How do we make writing a habit?
A lot of you will have experienced that wave of creativity when you first start writing. Suddenly, something clicks and you’re away. It may last for only an hour, or a few days. Mine lasted for the whole of the first draft of my first book. I was just so happy to finally be doing something I’d been telling myself to get on with for so long. Every moment was a joy. I wrote before and after work, during my lunch break, in stolen minutes at the weekend. I couldn’t get enough.
But then the crash comes. You still love writing, but some of that initial flush of inspiration has worn off. You have to think about when writing will fit into your busy life and, when you do finally find the time, you just aren’t as productive as you were before. Something has changed but thankfully this happens to all of us.
If you want writing to continue to be part of your life, then you need to make it into a habit. That’s not something born of a moment of luck but of conscious choice.
I ran into a huge brick wall when I started editing my first novel. It was sooo much harder than writing the first draft. I found myself spending less and less time writing because I wasn’t riding on a high anymore, but if I wanted this book to improve then I needed to prioritise working on it.
I think there are three things we need to do to make writing a fruitful habit in our lives.
- SHOW UP
Somehow, around all the other things filling our days, we’ve got to find some time to write.
I would suggest starting small, just 10 minutes or 100 words. Stop thinking of the novel you’ve got to write or edit, and break it down into easily achievable steps. Then put when you’re going to complete those steps into your diary (and don’t book anything else in!)
Sometimes, life is unavoidable. I think we’ve all learnt recently that we are very much not as in control of our circumstances as we would like to think we are. People will get sick, kids will need dinner, bosses will demand more, so it is okay to have blips. The thing about having writing as a habit is that as soon as humanly possible (and sometimes this will take a while so try to be kind to yourself) you get back to it.
Monitor your showing up in some way, either by word-counting, clock-watching, simply ticking it off on your to-do list. Watch those days you commit to writing as a habit rack up, and your craft will thrive.
2. SHUT DOWN
There is always something that is going to stop you writing. These things can be split into two categories – distractions and circumstances. Distractions are temporary and mainly within your power to push away, while circumstances are a bit trickier to overcome (and some cannot be).
Distractions come in many shapes and forms. It might the be the woman talking loudly next to you at a café, the brownie you can’t wait to eat, or the bit of research you really MUST do before you start writing. There is also the always present phone, just waiting to steal away our precious writing minutes with wormholes filled with puppies and cute gifs.
These are in your control to minimise. Put your ear buds in, go get the flipping brownie and EAT IT, make a note of the research and do some writing. Throw your phone across the room. Or, at least put it out of arm’s reach. For half an hour, shut down all the little things dragging your attention away from your writing and get the words down.
And remember, shutting down distractions is an ongoing thing. You might have a great month of putting your phone away while you write, and that’s just when you’ll start getting sucked into Twitter more. Don’t beat yourself up, just shut it down again and get back to your writing.
Circumstances are harder and, in some cases, impossible to shut down. It might be your offspring, an unwell partner, your own health, global pandemics, your living situation, a demanding time at work, or so many other things. These are things you may not have the power to shut down so that you can spend blissful hours each day writing.
We all have these things going on, you may have a combination of these things. Some are joyful, like a great job or your children, but some are really tough, like caring for someone else or dealing with daily pain. There is still a choice, despite our circumstances, to choose to write, but it MUST be balanced alongside kindness to ourselves. Why set goals we can’t meet because of our circumstances at the moment? Instead, I suggest setting small goals and celebrating like heck when you complete them, but being compassionate with yourself when you don’t.
The other thing to shut down is the negative voice inside your head. It’s not a lie that we are our own worst critic. I struggled when first trying to make writing a habit because I felt like a fraud. I was completely happy with my assessment that my writing was rubbish, so it made no sense that I would carve chunks out of my life to work on it. We have to learn to hush that ultra-critical voice so that we can value our writing and protect the time set aside to do it (I know this can be really tough and sometimes my critical inner-voice is VERY LOUD – this is another time when setting small goals is great because you only have to make a tiny stand against the negativity, rather than fighting a battle)
3. SET OFF
No one begins a journey without a destination in mind. That’s a very good way to get lost and end up going no-where at all. The same is true with writing. If you don’t have a destination in mind, you might spend endless hours working on things that don’t amount to much. You don’t need to know everything, but what is it that you want to achieve? What are your dreams?
Once you know this, you can make plans and take small steps towards achieving them.