At the start of 2011, I was all revved up and ready to plunge into my writing practice like a pelican diving head first into an ocean seething with slippery, silvery deliciousness. I had plans – Big Plans. “This is the year,” I said, my heart full of confidence and enthusiasm.
And then my daughter came down with the flu. And then I came down with the flu. We had a succession of snow days the likes of which I haven’t seen since the famed Blizzard of ’78. We had school holidays and teacher workshop days and early dismissals. I landed two new clients. (That’s a good thing.) They both needed big deliverables in a hurry. (That’s not such a good thing.) And now, suddenly, it’s February.
A writer unravels
I had intended to get back to journaling. I had planned to finish reading the excellent eBook about structure by Larry Brooks of Storyfix. I had meant to get back to work outlining my novel, working on character studies, and creating a fabulously retro “map” of my story using markers, sticky notes, and some very large pieces of paper. But, these intentions were all summarily slaughtered by the demands of my Real Life.
I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream. I felt disappointment, anger, and guilt. This morning, I read a post called Blood, Sweat and Words: How Badly Do You Want This? (also by Larry Brooks) and I wanted to whip myself with a cat-o-nine-tails for being such a wuss. If I were a real writer, I would stay up all night to fit my writing into my overscheduled life. I would Make Things Happen. I would Sacrifice.
So, I brooded. I moped. I felt sorry for myself. I got mad at Larry Brooks. I moped some more.
The magic of habits
The beauty of a habit is that you do it almost without thinking. It’s not something that you have to work at; it’s just part of who you are and your life. It’s automatic. At some point, I stopped stomping around my house glowering at inanimate objects, and I decided to try and do something positive. The first thing that came to mind was coming up with a way to make writing a personal habit. It used to be a habit, but somewhere along the way, I fell off that wagon.
So, in the hopes that my plans might help some other writer in a Real Life crisis, here are my 7 Steps to Better Writing Habits:
Step 1: Find, make, or steal writing time
I wrote about this in detail last week in my post You DO Have Time to Write. It’s something I’m still working on …
Step 2: Have a purpose
I like the word “purpose” because it conveys a certain sense of fate. Goals sometimes seem cold and clinical, but a purpose is an almost spiritual thing. A purpose is bigger than any one goal or task. It’s the thing that inspires you to keep slogging, even through the worst days. It’s what goes in your obituary when you’ve shuffled off this mortal coil. Try saying, “Writing is my purpose.” How does that feel? What about, “Bringing joy is my purpose.”
Step 3: Avoid the shoulds
My Twitter friend @John_C_Davies left a wonderfully insightful and generous comment on my last post. It made me think about the way “shoulds” drag us down. Shoulds are those things that you think you ought to do – because someone said you should. Someone said that anyone who is anyone, anyone who is smart, anyone who is going anywhere does these things. If the should doesn’t strike a chord deep down in your soul, don’t try to make it into a habit. It’s not for you.
Step 4: Start small
If you want to guarantee failure, start out of the gate with the bar set so high that you can barely see it. Promise yourself that you will write for two hours each day. Commit to writing at a NaNoWriMo pace… forever. You’ll come up short, beat yourself up, and then wind up moping and brooding like me. Instead, start small. Plan to spend fifteen minutes a day working on your writing. It may not seem like much, but even just a few minutes make a dent … and a difference.
Step 5: Be consistent
The main reason you make your initial commitment so “easy” to keep, is so you’ll actually keep it. Habits are born out of routine. The more frequent your routine, the more quickly the habit will form. That’s why writing for fifteen minutes each day is more powerful than writing for an hour each week.
Step 6: Measure progress
As a mom, I can testify to the irrational power of a progress chart. Sticker charts, marble jars – kids love seeing their progress in a very concrete way. You can do the same thing with your writing by putting stars on your calendar or making hash marks on the wall. There’s something compelling about a long row of check marks that makes you hate to break the chain. Giving yourself a “gold star” is great positive reinforcement that will help even on the days when you don’t earn a pat on the back. Even on those days, you’ll be able to look at all the other gold stars in your writing galaxy and you’ll feel better about the occasional, inevitable slip-up.
Step 7: Find your joy
In his comment on my last post, @John_C_Davies wrote, “I had caught the bug. I started to fit writing into other areas of my life. All of a sudden it wasn’t a chore. It poured out of me. It was a pleasure. I had no problem retiring early to scribble an hour’s worth of writing in my bed side notebooks.” He was talking about how his emotional reaction to writing changed after he turned his back on some pesky shoulds. What made me smile, though, was the sense that he’d rediscovered the joy of writing. In my experience, if you start small so that you experience some initial success, you’ll start to feel that joy which in turn will inspire you to write more. It’s an “upward spiral” of the very best kind.
So, those are my 7 steps. What are your favorite tips for making writing a routine part of your day and your life?
Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who, among other things, works as a marketing strategist and copywriter. She helps creative entrepreneurs (artists, writers, idea people, and creative consultants) discover their “natural” marketing groove so they can build their business with passion, story, and connection. She also blogs. A lot. She is a mom, a singer, and a dreamer who believes in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Look her up on facebook or follow her on twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.
Image Credit: dspruitt