Atomic Habits for Writers: Successfully Implementing Writing Tips

Full of hope, you download another writing checklist. You print it out, put it beside your keyboard, and decide to never hit “Publish” again without implementing the whole sheet of writing tips.

This time, you will learn to write like a pro.

But after a while, your good intentions are supplanted by other priorities. Cookie crumbs and coffee circles curl the printout on your desk—evidence of another failed attempt at pursuing your dreams.

Learning the craft of writing is just too much work. Isn’t there an easier strategy?

There is.

Atomic Habits for Writers: Change Your Writing Routine with Minimal Effort

I’m reading Atomic Habits by James Clear, and it’s helping me improve daily life in ways I hadn’t deemed possible. With ease, I’m implementing new habits and solidifying old ones. (I mean, I’m typing these words at 4:15 a.m. with muscles sore from yesterday’s workout, and soon, I’ll bring my wife her daily 6 a.m. coffee.)

And the good news for you, dear reader, is that you can employ Clear’s atomic habits to learn to write with confidence and authority.

Let’s see how it works.

Tell Yourself What Kind of Writer You Are

Change always starts with a mindset. Therefore, Clear recommends defining yourself as the person you want to be. I have a hard time doing my workouts in the morning because, frankly, I don’t like moving—I much rather sit in my armchair with a book on my lap. To break my inertia, I regularly tell myself, “Niels, you’re a sportsman.”

You can tell yourself what kind of writer you want to be and make your eagerness to learn new techniques a part of your identity. Your identity then affects your motivation.

Whatever your writing methodology is, you want to be the type of writer who delivers top-quality content. Some authors write best when they draft in turbo mode without looking back (provided, of course, they know what they’re going to say). Others like to rework every sentence and end with a solid first draft (of course, to be further perfected in later revisions).

In the first case, tell yourself, “I’m a top-notch writer who checks every sentence for quality right after drafting it.” In the second case, “I’m a top-notch writer who drafts fast, but then self-edits every sentence to perfection.”

Take a deep breath and repeat your line aloud at least once a day. By reminding yourself how you do things, you’ll fertilize the soil for new habits.

Connect Your New Writing Hacks to Old Habits

New habits are hard to attain. But by connecting them to old ones, rather than hanging them in limbo, you dramatically increase your chances. Old habits are printed so strongly into your cerebrum that they’ve become no-brainers. As long as the additions are small, new habits can simply hop on for the ride.

Upon entering my office every working day, I put my coffee on the table beside my reading chair and set my alarm for 7.5 minutes of intense strength training. My old habits—preparing coffee and reading—were petrified, and I pasted the new habit between them like cement between cobblestones. Now, two weeks later, the thought of skipping my workout feels wrong.

Here’s what combining old habits with new ones might look like for a nonfiction author:

  • When writing: Finishing a paragraph is a habit. Now, connect the new writing hack to hitting the return key.
  • When self-editing: When editing, you’re automatically using a set of skills you once learned. After editing a paragraph, reread the paragraph for the new hack.

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Habits you could include are:

  • Checking if you said what you wanted to say
  • Checking for words that could be more active or concrete
  • Checking for repeating or superfluous words
  • . . .

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Once the new hack becomes automatic, focus on the next one. James Clear writes that we should improve our habits by 1 percent at a time. That is a small change, but it will have a tremendous effect in the long run.

Work through entire checklists, and with every new habit you add, you’ll be a better writer.

Repeat Your New Writing Habits to Yourself Until They Stick

Another key to success is defining—and proclaiming—what habit you’re adding and when. The latter is especially important because it connects the new action to an old one.

For example, I tell myself every morning, “When I enter my office, I put my coffee on the table and set my alarm for a 7.5-minute workout.” It’s a deal I made with myself, and that’s that.

How do you apply this to your writing routine?

  • When writing: After writing a paragraph, say, “Whenever I hit the return key, I read my paragraph and check it for [insert new habit].
  • When self-editing: After editing a paragraph, say, “Whenever I’m done editing a paragraph, I go back and check for [insert new habit].

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It may sound ludicrous to pronounce our new habits while writing, but it works. I’m not sure what happens in our brains when we do this, but it seems new paths are being created. After a number of repetitions, the path is finished, and our brains act automatically—we spot the improvements without looking for them. It’s time for the next new habit.

Turn this principle itself into a habit, and you’ll continue honing your writing skills and developing your authority.

Make Your New Writing Habits Attractive: Find the Reward

Motivation is the key to success in implementing any habit. But how do you stay motivated to repeat something until automatism takes over? There is but one answer to that.

Reward.

While setting my alarm clock for exercise, I often think of how my wife looks at me as she sees me moving the washing machine or lifting the kids above my head. Those biceps turn me into her superhero, so—heck yeah!—I’m going to keep pumping them.

I also have a short-term reward: when, after the umpteenth push-up, my muscles almost hit failure, I sniff the aroma propagating from the coffee table. Almost . . .

That’s a reward.

So, what will be your reward as a writer?

  1. You’ll gain confidence.
  2. You’ll be more socially meaningful.
  3. You’ll gain praise for your writing.
  4. You’ll get to see your prose tighten.

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What other rewards can you think of? Maybe you can promise yourself a cow leather writing portfolio once you succeed in habitizing a full checklist of writing tips.

Make Your Writing Habits Easy

The less troublesome your new habit is, the less you’ll resist it.

What I hate most about sports is the sweat. But to get to my office, I have to cross the desert on my bike, and I arrive soaked and dripping. Is a little extra sweat such a big deal? I might as well do some sports. Taking away my biggest obstacle made the habit much easier to develop.

How do you make your writing habits easy?

Just a few ideas:

  • Take it one step at a time. Don’t overburden yourself with a whole checklist; you’ll get frustrated by the number of things to do.
  • Don’t try too hard. This is a draft, not your final manuscript. Right now, you only want to take a few seconds for this one extra habit. If you don’t see anything to improve, continue typing.

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Read Atomic Habits Yourself and Improve Your Nonfiction Writing

In this blog, I shared only a few pointers that helped me brave the misty peaks of success. For the full pallet of benefits that Atomic Habits provides, you’ll have to read the book.

Get Started with New Nonfiction Writing Habits

Click here to get my PDF Seven Keys to Writing with Authority: A Three-Minute Guide to Impactful Writing.

Turn these keys into new habits, and you’ll start improving your skills in minutes.

You’ll be on your way to writing with confidence and authority.

Enjoyed this blog?

Have a look at my other posts. And if you need help finishing your story, let’s chat.

Atomic Habits for Writers: Successfully Implementing Writing Tips

Niels Kwakernaak

Nonfiction Editor

Thanks for your interest in my experience and ideas. I write these blogs to help you overcome the hurdles of being a writer.

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