NaNoWriMo demands a sudden burst of high-capacity creation—it’s like sprinting a marathon. This works for some people, but if you’re not one of them, don’t feel bad. Try leveling up your writing habit instead.

 How to Level Up Your Writing Habit

Why you should level up your writing habit

NaNoWriMo can be great for some writers. After all, it’s only thirty days, so the pressure of the countdown is looming, and for many, this is a reasonably short period of time to let other things fall to the wayside and focus solely on their word count.

This kind of leap in creative output is a lot to demand of yourself, and it’s not always a sustainable way to create a writing habit, or really any behavior that you want to maintain long-term.

If you’re looking to boost your word count for the long-term, try leveling up instead.

What does leveling up your writing habit mean?

“Leveling up” is a habit-changing method created by Leo Babauta of Zen Habits. He broke down leveling up to show how he worked his way to a healthier lifestyle.

Like a video game, the way to changing your health habits is by starting out at the first level, and only going to the next level after you’ve beaten the one before that. The problem is that most people start at Level 10 and fail, and wonder what happened. Most of us want to skip several levels, but we’re just not ready.

Though Babauta was leveling up his health habits, it’s a great way to work up to any kind of goal.

“Leveling up” means using small, gradual steps to work toward your goals. For example, if you want to start a daily writing habit, you don’t begin by trying to wake up at four a.m. and keep yourself in front of the computer for two full hours.

Instead, you start with a writing habit so ridiculously easy you can’t fail—like five minutes a day. If five minutes may fall wildly short of your ultimate goal, that’s okay. It’s still a good thirty-five minutes a week of writing that you that weren’t doing before, and more importantly, it sets the stage for even more writing each day later, when you level up.

As Babauta says, “Please, for goodness sake, don’t make the mistake of skipping this level because it sounds too easy. The easy levels are where you gain your skills.”

So stick it out and take it seriously. Because here’s what happens next: After a few weeks, you will reach a point where those five minutes a day are comfortable and easy, almost automatic. And then, hooray, you’re ready to level up. You bump up your daily writing time ten minutes day. And then fifteen. Then thirty.

And suddenly—(or, not suddenly, but rather incrementally, slowly, deliberately)—look at you, you writing pro, you’re tapping it out on your computer for a good hour every single day. Major props, you.

Why it works

Nothing is as powerful as habit for reaching long-term goals.

Think about it: What if you could know for certain that you were going to get at least a little writing done every single day? What if you did it automatically, without the mental whining or procrastination? What would that mean for your writing?

It would mean doing a lot more of it, that’s what (and doing more writing is the proven key to writing better).

The key behind Baubuta’s super-smart approach is that you create the habit slowly in steps so small they’re painless. His model prioritizes the sustainability of the habit over any individual day’s progress.

Ready to level up your writing habit

So now that it’s clear why you should level up your writing and how to do it, the only question left is, what’s your writing goal?

Whatever it is, break it down into its smallest pieces and find a starting point—a step toward your goal that is so painless you can’t fail. Then, stick with it and build from that habit. Over time, you’ll reach your goals—and get a ton of extra writing done along the way.

What about you? Which sounds better: writing a book in a month or leveling up your writing habit? Let me know in the comments.


Why not start your new habit today? Grab a piece of paper and write your work-in-progress for just five minutes. How’d it go?

When your time is up, share your piece in the comments!

Emily Wenstrom
Emily Wenstrom
By day, Emily Wenstrom, is the editor of short story website wordhaus, author social media coach, and freelance content marketing specialist. By early-early morning, she is E. J. Wenstrom, a sci-fi and fantasy author whose first novel Mud will release in March 2016.