The Three Biggest Surprises When Starting (or Attempting) a Daily Writing Habit

Back in August of 2013, I had to face the facts. I had learned to write very fast (at speeds over 3000 words an hour, under the right conditions), but I still wasn’t drafting and publishing much content.

There were two problems:

  1. I was writing faster, but I wasn’t writing often. When I looked at the numbers, I would only write fiction 1-3 days in a month!
  2. I wasn’t finishing anything; I had a handful of drafts at 80-90% but didn’t have a mindset or process to get them shipped in an efficient manner.

To rectify this and give myself and my bad habits a swift kick in the ass, I decided to embark on a writing challenge. I set up an experiment to see if I could write every day for an entire month, hitting 50,000 fiction words total by the end of it.

Here were the three biggest counter-intuitive lessons I learned:

Tracking Is Crucial To Creating Real Change

I am so grateful for the sheer amount of data I kept on my progress during my experiment. Some would probably say it was overkill, but I disagree! I tracked:

  • Start time
  • End time
  • Date
  • Total time spent
  • First pomodoro, second pomodoro, etc.
  • First set of pomodoros, second set of pomodoros, etc.
  • Where I was at
  • What inputs I used (mic, keyboard)
  • Whether I was primarily writing or editing
  • The title of the book
  • The title of the series
  • A notes column where I could write down mood
  • What I was struggling with that day
  • My original intentions for the week
  • What got in the way of those intentions
  • Where I was, where I wanted to be
  • New experiments I wanted to try
  • Real-time evaluation of my progress
  • Real-time adjustment of my goals and expectations

I kept both spreadsheets to track many of the quantitative metrics, and a written diary that totaled an impressive 50,000 words on it’s own to track the qualitative ones.

It was a lot of work to do all this tracking, but well worth it. Even reading back over my data nearly a year and a half later, I continue to learn new lessons about myself and that helps steer my current problems.

Reading through my daily diary also helps me see how far I’ve come, which is very motivating when I feel like this whole writing thing is a bit too much. Looking back to see that I was once struggling to get one book out every year, and now I can publish eight books in a year, is so eye-opening! It shows that huge gains year over year are possible in this industry, which is a great thing for all of us!

If you are thinking on embarking on an experiment like this, make sure you track everything. You never know what’s going to be important. Don’t get rid of a data point until you know from experience that you have no use for it. You won’t be sorry!

I’m now at a point in my business where I want to improve other growth areas, like marketing, building my email list, and getting more books published. I thought my problems were new, but nope! The starting point is the same. I am now setting up systems to track my metrics and even considering starting up a rigorous diary again, because I KNOW that tracking works to keep me accountable and shed some light on the key changes I need to make to achieve my new goals.

Tracking works! Use it.

Small Tweaks Create HUGE Returns

My self-publishing record is:

  • 2009 – one book
  • 2010 – zero books
  • 2011 – one book
  • 2012 – two books
  • 2013 – one book
  • 2014 – eight books, one short story

Do you see the pattern? In 2014 alone I published more books than I had in the entire five years beforehand. That’s a huge return! And I attribute those gains to just a few tweaks in my writing process, many of which I discovered during my two month experiment. Here they are:

  1. I learned how to write very, very fast (tracking words per hour)
  2. I learned how to write for many hours in a month (50k words of fiction is about the norm for me now)
  3. I learned how to manage my editing process (I use ghostwriters—very cool stuff)

What this taught me was that the 80/20 Pareto Principle is true. I had read for years (mostly from the likes of Tim Ferriss) that a lot of success comes from just a few things done slightly differently than before. All my changes literally feel like little tweaks—but the results? They astound me.

This year, I think I might get 3-4 times as many books published as I got done last year. Sounds crazy, right? But again, it’s the little tweaks that I’ve focused on that are getting drastically better results.

This isn’t meant to be hype, it’s just my personal truth. A lot of people say there is no “magic ingredient,” which I wholeheartedly agree with. All of this is still hard work. But after seeing my own results, I do believe that for each individual, there are small shifts in mindset that can really change everything for you.

A Daily Writing Habit Is Not Right For Everyone

I tried to write every day for the whole month of September. I thought I’d done well. But when I looked back at the raw data, I realized I had only hit fifteen out of the thirty days—in other words, I had an Every-Other-Day Writing Habit!

But I didn’t even have that. What I found was that I frequently wrote for, say, five days in a row, and then I took off five days in a row.

Word Count Per Day

Monica Leonelle’s Word Count Per Day, September 2013. I only wrote 15 out of the 30 days, even when I was trying to write daily!

The next month in October, I held roughly the same pattern, writing even fewer days that month. I still hit 50,000 words, but it happened in large bursts rather than in a slow-and-steady, methodical process.

I had been beating myself up for YEARS over this pattern. But after tracking steadily and collecting the actual data, I realized that my pattern had nothing to do with my willpower or my productivity. It had to do with my energy!

Energy is Step #4 in my framework for writing faster for good reason. You see, there’s a spectrum of energy patterns that humans hold. At one end, there’s the “bursters,” the people who sprint through big project all at once. At the other, there’s the “plodders,” the people who prefer to make consistent, daily progress. And of course, you can be anywhere in between, too.

So before you embark on a daily writing habit, consider which one you are. Burster, plodder, in-between? If you’re not sure, think of other non-writing-related projects you’ve completed—did you sprint or marathon through them?

You probably lean more toward one or the other. And if you’re a burster, you will likely never have a daily writing habit—but that’s perfectly okay! Instead, structure your goals to match your energy pattern. You might end up accomplishing much more!

When I accepted my nature as a burster, I realized how futile and arbitrary my daily writing habit was, and instead focused on words per month. So much easier!

Get Write Better, Faster

Write-Better,-FasterIf you’re interested in setting up your own experiment to improve your writing habits, or if you’ve been trying to write on a regular basis and it just hasn’t happened, you may enjoy my new book, Write Better, Faster: How To Triple Your Writing Speed and Write More Every Day.

The book goes deeper into my 4-step framework to writing faster: Knowledge, Flow, Training, and Energy. It also answers tons of questions from readers like yourself, provides a lot more data from my experiments, and even goes through an example of my writing process of Outlines, Beats, Sketches, and Draft.

Finally, I talk about my 2-month experiment that helped me establish a daily writing habit and write 50,000 words of high-quality fiction (the same goal as National Novel Writing Month!) two months in a row.

At over 300 pages, it should be a pretty interesting read for the beginner who is struggling to finish a first book, or for the NYT Bestseller who wants to keep her readers fed and happy with new, fresh content.

You can get the book, Write Better, Faster: How To Triple Your Writing Speed and Write More Every Day exclusively on Amazon with three options: purchase, Prime Member borrow, or Kindle Unlimited Member borrow.

BUT it’s on sale only for a little bit! It will likely go to $4.95 after the launch festivities end. Please grab it now if interested and share this article to your friends so they can get the early bird price, too!

Grab Write Better, Faster here »

About Monica Leonelle

Monica Leonelle was born in Germany and spent her childhood jet-setting around the world with her American parents. Her travels include most of the United States and Europe, as well as Guam, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and the Philippines.

She started publishing independently in 2009 and has since published over half a million words of fiction spread across four series, Socialpunk, Waters Dark and Deep, Emma + Elsie, and Stars and Shadows. In 2014, she published 8 books and one short story.

She writes about indie publishing at Her most recent non-fiction book, Write Better, Faster, has earned raving reviews from the independent publishing community for going deeper than anyone else into the topic of writing speed. She currently averages around 3,000 words per hour and writes 25,000+ words per week (most weeks).


  1. You had me impressed until you said you use ghost writers, which is OTHER PEOPLE are doing the writing. How is that you writing?

    • Monica Leonelle says:

      LOL, sorry. They are really ghost editors. I do all my outlines, beats, sketches, drafts, and final pass editing myself. Basically it’s like having an editor but they can make changes directly to the draft—saves a lot of time in the end.

      The real benefit of working with ghost editors is not just time savings, but the fact that I need to be accountable to someone else and hit my deadlines with them. I also love having a fresh set of eyes on my work.

      • Phew! So glad we cleared that up. I love dropping in here, and respect you guys so much. In fact I just wrote a blog on my own site about how SPP influenced me, resulting in my own publication of 5 books last year. Thanks!
        Oh – and I so hear you regarding the fresh set of eyes …

        • Monica Leonelle says:

          Poor word choice on my part. I am not as sensitive to the word “ghostwriter” because I used to be one when I freelanced a lot more. “My words” have been published in Forbes, FastCompany, VentureBeat, The Huffington Post, and more under other people’s names—mostly startup founders, small business owners, and CEO/CTO/COO types.

          I don’t think ghostwriting is a bad thing, really. The difference with writers compared to other industries is that publishing has no transparency about who is writing what. Readers form a ton of intimacy with a writer because they bring so much of their own imaginations to your words… when it ends up those are not “your words” they feel betrayed. It doesn’t need to be that way, it just is. Books are growing more complex and everyone is trying to build a business… I imagine the stigma of having co-writers/ghostwriters will change in the coming years.

      • I’m confused. So they edit what?

        You don’t have a specific developmental/content and then copy editor? Just other writers doing (something?)

        • Monica Leonelle says:

          Hmm… interesting questions.

          I don’t have a developmental editor. I don’t usually need help with developing my story ideas. Pretty solid on story structure at this point.

          I’m not sure what a content editor is or if it’s the same thing, but I don’t think I have that, no.

          I DO have an editor who goes through and fixes problems in the manuscript. That’s the ghost editor. That person does all kinds of fixes, but usually not a ton of structural or developmental changes. I would call her more of a line editor, though that undermines what she does. I would say that she doesn’t change the structure or the overarching story, but she does change descriptions, dialog, etc. within the book. If there was a huge problem (like the second half of the book failed) then I would just have to rewrite it completely. I’ve never had that happen, maybe just a scene fail every once in awhile.

          Really, the ghost editor is not that complicated. It’s akin to Johnny and Sean’s relationship. Johnny writes, Sean edits, Johnny does another pass, and so on. So my ghostwriter is the “Sean” in the equation, except I do all my pre-production myself, too. Thus, it’s not a full collaboration, I keep all the copyrights, and my name is still on the cover.

          I always go through the changes the editors make, but I have good relationships with them and trust them. They also know me and my writing style and even my audience, so they make good suggestions.

          I do usually have someone else proof the book, but I don’t typically hire it out. I know people disagree with that, but I’m pretty strong on grammar already, and my ghost editor(s) are also strong on that front. And my fiance is very strong on telling me when I’ve made a mistake, so 🙂

          I don’t do beta readers, etc. anymore…

          But I’ve also published a lot of books… I know what I like and what my readers want. Too much feedback would get in the way of that, I think.

          My first novel, I had three editors. It was a little cray.

    • You had me impressed until you said you use ghost writers, which is OTHER PEOPLE are doing the writing. How is that you writing?

      I fail to see any problem with hiring a ghostwriter? Not that that’s what she’s doing per the above conversation, but even if she was, so what? It seems to be working just fine for James Patterson, or for Lexi Maxxwell and Guy Incognito (for SPP-specific examples), or for just about any celebrity memoir – the readers don’t really mind or care.

      I don’t see any problem with utilizing ghostwriters as long as the job is properly documented as work-for-hire and there are no illusions about who the copyright holder is. Then it’s a matter between writer and ghostwriter, and frankly none of the business of the reader past whether or not a quality product was produced.

      A smart writer that utilizes ghost writers is going to want to make sure that the book is in their own voice and style so as not to disappoint their readers with something completely unlike anything they’ve written before, but there are ways to accomplish that without having to do 100% of the writing yourself.

      • Monica Leonelle says:

        I’m with you, Blaine. I think it’s common industry practice to use ghostwriters, so *shrugs* I don’t really see why indies wouldn’t consider how having other writers help them get product out, whether that be co-writers, editors, ghostwriters, ghosteditors, contributors, or anyone else. The setup and label are not nearly as important as who owns the story and the work.

        I did try hiring ghostwriters for a book once. I did really detailed beats and then handed it over. It didn’t work very well because my writing voice is strong and readers can tell. I had to start over with that project! But it was a good experiment to try and led me to my current setup of ghosteditors.

        Outsourcing some of the editing was definitely was a game-changer for me. I found a writing partner who wanted to write in the romance/erotica genre but did not want her name on anything, who wanted to do detailed line-by-line work but didn’t want to deal with the overarching story, and so on. I really couldn’t have come this far without her!

  2. Monica, I was just wondering how Dragon dictation works for you. I see the reviews in the iTunes store and they are iffy at best. Just wondering.


    • Monica Leonelle says:

      You have to work with it for a bit. It’s really important to invest in a decent microphone as well. I have the AT2020, which makes DD work really, really well for me. I also have a profile that I’ve slowly improved over the years.

      People who complain about DD are usually using a crap mic, in my experience. But I’d say try Mac’s built-in speech if you can, first, to even see if you enjoy it. I think I only paid $189 for my copy of DD for Mac, so it’s not an insane investment if you are serious about working with dictation. And the software improves every year, too.

      • The DD app is free for the iPad. It seems to work pretty well, even for me. (I have a speech impediment.) Actually, it’s the caps and punctuation that are giving me problems. I keep forgetting to say them. Thanks for the tip about the mic.

        • Monica Leonelle says:

          Yes! I forgot. This is how I tested DD for myself as well!

          The problem with the app is it cuts out after 1, 2, maybe 5 minutes? The real software doesn’t do that. But you can get a good feel for what your words/hour would be on DD using the iPad app. I think mine was doubled almost immediately and I realized, “yes, I definitely want to make this investment.” Haven’t looked back.

          The software does caps automatically. It does take awhile to get used to “open quote,” “close quote,” “period,” and so on. One thing that DD loves is confidence when you’re speaking. It wants you to tell it what to do, crisply and clearly. I think DD has made me more confident when speaking on camera, too.

          The only other thing I would say is a challenge with DD is character names. It does not do or learn names well, even when you try to teach it. This can mess up a lot of your sentences. The workaround is you should give all your characters the most basic pseudonyms and then do a replace all on the chapter when you clean it up. Saves a ton of time.

          One of my character’s names is Rykken, so I use the substitute “reich” for him. I could also have used a simple name, like “Ryan.” Pick something and stay consistent.

          • Blaine Moore says:

            Great advice on using pseudonyms, that didn’t even occur to me!

            I really aught to dig up the disk and get it installed on my new computer and give it another go.

  3. Dale Szewczyk says:

    Awesome post, Monica! I track my word counts as well. I have been doing it since Dec 15th of last year. I have only went one week of no writing since then. Although a lot of that word count was non-fic and posts. I counted it because it was prose. But now I am working to keep it in my fiction. I still have a hard time keeping seven days a week. I am so tired from my job that I hate when I get home. I work overnights, and I have to consume caffeine which when I crash it’s even harder to write. I have a lot of challenges, but no more than any other writer who wrote through it. I always appreciate reading how other writers make it through the intense training of writing. Seems like before we make it, we gotta go through boot camp.

  4. Also, I checked out DD, it looks awesome! I never liked the idea of of saying punctuation, but this looks sooooo cool. I can see I was a bit bias against it, and so unfairly. I am a pecker as a typer, and although I can type quick as a pecker, it is still much slower than one who can type with their eyes closed (yes I read WRITE BETTER, FASTER, posted up above, brilliant stuff!) But looking at youtube videos on how DD works, I can really see how much faster it is compared to typing.

    Like my typing is on par with fast walking, Yours is like an Olympic runner (after reading your book, I am convinced you’re a prodigy in writing), but DD (I keep wanting to type D&D) is like flying. And that intrigues me. Also, I want to do what you do with the writing as you walk. Because so many times I will walk home from work (a 40 minute walk) and I will talk to myself (not due to insanity, as I am only mildly crazy) about story ideas, or role play scenes. And those scenes I had wished that I could have said them into a DD type of device. Because I get home and type it, I have lost some of the best part of those words. Then they look flat.

    But just by getting DD for the PC alone will increase my writing, and make life much easier. I also have arthritis, so typing can be annoying sometimes. I like the idea of reducing how much I type.

    • Dale, definitely give it a try for yourself and see what you think! Not sure if I mentioned this here, but Dragon Dictate does have a free app on iPad, I believe. You may want to check for iPhone/Android too, as that might be extremely useful for the note-taking you discussed. (Someone on Twitter was just telling me that they tried it for notes, and now they are hooked!)

      • Dale Szewczyk says:

        Yeah, from what I saw on a youtube video, it’s freaking awesome. It even works with Scrivener.

        Oh, I was going to tell you, in your book you mentioned you didn’t know how to change the time on the Pomodoro. If you have Chrome, go to Extensions, find the app and click on Options. There you can change both times, the work timer, and the break timer. Today I am giving myself two hours before work. In case you ever want to give yourself more time when you do decide to use it, or if someone asks you again.

  5. Thanks for mentioning the “plodders vs. bursters.” This is exactly what I’ve been struggling with lately, because I’ll write a ton in one big burst, but then take several days or a week off, and beat myself up about it. I would much prefer to track monthly word counts, like you said, because it feels like you are doing nothing if you’re not writing everyday, and that mentality can be so harmful to actually finishing your work. Great post!

  6. Hi Monica!
    Great article. I’m wondering what your thoughts are on the following: I’m an intuitive writer and I find that a lot of the dialogue, character development and even some major plot points come to me when I’m in flow. whenever I tried to do any concrete outlining I begin to feel really creatively constricted. how can I outline without losing that magic? let me know if you have any thoughts. Thanks!

    • Hi Haley! One idea is to continue writing the way you are—but create your outline (and update it) after you finish each scene or chapter. This way, you’re creating a map of your draft, in a sense. And then once you’ve gotten all of the draft done, you’ll have a good outline that you can start to move around and edit.

      This sounds like a lot of work, but it’s a lot easier than trying to move things around in the draft. You can spend a dozen rewrites on a scene and still not get the high-level story working well.

      My opinion is that it doesn’t matter at what phase you discover your story—whether it’s the outlining, drafting, or editing—just that you discover it and know enough about story craft (and have done your homework) to make sure you’ve put everything into a logical order that the reader can comprehend and enjoy.

      Good luck!

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