By Leo Babauta
I’m often captivated by the writing routine and tools of other writers — it gives me inspiration and ideas to try. If it works for them, maybe it’ll work for me too.
So I thought I’d share a little bit about how I write, for those who are looking for an example of a daily writing routine (and the writing tools you might use).
The first thing to note is that my routine isn’t set in stone — there isn’t one exact thing I do, and one writing tool I use every day, and that’s that. It changes depending on my needs, and what else is going on that day, etc.
That out of the way, here’s my basic daily writing routine:
- Prewriting: I think about what I want to write about the day before, usually. If I think about it the night before, that allows me to sleep on it. That doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll process it while I sleep, but when I wake up I definitely have a sense of purpose and excitement about writing what I’m going to write. I also like to think about the intention of the writing — am I writing it to show off, or to help someone? If I’m writing to help someone, it makes me more motivated to write.
- Write with coffee. I like a cup (or two) of coffee in the morning, and that’s generally when I write the main thing I want to write that day. I start the coffee, have a drink of water, meditate for 5-10 minutes, then make my cup of coffee. Then I start writing as I drink that first cup.
- Fight distractions. When I open my computer to write, the first thing I’m tempted to do is check email, blogs, news, etc. I might allow myself to check email quickly after writing for 10 minutes or so, but I fight off the other distractions as much as possible, because I know once I give in to the distractions, I’ll get lost down the rabbit hole. Even email is dangerous, but I’m usually pretty good at just doing a few quick emails and then getting back to writing.
- I write the headline. The title of the post I’m writing is the first thing I do — it’s probably the most important few words I write as a blogger, because if it doesn’t do a good job of capturing the reader’s interest, then they won’t read the post. But it’s also important to write the headline first because it gives me some focus — I know exactly why I’m writing and what I hope to accomplish. I can always go back and change it later, but a quick first stab at it is a good place to start. Note: I do this for book writing too â€” I’ll write the title of the chapter or section I’m writing on to start me off.
- I write a quick outline. I’m not big on formal or detailed outlines, so I just basically start writing by typing up a few bullet points about what I want to write. Just 4-5 main points or tips or something like that. Maybe more. This gets the writing going, and gets my thoughts down quickly, rather than just having me stare at a blank screen wondering how to start.
- I write the intro. The start of each post I write is also important, because (ideally) it introduces the reader to the topic, maybe shares a little about my story, and tells them why the topic is important. So I write this next. For a book, I try to just get out a couple of sentences to introduce the topic.
- I flesh out the rest of the post. Once I’ve written the intro, I expand the brief outline I started before. Each bullet point of my list can become an expanded bullet point (like this list), or an entire section if needed (like the section below on writing tools).
- I share the post with readers. Once I’m done writing, I will sometimes read it over, sometimes re-write the headline if necessary (if I can come up with something better), and then publish it. Then I share it with my readers — if it’s a Zen Habits post, I share it on Twitter and Google+, and if it’s a Sea Change post, I put it on the Members’ Home Page and email it out to you guys. This is important because it gives me some accountability (and eventually feedback). Once I’ve done that, I usually read it over again and see if I made any mistakes! For book writing, I don’t usually share it with anyone until the first draft is done, but other times I’ve shared with readers during the writing process, and it’s scary and fun.
My Writing Tools
I’m not encouraging you to use any of these tools — I’m just sharing what I use for informational purposes:
- Macbook Air 11″: I like the smallness of this computer. It’s lightweight, and is perfect for writing. I thought it might be too small for me after getting used to the Macbook Air 13″, but I’ve been using this for about 4 years now and it’s been great. Note: I’ve also been using an iMac lately, though I share it with the kids so I switch back and forth between the iMac and Macbook Air.
- Byword or Google Docs: I like simple writing tools like Byword because you can go into distraction-free, full-screen mode … but lately I’ve been just writing my book in Google Docs, in a separate browser window with all other tabs closed. I don’t need anything fancy, and Google Docs allows me to easily access it from any computer and share it with whoever I need.
- WordPress: I publish my posts/articles in WordPress for Zen Habits, Sea Change, mnmlist and other projects … but often I write them in WordPress as well (this post for example). I’ll just open the WordPress editor for a new post, then click on the “fullscreen” button to clear away all the editor button distractions. Then I write.
- Markdown: This is a simple markup language that allows you to format (bold, italics, lists, titles and subtitles, links) without having to put a bunch of HTML tags all over the place. This allows me to write more quickly without having to worry about the details. I use the “Markdown on Save Improved” plugin for WordPress, which will take the Mardown text you put into the WordPress editor and publish it as HTML.
That’s about it … I don’t use a lot of complicated tools. All the tools I use are designed to make my writing process simpler. I hope that helps as you continue your writing habit!