If you’re having trouble establishing a writing habit, it may be because you don’t think of yourself as a writer. Call yourself a writer first. This may sound silly. You may be thinking, “well, I only make a few dollars from writing,” or even a few cents. That doesn’t matter; if you write, you are a writer.
Start with the name.
I’ve been writing every day for over a year and made money after the first month. But I’ve always considered myself a writer. Even when I was writing in a journal daily for my own satisfaction.
Identifying with the word “writer” is the first step to creating a writing habit that sticks. When we identify with a value we see in ourselves — or we want to see in ourselves — it gives our habits a more significant impact.
Your habits shape your identity, and your identity shapes your habits. — James Clear, Atomic Habits
If you want to be a professional writer and make an income — and this is very possible with platforms like Medium (even if you’ve never made a cent from writing), having a goal and stating what the goal is, is necessary. But what drives success is setting up a system to support the goal — the habit of writing.
Call yourself a Writer.
Once you call yourself a writer, you identify with it more strongly, and what it feels like to be what you want to be, and what you want your life to look like.
When someone asks what you do, which of the following answers will get you to the desired outcome faster?
A) I’m trying to be a writer.
B) I’m a writer.
What you do each day is usually a reflection of your identity; the behaviors you choose indicate the type of person you believe you are. This is why it’s important to pay attention to what we tell ourselves — unconsciously or consciously.
You are a writer.
State your goal.
Your goal is to write daily and make an income from your writing.
Develop your system or create your writing recipe.
Your system is how often you write, where you write, what time of day you write, how often you submit to publications, whether you take a class to get better at writing, when you edit and how you break down an article to make it clear and concise for your readers.
Those are systems and what drives your life toward what you want. For success, focus more on the system and not the goal.
This is what I did for one year. I worked on the system, and the results were pretty amazing. I went from making nothing to making over three thousand this last month, I’ve written many viral stories, and my earnings steadily increase each month.
You have to implement a system to win at everything, even writing.
If you want better results, then forget about setting goals. Focus on your system instead. — James Clear, Atomic Habits
The system I set up to become a writer
- I let everything else come second. For the first six months of writing, I put everything in my life on the back burner. I decided I would do my one essential task — writing — first thing in the morning. That means I didn’t go through email, I didn’t look at social media, I didn’t text anyone back until I got my writing in.
- I usually write from 7 to 10 am.
- I wear noise-canceling headphones. Good writing requires deep work. Deep work results from uninterrupted thinking for several hours. Deep work is achieved when you only focus on one task and nothing else. Interruptions, like notifications, email, texts, and people interrupting, interferes with deep work. You’ll get more accomplished if you focus on one thing for a few hours than if you focus on one thing for ten hours while being interrupted. Explain this to your family that writing requires deep work.
- I sit at the same desk every day — occasionally, I move the desk to a different spot in the room, but I sit at the same desk in the same room.
- I keep my iPhone in the other room on a charging station or turn it off.
- I don’t get up out of my chair for at least an hour and sometimes three except to stretch.
- When I’m not writing, I’m reading or listening to podcasts for content ideas to hack and put my own spin on.
- When an acquaintance at a party or strangers ask what I do for a living, I respond, “I’m a writer.”
When you write each day, you embody the identity of a writer.
Now, I have proof. I’m writing every day, hey, maybe I am a writer. The more evidence you have of a belief, the more you’ll believe it, reinforcing the habit.
Each time you write a page, you are a writer, and the more pages you write, the stronger your belief gets that you are, indeed, a writer.
James Clear simplifies this idea brilliantly in his book Atomic Habits.
- Decide the type of person you want to be.
- Prove it to yourself with small wins.
He gives this simple example:
Who is the type of person who could write a book?
“It’s probably someone who is consistent and reliable. Now shift from writing a book (outcome-based) to being the type of person who is consistent and reliable (identity-based).”
Having the identity that you are consistent and reliable will reinforce your daily writing habit, more than say, telling yourself to write 1000 words a day. Writing 1000 words per day takes motivation, and let’s be honest, some days, motivation just isn’t going to be there.
Once the muscle is developed, after all, writing is a skill — a muscle you work out to get stronger — writing daily content is not nearly as challenging as you might think. It is more demanding in the beginning when the writing muscle is atrophied, but once you strengthen it, it’s much easier.
Find a writing recipe that works for you, and do it every day until your habit and identity are working to support each other.
While you are writing every day, do the following.
#1. Choose a topic or topic.
Find your particular topic. Everyone has something or many things that interest them, write about those topics.
Your readers will feel your passion when you write what you know or about something you want to know more about.
Some writers learn on the page. They investigate a topic they don’t know anything about and learn it through writing, then share what they learned with their readers.
Write a list of topics you know a lot about or want to know. I write in the following topics: advice, writing, life lessons, love, and relationships. These are popular topics. You may have more luck niching down, like writing about one specific topic, like Legos.
If you are stuck, ask yourself these questions.
- When I go out with a friend, what do I like to talk about?
- When I look up things to read on the internet, what are those topics?
- What podcasts interest me most?
- What have I had schooling/training in?
- When I’m scrolling Facebook, what topics make me stop and read?
- What advice do I typically give to friends and loved ones?
#2. Treat writing like a job, not a hobby.
Writing is hard, and it takes discipline. Discipline needs to be there on the days you don’t want to write — writers who are paid write on the days they don’t want to write.
We write every day.
If you only write on the days you want to, you will write a few times a month at that, and most likely, your writing will read like a journal entry because you haven’t flexed your writing muscle in a while, nor have you shared your content, this is where writers get valuable feedback.
If you want to be a prolific writer and earn an income, you have to make it your identity and not let anyone or anything interfere with your writing time, so it becomes an ingrained habit.
Successful writers have a routine, and they don’t allow others to interfere with it.
If you want to earn an income from your work, make writing your life, take it seriously, and soon you will be publishing five to seven blog posts a week or more because you are a writer.