How to Maintain a Daily Writing Routine

Prioritizing songwriting is hard, especially when your to-do list is eight miles long and work has you exhausted.

Scheduling songwriting on your calendar is a great first step in taking your craft more seriously and improving your chances of actually writing. But you’ll still run into what Steven Pressfield, in his book The War of Art, calls “Resistance.” Meetings come up, appointments get rescheduled, your guitar string breaks. And that’s just external resistance. The internal? Some days you won’t feel like writing; you’ll grow bored of the song you’re working on. Instead of writing, you watch Netflix or scroll social media.

Thankfully, there’s an even better way to prioritize songwriting.

Make it a habit.

A habit is better because it’s not restricted to a time frame or your mood. You know how you put your seatbelt on as soon as you close your car door? Why do you always do that? It’s not like some days you say, “Aw…I just don’t feel like it today. I’m not in the mood.”

You do it because you’ve formed what Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, calls a habit loop.

A habit loop is comprised of three parts: a cue, a routine, and a reward. The cue is what triggers your brain to take the next action: the routine. And the reward will determine how likely you are to start the loop all over again.

So in the case of buckling your safety belt, here’s what it looks like:

  • Cue: car door closes
  • Routine: fasten seatbelt
  • Reward: feeling/being safer

This explains why, growing up in a small town, we rarely wore our seatbelts. We were usually driving slow and not very far. The reward of feeling safer wasn’t strong enough to make a habit loop. Had we lived in a big city and frequented the interstate, my guess is the habit would have stuck.

As for songwriting, if you want to make it a habit, here’s what you do.

Step 1: Establish a cue.

Remember, the cue is what will trigger the event (aka: songwriting).

I’ve found that the best way to find a cue is to examine your existing habits. Whether you realize it or not, you have tons of existing habits to choose from. Whether it’s brushing your teeth, taking out the garbage, or putting your kids to bed, pick one and see how it goes.

Step 2: Establish your routine.

Let’s say you’re going to use “taking out the trash” as a cue. What will you do next? Will you go inside to the living room and sit down at the piano? Will you go to your home office and pick up the guitar? How long will you write? Answer these questions to make sure you have a plan.

Step 3: Savor the reward and repeat the process.

Songwriting should be the reward in and of itself, but, as you know, songwriting is difficult and not always fun. You’ll be dealing with your inner critic, you’ll be struggling with lyrics. Even so, I believe the reward to be worth it. After all, you’re creating something out of nothing; you’re addressing your inherent need to express and be creative. Whether the songwriting session is fun or not, the effect, at the very least, is a feeling of pride from doing the work. At best, it’s better than any drug.

Here’s an example of what a habit loop might look like:

  • Cue: Take out the trash
  • Routine: Go to home office, sit down with guitar, and write for 20 minutes
  • Reward: Feel pride in the progress of your song

Now, repeat the steps until it forms a habit loop, and I’ll see you out there!


P.S. If you’re interested in learning how to choose the best existing habits, check out my course The Songwriting Habit, where I show students the 4-Question Test.

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