How I Improved My Writing Process with Epic Results

Published 02 Apr 2024
by Anca Antoci

Lately I’ve been on a self improvement journey and read some of the most recommended books for productivity. Procrastination seems to the writers’ favorite pastime and when I decided to treat writing like a business rather than a hobby, I knew that the first thing I needed to work on was my self discipline. One book I found to be particularly helpful is Atomic Habits by James Clear. It made me change the way I think about progress and success.

The book focuses on making small tweaks to our daily habits to increase productivity and achieve success. One of the key takeaways from the book is the idea of getting 1% better in every aspect of your life, instead of having to make major overhauls.

So here’s how I applied the principles from James Clear’s book to improve my writing routine and the results I achieved so far.

Start small

Like the title of the book suggests, the new habits I needed to adopt were not something life changing. By focusing on a small habit, you make it easier to get started and build momentum. If, for instance, I planned to sit down and write for two hours every day (which is not unusual for a writer) I would have done it twice, three times maybe, but I would have been overwhelmed so and dropped the habit. Dropping habits does not lead to success — unless they’re bad habits that get in your way.

So, I started small, with writing sprints. I decided that I would write every day (from Monday to Friday), at least one 25 minutes sprint. That doesn’t put a lot of pressure on me. All I have to do is sit down and write for 25 minutes a day. During that sprint I don’t check social media, notification, emails, nothing. Because 25 minutes is not that long and I know that at the end of the sprint I can do all that. I don’t feel the need to procrastinate. I think we tend to procrastinate more when we feel overwhelmed. Maybe the task we planned is too big, too difficult or too daunting and that’s why we’d rather clean the house, fold laundry or watch the paint dry instead. If 25 minutes still sounds too long, try 10. But for those 10 minutes you keep a laser focus on your task — in this case writing. At the end of the sprint, take 5 minutes break and challenge yourself to do another sprint. I often find that the first one is the hardest.

You may be tempted to say that 10 or 25 minutes of daily writing is nothing. After all, how much can you write in this sprint? But if you write 10 minutes daily for a year you will have written for 3,650 minutes, which is 60.83 hours. The average typing speed is roughly 40 WPM, which means you could, on average, write 2400 words in an hour. If we multiply that by 60.83 hours we get 145,992. So, what I’m saying is that by writing no more than 10 minutes daily, you could still achieve a 145,000 words novel in a year. Small habit, BIG difference. Although the customary length of a book depends on genre, the general rule of thumb for novel writing is a word count in the 80,000 to 100,000 range.

So, unless you write an epic fantasy, you could finish your first draft in less than a year. I now write four days a week in several 25 minutes sprints with 5 minutes breaks.

Make it obvious

The book suggests that once you create a new habit, it takes a while for it to stick, so you need to make it obvious. Create a visible reminder or trigger for your writing habit. Set up a specific time and place for writing, and eliminate any distractions that might hinder your focus. By making your writing habit obvious, you increase the chances of following through. It’s not like I was going to forget that I want to write today, but I admit that I could get side tracked by social media, emails and what not. So I don’t make vague plans like writing sometime today. Instead, I create a morning routine where when I sit down at my desk I make sure to have a glass of water on hand (by the way, this is another atomic habit I implemented as I never drink enough water. James Clear talks about habit stacking, so I linked drinking water to writing. Every time I take my 5 minutes break at the end of a sprint, I go to the kitchen and refill my glass with water. At the end of the day, I feel both accomplished and hydrated).

Set a goal

It could be completing a certain number of words or pages, publishing an article, or finishing a chapter. Having a specific goal provides clarity and motivation. I set a 2,000 words daily goal (I only write four days a week), but you can set a smaller one and increase it as you grow more confident. Remember that goals are supposed to motivate you, so if you set a goal that is hard to achieve, it will turn counterproductive. Set an easy target and aim to surpass it. That will work much better in the long run. And remember that it’s okay not to achieve your goal every single day. Sometimes life gets in the way. In my case, 2,000 words per day is an achievable goal. I surpassed my goal constantly — sometimes only by 50 words, sometimes by more than 1,000. And a handful of times I didn’t — I barely wrote 1,000. Like I said, cut your self some slack when it happens. Life gets in the way, but it’s not the end of the world.

Track your progress

That is a great motivational tool. Seeing your progress visually can be motivating and help you stay consistent. Celebrate small wins and milestones along the way to maintain your motivation. Let me show you how this step boosted my productivity.

I started writing Midsummer Night’s Curse in June 2022. In January 2023, I stopped at 50,000 words. I took a break from this novel because I had an idea for a companion novella to Chimera Trilogy and I wanted to write and publish it on Valentine’s Day. I was laser focused on this project and over the course of a month, I wrote and published Snow Moon Rising, which stands at 35,000 words. This took a lot of effort and time away from my family, so I needed some recovery time. Anyway, back then I would write only when motivated. My current writing process promotes discipline over motivation. So, in May 2023, my husband suggested I track my daily progress. This, together with the habits I mentioned before, made my writing skyrocket. From May till late June I wrote another 50,000 words, making Midsummer Night’s Curse the largest book I’ve written so far.

In a nutshell, the first half of the book took me roughly seven months, while the other half took me a month and a half.

Habit stacking

Pair your writing habit with an existing habit that you already do consistently. For example, you can decide to write for 15 minutes immediately after having your morning coffee. By stacking the new habit with an existing one, you increase the likelihood of it becoming automatic. Like I said earlier, I always refill my glass with water every time I take a break after a writing sprint, but that’s not all I do. Spending long hours at my desk leads to back pain and I’m not getting any younger. So in that 5 minutes break I get up from my desk and do something (not writing related): do a 1-minute plank, maybe a few push-ups, lay down on the couch and read a chapter from a book.

Although in this blog post I planned to share with you how you can apply the principles from Atomic Habits to improve your writing routine and productivity, you can expand these tips to other areas of your life. Your mom, your friend or significant other complains you don’t call them enough? Make the habit of calling them during your break. Make sure they understand you’re on a break and can’t talk long, but they’ll appreciate the gesture. Pro tip: if you’re calling your mom, stack this habit at the end of your writing routine because if your mom is anything like mine, she can’t fit everything she wants to say in 5 minutes. Sorry!

Growth mindset

Understand that becoming a better writer is a process that involves learning, practice, and improvement over time. Embrace the idea that your skills can develop through consistent effort and dedication. Learn from feedback and setbacks, and view them as opportunities to grow. We live in a world ruled by instant gratification, where if you don’t see results right away; you quit. Why waste precious time on something that doesn’t work, right?

Remember in the beginning when I said writing for 10 minutes a day (that included weekends) would achieve a 145,000 book in a year? For that, you need to see the bigger picture and understand that it will take a year (or less if the book is shorter) of consistent writing. There are no shortcuts.

Use temptation bundling

Combine a habit you want to develop, like writing, with a reward or activity you enjoy. For instance, allow yourself to read a book or watch a TV show only after you’ve completed your daily writing session. This way, you associate pleasure with your writing habit, making it more enticing. To be honest, I don’t do that often because reaching my 2,000 words daily target gives me enough satisfaction, but if you need a reward, go for it.

Refine your writing system

While everything I shared with you so far is enough to boost your productivity, once you adopt a growth mindset, you know that everything can be improved, optimized. For instance, when I was working on Snow Moon Rising, I decided to try something out of my comfort zone but highly recommended: not editing while writing. Before that, whenever my spellchecker underlined a word, I instantly needed to check and fix the problem. I couldn’t ignore it and I really didn’t think I was wasting that much time fixing minor typos.

So, for Snow Moon Rising, I deactivated the spellchecker and wrote freely for the first time in my life. How did it go? Well, I wrote the first draft (35,000 words) in two weeks, then took another two to edit and publish it. For reference, I used to write a 75,000–80,000 word novel in about seven to eight months. So, now I write with any spell checker or autocorrect tool deactivated, and the story comes along much faster.


Remember, developing good writing habits is a journey. With each small habit you add to your routine, you get closer to success. Consistency and persistence are key. By implementing these strategies from “Atomic Habits,” you can gradually become a better writer and achieve your writing goals. By the way, I recommend this book to improve in any area of your life, whether personal of professional.

*This article was originally published in Writing101 on Medium.