Life Habits to Improve Your Writing

“It seems to me that those songs that have been any good, I have nothing much to do with the writing of them. The words have just crawled down my sleeve and come out on the page.” – Joan Baez

When Becoming Minimalist first began, I had little writing experience. Other than school assignments, articles for a company newsletter, personal letters, and e-mails, I had little experience with the written word.

But as of today, I have written over 500 posts for this blog. I have become a regular contributor to one of the highest-rated organizing websites, Organizing Your Way. And I have written two books, Simplify (a #1 Best Selling book on Amazon) and Inside-Out Simplicity (which has sold over 5,000 copies).

One of the reasons for the success in writing is because I have become far more thoughtful and intentional about which habits benefit my life and which detract from it. I have learned to establish healthy life habits that improve my overall life and make the process of writing easier. This process has both made me a better writer and has made the discipline of writing more enjoyable.

These are the life habits that I incorporate to improve my writing:

• Waking Early - I have found that my best writing happens early in the morning between 5-8 am. The house is quiet, my mind is slower, and the busyness of the day is yet to begin. As a result, the words flow with less effort. As a side note, I was not always an early riser. When I first began developing this habit, my trick was pretty simple: I would smile, put my feet on the floor, and look out the nearest window. It took some effort at first, but after a couple weeks, my sleeping habits had adjusted. And I would never go back to sleeping in late.

• Running - I have written countless articles jogging along the side of the road in my neighborhood. Because I rarely run with music, running provides quietness and opportunity to think. The blood is flowing and my mind is free to wander. Some of my best ideas have come during the longest runs of my life. Interestingly enough, lifting weights rarely has the same effect… only running.

• Reading – I prefer biographies. They challenge me and inspire me to make the most of my life. But it doesn’t matter if I’m reading fiction or non-fiction, books or magazines, something good or something bad, reading always produces better writing. Good writers are almost always good readers.

• Eating Protein for Breakfast - While I am not a nutritionist, I did learn early in life that protein for breakfast makes me more productive. It gives me better memory, sharper thoughts, and longer concentration. As a result, I have eaten two eggs and one piece of toast at breakfast for as long as I can remember. The whole process (cooking, eating, cleaning) takes me approximately 15 minutes and always starts my day off right.

• Drinking Coffee – There is a reason coffee is one of the highest consumed beverages in the world. While the stimulant of caffeine certainly helps coffee make an appearance on this list, it seems there is something that can’t be beat about just the whole experience of sipping a fine cup of coffee. It adds pleasure and richness to my day. And at the age of 36, it still makes me feel like a grown-up when I drink it.

• Finding Solitude - There is a direct correlation between the intentionality in my life and the amount of time I spend in solitude. By electing to intentionally withdraw from human relationships for a period of time, I am able to reevaluate the assumptions, claims, and messages of our culture. Solitude provides opportunity to rediscover my life… and these new discoveries often find themselves into my writing. With that as the backdrop, there’s no wonder why Leo Babauta called it The No. 1  Habit of Highly Creative People.

• Changing my Environment – Whether it be writing in a local coffee shop, at the library, in a bookstore, or outside in the summer, changing my environment almost always provides a fresh look at the words on the screen. The new environment encourages new connections and synopses in the brain that help stimulate the writing process.

• Attending a Religious Service – I have always embraced spirituality. I have found that it inspires me to think beyond the physical aspects of our everyday life and search for deeper meaning in the world around us. Going to church causes me to intentionally think about issues of the heart and soul. And because of that, it almost always pushes me further in my writing.

• Using Pen/Paper - While the actual words of posts/articles/interviews/books are always written on a keyboard, most of them are brainstormed and outlined on a piece of paper. I prefer one blank sheet of paper and one black pen. By the end of the outlining process, it is always marked with words, arrows, circles, numbers, and scribbles. But the marked up sheet of paper provides the perfect first step and foundation for putting the actual words on a finished product.

• Traveling - Traveling provides opportunity to experience new people, places, languages, foods, and customs. It has allowed me to see life from a new angle and appreciate different aspects of it. I’ve had the privilege to experience a number of different countries and cultures over my short lifetime. Each of them have made me a better person… and a better writer.

• Setting Goals – In all walks of life, goals move me and shape me. Whether it be running a marathon, finishing a book, or planning a party for 10,000 subscribers, goals always provide an added dose of motivation and momentum to my writing. When I have a desirable and achievable end goal in mind, my writing always benefits. And when I don’t, it suffers.

I have found the 11 Life Habits above to be the most helpful and instrumental in my writing process. As a matter of fact, when even one of them is lacking, I can sense it immediately in my personal creative process. But we are all different. No doubt your list will look different than mine in some regards.

Consider sharing below in the comment section which life habits improve your writing.

If you don’t have a list, I encourage you to find one. Start by implementing some of the habits above and give them a 2-3 week trial period. If they are not helping, that’s okay… just try something different (for example, I know a number of writers who write better late at night rather than first thing in the morning). The goal is to discover which life habits stir up the creative process in your life.

Because when you are writing at your best and sharing your life experience with the world, we all benefit.

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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Comments

  1. says

    What an awesome list Joshua! Even though the title implies things to improve your writing, most of these, if implemented, will improve your life overall. Your productivity, your intentionality, your overall joy level.
    For me, a few of my faves are getting up early, going to church, reading, and travel. I also am a firm believer that it is difficult to be a good writer if you aren’t actually living life to write about. So important for us to get out there and LIVE!
    Thanks for sharing! I have a couple of these I am going to start working on for myself!
    Bernice
    Life, one step at a time…

  2. says

    This post really resonated with me. Thanks!

    Just this morning as I was on a training run I thought of how much writing I do in my head while alone and exercising. But while I “do” that writing in solitude I find that I need lots of interaction with others to find inspiration and spark the creative process.

  3. says

    I’ve been trying to spice up my routine a bit with tactics like this to help me both write and work . I find if I go for a walk or get out a bit it helps as well. Solitude is great, but I find that in my work (which involves a lot of sitting alone in front of the computer) if I go out with friends to break up the week I am more excited and lively when it comes to my writing…it’s all about forming good habits and breaking them up a bit with some variety if need be when you hit a lull.

    Loved the post, I look forward to reading your blog a bit more! :)

  4. says

    I love this list – thank you for all of your motivational practices.

    I’m curious though, because I run for writing inspiration too…do you remember your thoughts on a run through just remembering them, or do you bring a recording device or some other means to remember your ideas?

    • says

      I don’t record any thoughts while running. As a matter of fact, rarely will I use an idea the first time I think of it. I usually wait for an idea to come back to mind 2-3 times before I really start to think it’s a good one. In that way, by the time I sit down to write, I’ve weeded the bad ones and the good ones are pretty well cemented in my head.

  5. says

    What an inspiring list. I find that solitude is the most important element for myself, and voracious reading, but I also rely on thoughtful conversations. I find many sparks are formed during a conversation with others. Hmmm. Perhaps I need to start carrying a notepad so I remember more of them later.

  6. says

    There should be a volume of writing that no one sees. This should be done regularly. Those are the only two rules about it. Nothing helps me more as a writer.

    Great post!

  7. says

    What perfect timing for my dear husband for forward me yet another well thought out and written article from Becoming Minimalist. (Thank you honey)

    And of course, thank you Joshua!

    As a marketing professional, I find that my work forces me to write in a certain way about certain topics – a challenge I love most day, but find difficult to break out of when I want to think outside of the box and come up with more stories and conversational pieces. I started my blog, A Jar Full of Marbles for that very reason. To push myself to explore articles, tips, and resources that help fellow writers improve – and to have a medium that allows the creation of original content and stories.

    Thank you for sharing your insight here and I look forward to continuing to read more from you.

    Best,

    Sara

  8. says

    This is one of the best posts I have read in quite some time regarding creativity. My personal favorite is the need of solitude for creativity. The obstacle I face is not the solitude itself, but getting it. There are some in my life who think because I am a writer and I work from home that I can just take time off whenever I would like. They do not understand my need to be alone when I work. It does make for stressful times more often than it should. I will be forwarding this post along. Great words here.

  9. says

    Hi! Great list! I especially liked your point about running. I find when I take exercise by myself in the country or a park (with no music or distractions) whole plots can take shape from nowhere, or knots in existing stories unravel.

  10. says

    I was to let to believe that coffee is the third in the worlds, after water and tea.
    If you discount alcohol as the starter and exotic drinks, coffee is the last. More over, same as some fuzzy drinks it washes out calcium from your body :-)

    Working closely with the people I do not believe in the biographies – most of the people do not write themselves, it is done by somebody else to charm the readers. Perhaps, it is pumps you up with motivation, but really it is far from the real life. But there is not alternatives, I have to agree with you.

    I like to workwith the paper, but start finding it is counter productive, as you have transfer everything on the screen somehow. It is very romantic, but a wee bit waste of time.

    Traveling does not belong to a minimalist’s blog ;-)

    I am totally agree with you – that goals this is the corner stone of everything. You have to understand why are you doing it and desire the end result. Otherwise it is a no go.

  11. E Montano says

    If you like biographies I would recommend Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Weatherford. It is one of the most enlightening pieces of history I’ve ever read. Far from the marauding hordes they are generally characterized as, the Mongols practically created modern European and Asian cultures we know today. Khan, himself was a remarkable and inspiring individual unique in history. The Mongol influence has only recently come to light and should be more widely known.

  12. says

    This was such a helpful post, thank you! A few of your habits are in my favourite book on writing – Dorothea Brande’s “Becoming A Writer” – I highly recommend it. My other life habits… Well, I find my writers’ group incredibly helpful – I read sections of my novel to them every week. Hearing other people’s work is inspiring, and their feedback always moves my work on, especially negative feedback. I’m so grateful for negative feedback these days. Before I joined the writers’ group I felt like this mad woman typing away in the attic (well, it’s a second floor apartment, but still…) and now I have that regular contact with people doing the same thing. Solitude is helpful to creativity but isolation is not.

  13. Diana says

    What a wonderful list, thank you! For me it’s walking, not running. One thing I’m always curious about is rising early. I’m much better at this in summer than winter – the light mornings beckon me out of bed. However, I find I need to go to bed so early to sustain it, and that takes organisation. If you’re up at 5am, what time do you go to bed, and if it’s early, does that impinge on family time? Please share, I’d love to know! Thank you!

  14. says

    What a great list. I personally find walking, not running, good for my thoughts. And I find my best writing comes in the night. If I were still single and childless I would probably start writing at 9pm and go until I got too tired! Though, my eldest starts school next year, so maybe that will be the time for me to try (again) to train myself as a morning person.

    I also love pen and paper. Most people think I’m mad, but when I was studying I would write out my entire essays on scrap paper, then transfer it to the computer and edit as I went. Thoughts just seem to come out better onto paper than onto a screen.

  15. says

    I am the same way with waking early, I have to get back in the habit of 5 AM as I know that sets my day better. Also – running I love to run without my iPod in order to think and let ideas come to me – I accomplish two things in one block of time! Also, couldn’t agree more with your take on coffee – being a Seatteite – well, I think it is just part of my blood! Enjoyed the post!

  16. says

    I’m glad you included coffee Joshua! caffeine gets bad press in my opinion. As with much of life it’s not the object, it’s the user that’s at fault if too much is consumed/used etc… If I could just crack the waking early!

  17. says

    Joshua,

    I really resonated with “Finding Solitude.” I am an extrovert, but nothing grounds me and helps me hear the voice of intuition and inspiration more than solitude.

    I also find a brisk walk and quiet reading to be invaluable. Sometimes, my challenge is in valuing those activities. Although, I know they are invaluable to me and my process, I sometimes struggle with maintaining them because I’m worried about what others will think when I answer “What did you do today?” with “I went for a walk, I read a good book, and a I thought.”

    Not pretty, but honest.

  18. says

    Two of my “must-haves” for writing are: listening to good music and getting outside.

    Listening to music before and after writing really keeps me inspired, something about the lyrics and the instruments and the rhythm gets my brain in a place to create. And being outside always puts things in perspective–like solitude, it frees up that place that creativity comes from.

    sara

  19. says

    You’re right. Discipline is essential to prolific writing. I’m glad to see you take it so seriously.

    I completely agree about quality protein early in the day — and about getting up early, although I don’t get up as early as I once did. Partipation in something spiritual is also essential to having a life that has something to say.

    It’s iced tea for me instead of coffee, by the way. I’ve never grown up enough to like coffee.

    Gip

  20. says

    This post gave me several good ideas to try :) I think I’m going to try doing my outlining and rough-drafting on paper with a pencil. I know I prefer writing that way, but I’d gotten into the habit of doing everything on the computer, since that’s where it eventually has to end up.

    Rising early and running are both things I already do and love – running first thing in the morning is one of my favourite times of day, and my mind gets into a great state of flow.

    I do need to change up my writing environment though – I think I might like to do some of my writing outside, especially since the weather’s been so nice lately.

  21. says

    What has helped me most is just writing a lot, reading and trying to improve.
    Since I keep learning new things I can put them into practice and use them in my writing.

    When I learn a new way to edit texts I try it out and use it, if it helps me make the texts better I continue using it.
    That way my writing keeps improving.

  22. says

    Really nice list – thanks. I always find that getting up early and meditating first really helps the creative process. In meditation, you learn to let go of those repetitive, unproductive, distracting thought so you can get to the good stuff! So, I guess that is my “Religious Service”!

  23. says

    All great points. The only one that makes me sad is the running. I’m slided-lined big time right now and it’s taking it’s toll on my psyche. The bike is getting there — but hasn’t replaced my run yet. Am going to try to focus more writing time in the morning.

  24. says

    You have clearly grown as a writer if you are able to generate a thoughtful list like this – a list that not only explains how it is that you’ve managed to write 500 posts and 2 books, but that also speaks directly to those of us longing to find a way for our words to flow out of us and into the world.

    This is a fantastic post. Thank you.

  25. John edelson says

    I like the concept & the list. I run, read, and change venues. But I’m not so much a writer as a regular worker, albeit a knowledge worker. I find that I work best in 90minute spurts. More than 2 hours without a break, I deteriorate dramatically.

  26. says

    Great ideas! I completely agree with changing your environment. As you and others have previously mentioned, writing outside does wonders. I think it relates to the idea that I must face an open space. I choose the seat in the library where I get a view of an entire room rather than a wall, and I choose the seat in the cafe where I get a view of the passing cars rather than the bathroom. It almost feels as if my thoughts are allowed to float more if my eyes are allowed to wander more. The eye-wandering aids to daydreaming which can sometimes hinder, but mostly better.

  27. says

    I feel the same way about having little writing experience in the beginning, and compensating it with changing my life habits. Being surrounded by nature (hiking), reading everything, watching the history, food network, and travel channel (for writing inspirations and quotes) helps me improve my writing. I always keep a pen and notebook to jot down ideas. When I have writer’s block, I listen to instrumental ukulele music which calms my nerves and gives me the feeling of being in a tropical island.

  28. Joanne H. Dippel says

    I think find this list to be packed with very helpful ideas. I use some of them but seeing them written down affirms their value for me. I think I might try getting up early. Yikes. I totally agree that drinking coffee makes one feel like a grown-up. I think I’ll go have a cup now. Thank you for this wonderful list!
    Joanne

  29. says

    really useful/thoughtful post, one that keeps occuring to me – shouting at me in my sleep to make the necessary changes to my routine. Would you mind if I quoted your post in my blog? (I would of course put the source etc)
    Joanne

  30. says

    An accurate personal list, closed to everyone’s soul. They say coffee isn’t good, but I’m a coffee lover myself. Oh, also personal, I found lately a lot of artificiality in religious services, one can achieve the same spirit, or even greater in the middle of nature. Great post, Joshua, :)

  31. says

    Totally totally love all the thoughts here. On some level I think that I have found solitude to be the most powerful for my creative process. Instead of people sitting and daydreaming at a bus stop, they now get out their iphones and play/chat/whatnot. How many book ideas could be fermenting and come to fruition if we would be quiet for a bit? I have found the application of seeking solitude as extremely countercultural, and yet so necessary to get clarity. Humans are easily swept along the current of groupthink, whether from work, home or family- taking quiet times solidifies who we are, gets us back to the center. I am finding how much resistance this faces. I think people are afraid to be quiet, afraid of what they might hear from their own minds, their own selves that know the truth.

  32. Sian says

    Love the blog! Great list – totally agree with all of this, apart from I have to add that swimming is even better than running for me. Being submersed in the water makes me feel like I’m completely alone (which ties in which the solitude point) and in some ways even on another plant – really gets the creativity and imagination going in me.

  33. Angela says

    For me, the one thing that helps me write more than anything else is having a goal combined with a deadline. My life is so busy with school, work, etc. that whenever I have a spare moment, it’s hard to convince myself to sit down and write; I tell myself I’ll find time for it later, and spend the time doing something less productive. Having a goal, and a deadline, gives me the motivation I need to focus and write. It works even better if there are other people depending on me meeting that deadline.

    Aside from that, being around other people who are writing tends to motivate me.

  34. says

    Thank you, this is a brilliant list and a great one to pass onto my friends who are starting to be creativeand looking for pointers. I’m definitely trying out the protein for breakfast one, ha ha ha!

    My own list has one item that is a little similar to your running tip, rather than plunge directly into getting the idea on paper, I try to compose as much of it in my head as possible. I sit next to the paper and I look at it, and I let the idea grow in my mind, and hold it and hold it untiI it’s ready to burst out and then BANG! I release it and enjoy the momentum that comes with it. It sounds similar to what is happening while you are running, and I imagine when you get back to the house the idea is just begging to be caught on paper, and that gives you a boost to get the whole thing out on paper as quickly as possible. It’s not a technique for everyone but it’s definitely worth trying!

    I think I will go running this week too!
    Thanks again, great list!

  35. http://kimsimplified.weebly.com/ says

    This is a great post. Reinforced some things I am already doing right now. Appreciate this post a lot!

  36. says

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Joshua.
    What i like about these points is that almost anyone can apply in their lives; they are simple and practicle. I can jog, eat eggs or sausages for breakfast… :-)

  37. Debbie Scott says

    Hi Josh,

    Love this article. I am keeping this for repeated reference! I am a consummate proofreader- so I had to ask it you meant “synopses” or “synapses”- meaning connections in our brains’ nerve impulses. That seems to fit a bit more. :-) I am an aspiring writer, a anti-clutter “minimalist” (thank you for that term)….and you are a true and significant inspiration to me. Further, a lot of comments about writing with pen and paper- the person I think of is Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way). She really encourages this, and calls her daily practice “morning pages”.

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