Read-Only Text: How to Write Every Day

Three months ago I decided to start writing consistently.

Since then, I've worked on my novel every single day without fail. In the past, I would have used any sort of negative feeling – laziness, exhaustion, simply "not wanting to write" – as my cue to step back and let writer's block take over, but now I fight through it. All I have to do is start.

Before, I thought of writing every day as some monstrous, impossible feat. But I've found that it's just the opposite. Writing only when you're inspired is ridiculously hard compared to writing daily. Inspiration doesn't strike often, and if you rely on it to dictate your writing schedule, then you're not going to write very often. And when you don't practice, you stagnate.

So if you want to write, don't let yourself stagnate. Here are the rules I came up with to jumpstart my writing habit.

RULE #1: Write a sentence every day

When creating a habit, start small. One sentence is easy to do, and it's a fluid unit: it can be anywhere from one to thousands of words. It doesn't even have to be grammatically correct.

In seven days, up your daily number of sentences by one. Repeat for each week that passes. When you've found your ideal number of daily sentences, stop adding to it, and use that number as your permanent minimum.

Reasoning: This rule helps you to build a writing habit, however small, into your daily schedule. The key is that you don't skip any days. Skipping even one day makes it easier to skip the next.

RULE#2: Don't even think about editing

This is extremely important. Unless you're Thomas Pynchon, you will write terrible sentences. And it's okay. That doesn't mean you're a terrible writer – it's just a natural consequence of writing so frequently. Some days your output will be brilliant. Some days you'll look at what you wrote before and want to kill it with fire. But whatever you do, don't touch any of your previous days' work.

You're free to edit what you've written today. However, when 24 hours is up, so is your editing access to those sentences. I like to think of work from previous days as being read-only.

What if you've written a bunch of sentences in the past few days that don't fit with your new vision of the story? Forget about them! Go forth and write new sentences that do fit with your vision. You can align them when you're done with the entire story.

Reasoning: One of the fastest ways to kill your writing habit is to get caught in a line-edit loop. I had this problem for many years. I would write something, hate it, and rewrite it ad nauseum until it was "perfect." I couldn't finish my stories because I kept destroying my ideas right after creating them. For more on this topic, read Scott H. Young's excellent How to Fuel a Creative Flow.

This rule helps you to reach the finish line. When you've finished an entire draft – and only when you've finished an entire draft – you can edit to your heart's desire.

RULE #3: Begin where you left off the previous day

Treat your scenes as if they were read-only, too. You can't write a new sentence in the middle of a paragraph from a previous day. If you choose to do this anyway, then that sentence doesn't count.

Reasoning: Rule #2 prevents destructive editing; this rule prevents constructive editing. It ensures that each new sentence is subsequent, which increases the likelihood that the new sentence will push the story forward.

I've been following these rules for twelve weeks. Today is the first day of week 13, which means I'll write a minimum of 13 sentences every day this week. At this rate, I should have written 546 sentences by now. Instead I've written 34,043 words, which, at an average of 15 words per sentence, translates to about 2270 sentences, over four times what I projected.

For reference, before I started this habit, the novel clocked in at 49,091 words. It took me well over a year to write that much. Within the past three months, I've written 70% of that amount, and despite my focus on quantity, I've also made strides in quality.

I highly recommend this sentence-based system to anyone who wants to write. For more ideas on how to write every day, check out these articles:

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