The Writing Resolution You Can Actually Keep

image of school desks

It’s that time of year again. Time for resolutions, and for all of the skeptics and killjoys who say that resolutions never work.

They certainly can work, but you need to approach them the right way.

Most people fail at resolutions (at any time of year) for two reasons. The first is that they focus on outcomes (“lose 50 pounds”) rather than behaviors. The second is that they try to put massive changes into place all at once. (“I will work out three hours a day,” even though today I work out 0 minutes a day.)

And if you want to become a better writer, so you can reap all those awesome benefits of being a strategic, authoritative content creator, you’re not going to get there by resolving to “be a better writer” this year. Or by promising yourself you’re going to write for six hours a day, every day.

Here’s a more realistic habit you can develop instead — one that will actually get you where you want to go.

Every day in January, write for 20 minutes.

By every day, I mean every day. Including weekends. Including the Martin Luther King holiday. Including the days that get crazy.

If you’re not in the hospital with two broken arms, write every day. For 20 minutes.

During your 20 minutes, turn off all distractions. Set your phone to Do Not Disturb, or shut off the ringer. Quit your email service. And for heaven’s sake, get rid of all social media. Use a service like Freedom or OmmWriter if you need to.

Some days you might write someplace weird, like in a notebook while you’re waiting for the bus. That’s fine.

Some days you will definitely write embarrassingly awful crap. That’s also fine.

Set a timer for 20 minutes. I like using a meditation timer on my phone (there’s a good free one here) — it’s much less jarring than the usual nasty buzz.

Don’t edit during your writing time. This is for first drafts only.

Only write. Every day. For 31 days in a row.

It doesn’t have to be relevant to your topic. It doesn’t have to be on your “big project,” whatever that may be. It certainly doesn’t have to be good. Just write something.

You might want to deploy the Seinfeld method and find yourself a big paper calendar. (You can download a calendar page from the web, if you like.)

Every day you write, mark a gigantic X on that day with the colored marker of your preference. Make it satisfying. Use a fat red sharpie or a glitter pen or rainbow colored pencils, whatever turns you on.

Or use whatever’s on your desk right this minute, because procrastinating until you find the perfect pen is against the rules.

What to do if you just aren’t doing it

Assuming you’ve tried the Seinfeld method and that isn’t doing it for you, cut the amount of time down to 15 minutes.

If that doesn’t work, make it 10 minutes. Or two minutes.

If you can’t write for two minutes a day, write one word a day. One word. Sit down and make it happen. Then after a few days of that, try writing one sentence.

Write your one sentence every day for 31 days in a row. If you don’t get started until January 17, that’s fine. Just start.

“But I can’t get my (book, report, manifesto) written in one sentence a day”

If you’re writing zero sentences a day, one sentence is a big improvement.

And daily habits are a funny thing. When you get into the habit of sitting at your writing technology of choice (laptop, iPad, Moleskine and fountain pen, etc.), and clearing away distractions, you’ll start writing.

Once you develop the habit of writing every day, you can bump the time up just a little bit — maybe two sessions of 20 minutes, with a 10-minute break in between. Then two sessions of 25 minutes.

You get the idea. Use your timer. Nudge yourself forward.

If the habit starts to slip, go back to what you can do reliably every single day.

If it is important, do it every day, if it isn’t, don’t do it at all. ~ Olympic wrestling gold medalist Dan Gable, and frequently quoted by master strength coach Dan John

To become a better writer (whether it’s for text, podcast scripts, video scripts, or anything else that needs words to be strung together effectively), you need to write.

And the best way to write more is to build the habit of writing every day.

Give it a try for 31 days, and let us know how it’s going! And if you’ve ever tried a daily writing practice, we’d love to hear about it in the comments.

About the author

Sonia Simone


Sonia Simone is co-founder and Chief Content Officer of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Sonia on Twitter and .

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  1. Sonia, great article.
    I’ve been writing several hundred words per day since September 8, 2013 when I discovered “free writing” as an exercise in Ed Dale’s, The Challenge 2013. We were asked to just write anything for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, I found that I didn’t want to quit. So I wrote for a while longer.
    Later I discovered 750words.com where my goal is to write at least 750 words per day. And I have done that every day (including today) since Sep 8, 2013.
    I even managed to double dip during November 2012 when I successfully wrote 51,547 words against a 50,000 word goal in the National Novel Writers Month, NaNoWriMo.
    I’m lazy. I’m aged. I’m a procrastinator. But…first thing every morning – sit down, fingers on keyboard, tappity, tapptity, tap, tap.

    • Funny how many really good writers consider themselves lazy and/or procrastinators. :)

      • Jane Henderson :

        I happened across this article and am so glad that I did. Reading what writers have to say about themselves I realize I need to interact with other writers. I am so uninspired by most people and yes, I am lazy and a huge procrastinator.
        I am in an online MS program and get B’s and C’s because I skip some assignments. I get full points for everything I turn in but just get “out of the mood” about two weeks every 8 week term, ie one week no work = B two weeks = C. I read my posts later and think ” I said that? Wow! I’m good “. I wrote a tiny humorous book about nursing and it was the most fun. I have other books started. I am taking the 20 minutes a day advice.
        Can anyone give me addresses to interact with other writers in this format? I would really appreciate it. I need peers I can relate to. Thanks for your interesting and inspiring comments. Jane

    • Lindsey says ” I’m lazy. I’m aged. I’m a procrastinator.” I suppose that’s a somewhat painful admission: if it’s the truth, that’s a great starting point for the 20 minutes a day challenge. Me ? I am all of the above with the addition of “serial” sprinkled liberally throughout these sentiments.
      If Lindsey can do it then it’s quite possible, even probable that anyone who means business can do it also.Including me.
      Great article Simone and thank you!

  2. Excellent advice! I’ll be trying this not only with my writing, but applying variations of this strategy with SEVERAL Copyblogger products that I’ve invested in in 2013 (i.e. Scribe, Authority, Teaching Sells and Morrow’s GuestBlogging.com). 2014 needs to be an improvement on 2013.

  3. This is how I publish 3 to 5 posts daily Sonia…toss in a video or 2 as well. I decide to write daily. A ton. I started with a few minutes…..which became a few hours…..now I post 3 to 5 times daily on CWATC – my blog – and I write 1 to 3 paying articles for clients. Write. Push. Yourself. Good tip, and Happy New Year!

  4. Thanks for the inspiration, Sonia. You offer a wonderful suggestion for making any change in our lives. Failure is much less likely when success is more achievable.

  5. Sonia, thanks for the good tips. I was going to cut my blog posts to three a week this year but decided to keep it at five a week because I felt the additional writing would make me a better writer. I like the idea of creating a manageable writing frequency of 20 minutes a day and building from there. Some writers also use a word quota of 500 to 2000 words a day instead of time. I think new writers would be better with a minutes quota to start though.

    • You may want to consider writing five posts a week but publishing the best three. That way you can keep your quality high but still get the benefits of writing more often — and you can keep your “almosts” as possible drafts or seeds for something bigger/better.

  6. Writing, as with anything in life, works best when we make the good intention to do the very best we can within that moment.
    To be kind to ourselves.
    Once we realise that all that’s required of us is to turn up and do our best – so the creative process is allowed to flow freely.
    Happy New Year and inspiration to all :-)

  7. Great reminder Sonia of the importance of committing yourself to a task that you deem is important.

    I’ve been working on that this year especially, and one of the things I’ve found has helped tremendously is in setting an appointment/time to do the activity that I do not break. For example, earlier this year I started a yoga practice and committed myself to going to the classes each week. I planned my days to ensure that nothing was scheduled to interfere with me getting to that class. I didn’t always want to go (especially on those days when it was raining or snowing), but I pulled my butt out of the house sometimes kicking and screaming and got to class. And in the end I was always happy I did. As a result, eventually going to yoga became a part of my routine. It was something I just did without question, and without the need for talking myself into it.

    The same can be true with our writing practice. In taking the 31-day challenge, eventually we’ll see that writing will just be something that we do as a part of the routine of our day – like brushing our teeth. :)

    Challenge accepted!

  8. Great article – as always.

    Thanks especially for the tip to use the meditation timer. I use a timer and have to place it across the room because I hate it’s beeping. (I would sneak peeks to see when it would go off so I could turn it off early.)

  9. I think this is a great idea, and one I’ll definitely be employing for my New Year’s resolution (especially if it means I can ditch that gym-related one). I’ve found that I’m resistant to writing when I don’t feel inspired, and hate what I produce at the time — but after I’ve successfully forced some words into the keyboard, it winds up being much better than I thought.

  10. Never put off tomorrow what you can do today is something my late grandmother and mother used to say to me.
    I love blogging and this post is a true inspiration! Before I was of the mind that I could take a long break after publishing a 1000 word blog post but I am on the path now of writing 2 or 3 posts a day, I wish to be like Ryan Biddulph and publishing and helping others every day!
    Great post Sonia!
    - Phillip

  11. Hmmm. Interesting . . . I actually write all day (since that’s what I do for a living) BUT there are books that I want to write that I never get to. So, I’m thinking about picking two of them and making sure that I spend 20 minutes per day on each.

  12. Sonia–

    This is a great way to approach behavior change. Start small but keep going and building over time. It’s not the one word you write per day now but the pages you write per day later on due to your habit.

    For most people resolutions last a few weeks at most. This is why health clubs do so well in January.

    Happy marketing,
    Heidi Cohen

  13. I am new to this site and already appreciate the wisdom that you give out. I was looking for a resolution I could do and this is it.
    Happy New Year

  14. I am going to try this for sure! I love writing but tend to work on projects rather than just writing for the expression of it and to make it a habit! Blessings, Amy

  15. Thank you for the encouragement. I have written for publication but find blogging a totally different challenge. Because it is different I tend to get bogged down in details and fail to release my posts in a timely fashion. My goal this year is to blog a book. Trying to get geared up and ready for the task this week with the goal of being more consistent. I hold onto a post way too long. Also found the article A Simple Plan for Writing One Online Power Piece a Week helpful in conjunction with this. In the past, I found that structure is everything and once I have the skeleton in place, it is easy to quickly flesh out the writing. Thank you for the reminder! I needed that today.

    • Super, Jan!

      If you want to blog the book, you might just set the expectation on the blog that you’re publishing a polished draft. Not utter gibberish, but probably not the final form either.

      Books have a funny way of morphing, so I find I need that freedom to say, “This might totally change, but for now, this is what ‘chapter x’ might look like.”

  16. One of my favorite writing practices is to take a “page a day” calendar, like a zen or steven covey or whatever your form of inspiration; and comment back to that statement, i.e, “write for 20 minutes a day, every day…”
    “I hate these exercises where someone tells me to do something I’m already doing…” and run with it from there.

  17. Thanks Sonia! I have been following your posts recently and just started “Going Pro” with my fitness website/blog. I love your articles as well as all the copy blogger e-books that you guys have written. I love this New Year’s Resolution idea especially the writing for 20 minutes a day. I am starting this today. I have also read up on the writing Great Headlines and have made a ton of them for future posts. I am looking for some advice on how to writing compelling copy. I have also read many articles on there. Do you write headlines and sub heads first then fill in content? Just looking for some more organization for a smoother writing experience. Thanks a bunch for all you do!

    • You have to experiment a little to find what works best for you, but I’d start off writing your headline & subheads first, then fill in. Often you’ll find you go back and fiddle with the headline and/or subheads once you’ve done the writing, but it’s great to have that structure in place.

  18. More writing is what I need to set my eyes on in the the New Year.

    I want to become a better writer myself and use writing to connect with my readers and audience.

    About resolutions, sure, everybody makes them!

    I personally believe so many give up on their resolutions is because their lifestyle isn’t in accord with the resolutions. And people hate change!

    I highly encourage those who want to get better at something is to make realistic, smaller goals that don’t require you to wait for years to see some result.

    Thank you,

    - Samuel

  19. This Idea is a kind of mental conditioning which will give amateurs a pro like discipline in writing.
    I suffer from a condition. I call it “The Writing Mood”.When I’m in the mood I can write down 1000 to 2000 words in single sitting. Words just keep coming out. But some times I sit on my table all set to write and nothing exciting comes out.
    I think writing is some kind of natural energy.
    Anybody else felt like this?

  20. Such great advice, Sonia, and not just for writing.

    Making yourself do anything daily (exercise, read, study), even if for a short while, is a fantastic way to develop positive habits.

    I use an app on my phone called Good Habits that lets me check off an activity when I’ve accomplished it for the day. I’m going to add “write for 20 minutes” to my checklist right now!

  21. This will be going on my resolution list, along with ‘must read more books’. Way too much time in front of the screen is seriously dampening my love of a good reading session and let’s face it – reading gets the creativity flowing.

    Perhaps I can read for 20 minutes and write for 20 minutes. 40 minutes of pure indulgence.

  22. Just started blogging and setting a schedule of two posts a week. This is a great idea of writing for a set time every day. I personally need to set aside time to do this to make it a flex muscle like working out. I love the idea of writing 5 a week and picking two or three. Great ideas that I will add to my to do list for the New Year.

  23. I have done a type of 40 Day challenge where I wrote an article a day about whatever was going on that day and actually posted it on my blog as a learning experience. It was to build the habit of writing daily and more so I would have a good blog writing discipline for books, course content, and copy. I have three websites (business & ministry leadership, music industry, and fatherhood/husband blogs) and I CAN’T stop writing. I have a writing schedule planned out for 2014 and I am actually BACK up on content from just building the habit. I have so much content that I could take a 30 day break and just post what I have to coast. lol! Love it!

  24. Nice article. I shall also be following this advice, after all they say it takes around 3 or 4 weeks to make or break a habit so things can surely only get better after this 31 day challenge!

  25. Terrific advice, and not too challenging to implement. Which is what I sorely need. : )

    Like some of the other commenters here, I too write for clients everyday, and for my own blog and newsletter as well, but I don’t write near enough on my own strictly “passion” stuff. Which I told myself a couple months I’d start doing for an hour a day, every day, no matter what. Well, I couldn’t seem to stick to that, so the inevitable self-loathing followed. Then I kind of abandoned the goal altogether, and lamely rationalized to myself that I do, in fact, write for 5 or 6 hours every day, just not for myself. Sigh.

    But 20 minutes a day is doable, and 31 days is doable, so I’m going to do it. :)

    Thanks for the inspiration.

  26. One word every day… It’s a start.

  27. I love everything you said. Small steps are better than no steps. Building a new positive habit is a must! Thanks Simone.

  28. Love this idea, Sonya. I write a lot more frequently than I finish things, though. Do you ever have difficulty finishing what you write? Any strategies for becoming better at finishing posts, Sonya?

    • Best way I know of is to give yourself some deadlines. If you want practice finishing, get a blog started (or make a commitment to keep up one that you’ve already started.) Let’s say you write 7 days a week and you publish two posts, Mondays and Thursdays.

      Now you have two commitments a week to finish a piece. Over time, you’ll get much, much better at hitting that deadline with more grace.

  29. Maybe it was reading Stephen King’s “On Writing,” but somehow I got 2000 words-a-day as the magic algorithm of professional writing. I used some of the NaNoWriMo materials and some of their energy, but I was never married to the concept of creating a complete work of fiction in 30 days.

    In order not to drive myself crazy with the numbers, I’ve come up with this little trick. [Trick yourself, always. Others, never] I get to count all of my writing as writing. And I stop the count at 2,000. Every day.

    Which means, I feel incredibly guilty if I comment on a blog post or tweet without purpose or some level of thoughtfulness. It also means that once I hit that 2,000, I am now free to write or NOT. And just giving myself that permission means that I write a WHOLE LOT more than I had otherwise.

    Forever tweaking my writing habits. But that’s the fun of it. And Lord, it needs to be fun.

  30. Writing twenty minutes a day is, so, doable, right? I keep telling myself that very fact, but never seem to get around to the writing part.

    I will write for twenty minutes a day for EVERY day of January 2014 and I have deputized all of you to be my accountability partners to help me achieve this task.

    I’ll check back and let you all know how I’m doing.

  31. Thanks for the inspiration, Simone. I write plenty – for my clients. It’s writing for myself where I struggle to find the time. Simply setting those few minutes aside each day is a must-do for the new year. I suspect the personal return will be much greater than the same minutes inevitably spent perusing social media…

  32. Happy New Year, Sonia! I’ve used the Power of 48 Minutes for years to get my writing done (80/20 of an hour). Simple to do. Turn off all distractions, set a timer for 48 minutes and write. Take a 12 minute break when done. Repeat as necessary. Works like a charm.

  33. Sonia, thanks so much for this post. I just recently found this blog site and am really enjoying the posts. I don’t have any clients, just a few of my own blogs, but I do love to write. Unfortunately, I find myself spending way too much of my free time on facebook or surfing the net instead of writing.

    I like your ideas of how to get into the habit of writing every day and I’m definitely going to set myself up for the challenge of writing for 20 minutes every day in January and hopefully for the rest of the year.

    It’s a good habit that could replace one of my bad habits and that is always a plus. Thanks.

  34. Every morning for the last 31 days I have crawled out of bed at 6am, made a coffee, turned the WIFI off at the router, and typed.

    If I find myself staring at a blank screen or the view, I walk to the lake, find a bench, and type.

    If that fails to get the words flowing, I’ll walk into the bush, find a stump, and type.

    Has my writing has improved? Maybe not. But I have more content than I did a month ago.

  35. Thank you Sonia, I’ve been promising myself I’ll write 500 words a day for sometime now, but never consistently achieved this. However 20 minutes a day feels so much more realistic and motivating. This will now be my 30, or should I say 31 day challenge in January. Thanks for helping me look at things differently, great stuff :)

  36. “One day our laughter comes flowing with the rain
    And on the very next day or sorrow sees us crying again”

    These words from songwriter, John Martyn could almost have been about the process of writing. One day, writing seems to be the easiest, most natural thing in the world, and the very next day it’s torture.

    Sonia, I loved this article for a number of reasons.

    First, the recognition that sometimes what you write will be awful crap, but it doesn’t matter.

    Second, writing for just 20 minutes every day is achievable and a wonderful challenge for January.

    Third, that gigantic X on the calendar is a fantastic visual device. Once you’ve got a sequence of those built up, it’s going to be very hard to break it.

    And it’s amazing how often the awful crap you write one day gives you the inspiration to write something great the next.

    Great job.

  37. This is great advice – and you’re so right about the problem of sticking to New Year’s Resolutions. I think one of the reasons we often fail is that our motivation is flawed – the fact that it’s the turn of the year and it seems like a good idea isn’t a sufficiently powerful reason for us to change the habits of a lifetime.

    Just over a year ago – NOT on New Year’s Eve – I made the decision to develop a daily writing habit by keeping a journal. I write it by hand, a page of A4 every day, and don’t allow myself to edit or discard it, as I have in the past. After many previous failed attempts to do this, I’ve finally stuck at it this time, and the difference is that my decision was based on the realisation that getting into a writing habit was the only way my writing was ever going to improve. I suddenly woke up to the fact that I could be a writer if I’d only get down to it and write – every day. I continue to write my journal, and it’s definitely helped me to write with greater fluency and to treat my writing as one of my highest priorities.

    I’ve discovered that the more I write, the more I want to write, and the easier it gets – hopefully, the readers who take up your challenge will find the same thing happens to them.

  38. OK. Challenge time. I liked all the comments. I’d like to issue an invitation. I would like to ask all who have commented here or have read this posts and its comments to join me for the month of January in writing (and posting) each day’s accomplishment of a certain number of words. I’ve kicked it off one day early to show my commitment. Please be my guest in this one month effort. If you need incentive, go to 750words.com and write there. See me (and comment) at http://www.exploringnewmedia.com/year-end-2013-writing-gaming-life/

  39. This is great! Content is absolutely one of my resolutions this 2014. I can’t wait to see how it’s going to evolve to be a better processing tool.

  40. As The Declutter Lady, I’ve been a productivity/organizing consultant for the last five years and this is the same recommendation I give clients. If they want to get rid of clutter or be more organized, it’s far better to do a little each and every day than to try to “get everything done” in marathon sessions.

    Now that I’m transitioning to freelance writing, the shoe is on the other foot and now I am the one who needs the advice and encouragement!

    I’m on board with this challenge. I’ll be writing for at least 20 minutes per day, every day. And I’ll be using the Jerry Seinfeld calendar method to track it!

    See you on the other side…

  41. Hi Sonia,

    Great article and thank you for the tips. The more you do something, the more it becomes habit.

    I don’t consider myself a good writer, but I definitely want to improve. I have aspirations of writing my own book someday, but my level is dismal at best. I have a blog (soon to be three — Yikes! I know) that I want to be able to post regularly (daily if possible).

    Your tips inspire me to just keep practicing — and hopefully attain the level I desire. Thanks again for this article!

    Cheers!
    Warren

  42. Great post! :) I think my big goal this year is to write an eBook for my blogging tips blog. I want to write a big one with lots of information and a unique “sub-niche”. I’ll likely use it to entice people to subscribe to my mailing list which is a whole different resolution altogether, haha. :p

  43. I’ve finally gotten into a consistent habit of starting each day with 1.5-3 hours of writing, regardless of whatever else I have on my to-do list.

    One of the best mindhacks I use to maintain my daily writing habit is viewing my writing time as “training”, rather than a creative pursuit or work obligation.

    As a long-distance runner, the conceptual model of “daily training” works really well for me, because it reminds me of the (often invisible) connection between daily commitment and long-term result.

    If I stop running for a while, I know my first few runs are going to feel terrible and my times will be worse. But if I stick to my training schedule, I know it’ll only be a matter of time before I’m coasting on the euphoria of a runner’s high and getting faster and stronger.

    Once I finally recognized that writing works the same way — i.e. the more you neglect it, the more it sucks, and the more you do it, the better it gets — making regular time to write got sooooo much easier :)

  44. I accept your challenge. I especially like the idea of combining 20 minutes of writing with 20 minutes of walking. I think a brisk walk will kickstart my creativity. Not to mention help with my weigh loss goals.

  45. I’ll be taking up the challenge…

    ” If it is important, do it every day, if it isn’t, don’t do it at all. ~ Olympic wrestling gold medalist Dan Gable, and frequently quoted by master strength coach Dan John” …that’s the bigger challenge for me.

  46. A daily writing regimen is hard to keep, but I have found a few things that work. Omm Writer has been useful (and the key stroke sounds can be oddly meditative — reminiscent of a typewriter). What also works is having one machine to write on, another to surf on. For example, I use my iPad for social media, reading, etc. I try to use my laptop solely for writing. Another idea is having someone to hold you accountable. Sometimes it’s easier to get those pages done when someone else is keeping you to a deadline. Thanks for the great post!

  47. Hi Sonia,

    I love practical advice. Yours is the most practical advice-giving I’ve come across in a long time. It practically gets my year off to a flying writing start.

    Thank you, and best wishes for a mega-good 2014,
    Beat

  48. Randy Kershner :

    Thanks for writing and sharing this, Sonia. Great suggestion for any writer who struggles to put pen to paper sometimes (or fingers to keyboard). While I write nearly every day for clients, my biggest challenge is creating content for my own personal blog. I may take this challenge!

  49. this is a great tactic for everything you want to get better at or want to do on a daily basis. i think the essential part is to break it into a smaller chunk if the “internal fear” is just too big to start.

    even if you say you do it just for 2 minutes, eventually you will end up doing much more. this is so powerful for every procrastinator.

  50. I start writing with great enthusiasm but after 3-4 days all went to down. :(
    I hate that but can’t control. what should i do? any advice is welcomed ! Thank you.

  51. As usual, I’m late to the party :)…Great post and the advice really does work. I’ve found that if I write every day, even if it’s just a few hundred words, I can keep the momentum going. The moment I take one day off, I turn into the queen of procrastination and weeks can go by without me putting down one word. I kid myself by saying I’m researching so I can be a better writer… *snort*… yes, I’m also the master of lying to myself.

    One quick idea. If you don’t want to use a standard timer, there’s this little program based on the Pomodorro technique that’s pretty great. You can set it to however long you want it to go, and you can turn the ticking off if it’s annoying. I find the ticking keeps me focused though, because when it’s going, it means I have to work and no slacking off :)… Anyways, it’s free and I’ve been using it for years. It’s called Xortime and you can get it at Xortime.com.

  52. OK. It’s me again. And here’s what’s happening with my writing. Just posted on http://exploringnewmedia.com about writing 200,000 words in less than 6 months. It was not easy but it was not overly taxing. Let me know how you’re doing and please leave me a copybloggerly comment.

  53. OK. Just watched the 7 Steps to Becoming a Better Writer at http://my.copyblogger.com/authority/become-a-better-writer/

    I was so impressed that I wrote today’s blog around it.

    235,822 words since September 8, 2013. Wheeee

    Thanks Copyblogger for lighting my fire.