together). 

Yet, I’ve made a decent salary as a content marketer and online writer for businesses. I also have worked with writing teams and dozens of writers over the years. I have had several posts reach number one for their target keywords. I have worked with high-profile startups to boost their writing and SEO. 

So what I’m about to share with you won’t necessarily make you a millionaire or have you quit your day job, but it’s an applicable strategy that you can use. I’ll also link out to several guides and gurus who have had more success than me, so you can learn from them. 

How do you start freelance writing?

1. Find a niche to write about

This sounds ridiculous when you’re starting out, but it’s a more essential step than you realize. 

If you’re writing for yourself on a site like Medium or your personal blog, this is still important so people know what to expect from you. This has been the hardest thing for me as a blogger and writer creating my own stuff — I‘ve written fiction, personal essays, and creativity advice. This lack of consistency has probably held me back, to be quite honest. 

You probably feel like you’re open to everything, but your audience is trying to understand what to expect from you. As you expand and you grow, you can expand your niche

Let’s talk about editors and content directors. Editors don’t necessarily want to search through every submission or cold pitch to see if you’re a good fit. 

They want you to tell them that you’re a good fit. 

That sounds crazy, but here’s how it works: If I’m looking for a piece about how the Paris dining scene has changed over the years, I’m not going to choose a writer that has been recapping Keeping Up with The Kardashians for the last 7 years. 

Maybe if you’re a French writer that has been recapping KUTK, but please show me at least one piece of writing you’ve done on the Paris restaurant scene. 

Editors want the easy solution, it’s very rare for an editor or marketer to cultivate the talent out of you and let you write anything. Very few editors have the time to be Max Perkins, especially when they need a few articles. 

Let’s say someone has a very, small affiliate site around hoodies (hmmmm….). And they need a writer. They (or I) will need writers who have at least a passing interest in fashion, and are willing to dive into a few hoodie brands. Anyone who has already written about hoodies will get an extra glance from me (or whatever editor is looking at it). 

In other words, make it easy on the editor. Your writing samples should reflect your niche. This brings us to our next point…

2. Create writing samples for that niche (even if you aren’t paid)

No one likes to hear this part, but it’s accurate. You will need samples in your portfolio to make editors hire you. And you may need to write these articles on spec without getting paid to show what you can do. That’s not fun, but it’s true. 

If you’ve chosen French food as your niche, you’ll need to visit restaurants, talk to chefs, and may even need to connect with other journalists and interview them as well. Then write an article or blog post with your findings. 

Let’s go back to that very-quite-possibly-real hoodie site. If you have any understanding in clothing textures, threads, or the fashion business, it would be easy to write an article or blog post with authority and expertise on those topics. 

Because that’s why you’re really writing these for free*: eventually you want to get paid more.

*Note: Marketers and writing internships are notoriously bad for demanding lots of stuff for free without getting anything in return. It is okay to do a piece for free, but don’t make a regular habit of it. Create a sample that’s related, and then do the specific piece for free. If you created a sample and a site wants to publish it, ask for payment. I know this can be hard sometimes, but you want to create clear expectations for long-term success. 

3. Create a portfolio site

Next, you’ll need a portfolio site to show off your work. This will be important to link to from your social media profiles and with your pitches. 

Your portfolio site could be: 

  • Your own personal website
  • A blogging site, like Medium
  • A writing portfolio site like, Contently, or Writerfolio
  • A design portfolio site like Dribbl, Cargo, or Carbonmade
  • Even a Google Drive folder could work

Point is, you need a public, accessible selection of your writing that shows off your writing skills. 

But here’s the thing: Don’t just send your portfolio link unless it only has 3 to 5 things in it. Otherwise, the editor will get lost. 

Instead, send direct links to your 3 to 5 best articles — remember, you need to make it as easy as possible for the people hiring you to hire you. 

4. Sign up for online writing sites

If you’re just beginning as a freelance writer, you will need to go to where the people are looking for freelance writing. You could do cold pitching, and those can sometimes be effective, but you’ll have a better success rate by going to where people are already seeking out talent. 

Two top places for this right now are Fiverr and Upwork. 

These sites get a bad rep for not paying writers well, and that can be the case. But if you build up your portfolio and writing experience, you’ll start to form relationships and then have recurring gigs. 

Explore Content & Freelance Writing Services

This next one is fairly new and it sits between being a full-time freelance writer with your own clients, and seeking out work on Upwork/Fiverr. It’s actually my favorite way for writers or those with niche experience who want to write. 

These content writing services (content writing mills?) contract with businesses who then hire them to create the right type of content for certain topics. 

I’ve used these services myself to receive writing on several niche topics. Many of them hire writers who then receive regular, routine assignments. If you’re looking to join up with one these firms, check out: 

There are probably lots more, but they usually have regular work and are great, especially if you’ve nailed down your writing niche. 

You can also explore writing job boards, like Problogger and Here, you’ll be competing with writers of all skill levels, so I suggest working your way up through Upwork and then a content writing service before applying for a full-time or even part-time writing job. 

By that stage, you’ll discover if you like freelance writing, which niches (and sub-niches) you really want to go after, and if regular writing with deadlines(!) and edits(!!) is for you as a potential freelance writing career.

Do you need qualifications to be a successful freelance writer?

Technically, no. But you need to be more than proficient at writing. If your work is littered with mistakes, factual errors, and poor grammar then you will not get many freelance writing jobs, if any at all. 

Many writers have some college degree or some years in college. Honestly, college can help you with your style, but in regards to being a writer it really helps you to think critically, form arguments, and to write a lot.

If you didn’t study writing in college, that’s probably better. Now you have a freelance writing niche that you can go after. If you studied economics and can explain complex terms in easy-to-understand ways, there are tons of finance sites that are looking for writers like you. 

Study science or was pre-med? Now it’s on. The life sciences are one of the hardest technical writing niches. Capable writers are hard to find. You can go deep into these niches, use your research skills, and create great content for lots of businesses. 

Can anyone be a freelance writer?

Yes and no. Many take writing for granted, but if you didn’t enjoy writing papers in high school or college, I don’t see how you would enjoy being a freelance writer or have a passion for writing. But, this is where the writing samples come in. 

Try your hand at writing and exploring topics and see how well you do. If the process is too tedious, then you probably shouldn’t be a freelance writer. You need to be comfortable writing for long periods of time.

Can I be a writer without a degree?

Most definitely, but it doesn’t hurt. No one has to give you permission to be a writer. You can write about whatever you’d like. But if you want to get paid for it, and be a freelance writer, you’ll have to often write what someone else wants you to write about. A degree isn’t required for that, but editors and marketing directors are probably looking for a degree. But if your writing is excellent — no matter how you got there — then you will not need a degree. 

3 Quick Ways to Share Your Sawdust

Jack Butcher of Visualize Value has this idea about sharing your sawdust:

The basic point is that you’re sharing what you’re doing, people will be more interested in your project because of the transparency.

He calls it “sawdust” because it’s what’s falling off as you’re building something new.

It’s a great idea, especially for the creator economy.

It can be a little hard as you’re feeling out your process, or experimenting with new ways of doing things. And it may be a little awkward at first.

As a writer, I’m trying to get people to engage in my articles and posts, but also want to explore some new channels. Here are some easy ways to share your sawdust.

1. Re-share your notes, ideas, and brainstorms

This may come off as half-finished, but that’s the point. People want to know how you arrived at a certain idea or conclusion. This may not be the best fit every time, but it can work on occasion. It wouldn’t work on this post for instance — I jumped around to about five Notion docs, trying to settle on an idea.

2. Test out ideas on social media before expanding

I forgot who said this (sorry Internet!) but a great point I saw recently was to test out ideas on Twitter before expanding them into a post, product, or presentation.

That way, you can get a response or reaction and then maybe even use those quotes in your piece or as an initial audience for distribution.

I thought that made a lot of sense — though I haven’t done it too much. (Here’s a reminder to myself).

3. Short videos and images

Recently I’ve used Loom a lot to record videos of screen shares or to clarify a few points. Mostly I’ve done this in work situations, but I can see it working for blogging as well. (Another note to self). For instance, I could do an explanation of how I arrived at this post (meta!)

Any images you create or share for a book, blog post, or presentation can be shared on social as well.

I know all of this seems obvious, but how often do you actually do it?

What’s great is that your ideas can be battle-tested before implementation. It’s a great hack that engages dialogue and conversation along the way. Again, let me reiterate, I’m not very good at this, but I’m learning and trying out new things.

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