Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Your Writing Habit

by Deren Hansen

In episode 188 of the I Should Be Writing podcast, where the topic was health, producer Patrick Hester said:
Eating one piece of cake doesn't make you fat. Not eating one piece of cake doesn't make you thin.
This is true of many things in life, but I wanted to emphasize the writing corollary:
Writing one day doesn't make you a writer. Not writing one day doesn't make you not a writer.
Habits form over time.

Writing, in case you haven't noticed is habit forming. As with other habits, there are good ones and bad ones. Bad writing habits are the ones that may give you a rush for a while, but overall tend to leave you feeling guilty and depressed. Good writing habits may have less of a rush but produce a general feeling of satisfaction.

Does this sound uncomfortably like food habits?

It's no accident because the psychology is similar.

An article in Scientific American explained that we systematically choose short term benefits over long term resolutions because we believe we can always do better tomorrow.

Patrick Hester said that the light bulb went on for him when he realized that while he couldn't change all the habits accumulated over a lifetime all at once, he could change one thing today.

For those who aspire to write but can't seem to make the time, you're not going to change all the habits that make it hard to make time overnight. What you can do, however, is to choose to write instead of doing something else when you have a few minutes.

Think of it as the writing equivalent of not having a second piece of cake. In time, you may no longer need the first piece of cake (i.e, you may find it easier to make a bit more time to write). If you can stop dreaming about your bestseller (and getting down because your draft isn't even close), and think instead in terms of small steps and milestones, you'll be amazed at the effect even a small change can have over time.

After all, writing is a habit.

If you can use NaNoWriMo to jump start your manuscript, that's a good thing. If you can use NaNoWriMo to jump start your writing habit, it will pay dividends the rest of your life.

Deren blogs at The Laws of Making.


Jen said...

Thank you for writing this. It is EXACTLY what I needed to hear today.

Scott said...

The writing habit is a weird subject for me. I write every day, often for many hours, but it's my job and not my fiction. That can make it very hard for me to do it in my free time sometimes. I write all he time between work, a couple blogs, memories I've been assembling for my kids, and general writing projects. But I'm not as consistent as I'd like to be with the writing I really want to do.

Patrick Hester said...


Also, if it helps, I decided about 18 months ago to write everyday. The only time I could guarantee I could make this happen was lunchtime. So, I now take my lunch away from the office. With laptop in tow, I claim a spot at some low calorie eatery (Garbonzo's, Subway, Tokyo Joe's) and pound out an average of 1000 words a day. Anything I manage after that is gravy.

Mmmm... gravy...

NaNoWriMo is good for getting you into the discipline and habit of writing everyday. The true test is keeping that discipline once NaNoWriMo is over.