Creating and maintaining a writing habit is, like writing itself, simple but far from easy. I know. There are habits I would love to have but don’t. In part, this is because there are only so many hours in the day and, in part, because certain habits seemed as though they’d be more rewarding than they turned out to be.
These ruminations have been brought on by an article I read over at BrainPickings.org: Mary Oliver on How Habit Gives Shape to Our Inner Lives.
The Value of Habit
This essay got me thinking, reflecting, ruminating, about my blog and about what has allowed me, despite my natural inclination to disorder, to blog more-or-less regularly over the past few years.
If I hadn’t formed the habit of blogging, this blog would not exist. And that would be a shame, because my blog has turned out to be one of the most personally significant undertakings of my life. Not—alas!—in terms of money made, but certainly in terms of the folks I’ve met.
Creating A Habit
After the first year or so of daily blogging, it began to feel odd, even uncomfortable, if I didn’t blog. It felt as though a part of me had gone missing. I felt almost compelled to sit down and write. And so it was that my blog made the act of writing an important part of my everyday life.
Thanks to you, my readers, giving me feedback—or just stopping by to say “Hi!”—I’ve had (and hopefully will continue to have) the wonderful experience of reaching through the page to connect with others through my words. I’ve been able to share my thoughts, my musings, my hopes and fears, my triumphs and deep losses, with a community.
And all this thanks to something that can seem to some relatively trifling: a blog. Well, a blog and the habit it helped to form.
The habit of blogging is really the habit of putting my butt in my office chair in the mornings on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and keeping it there until an idea finds me.
Of course, as you may be all too aware, that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes I cast about for something to write, something that grabs me, excites me, but nothing comes. Still, those days, I stick at it and, eventually, words find their reluctant way onto paper and an essay of sorts will take shape. The important thing, though, is that my butt goes in the chair and stays there until either, hours later, I’m convinced it’s a lost cause OR something happens. And, thankfully, it usually does. (Knock on wood.)
What gets me into trouble, what can always completely derail me, are two things: a big, massive, gargantuan idea, one much too involved and complex for one blog post and, second, tinkering with my writing analysis program (but that’s an entirely different post!).
In any case, for what they are worth, here are my tips for the creation and nurturing of a habit.
1. Take it seriously
I have the unfortunate tendency to think of some of my goals as unimportant in the grand scheme of things and so let other concerns crowd them out. When it comes to my blog, folks have actually said to me, “You shouldn’t prioritize it. After all, it’s only a blog.” I think there is something of a prejudice against blogging. Why, I don’t know. Perhaps because one doesn’t make money from it? Hopefully not, because that’s also true of many of the most satisfying things in life. In any case, I digress.
Whatever it is you are trying to make a habit of, it can be tempting—especially when time is short and other concerns are pressing—to minimize the importance of the thing, the activity, you are attempting to make habitual. Resist this! How? Through resisting the desire, the urge, to procrastinate. Again, how? Through recognizing that this urge, this desire, has been spawned by fear. (Or so I would argue.)
2. Fear is the enemy
To paraphrase Frank Herbert: Fear is the habit killer.
Forming a new habit represents change and change can be scary. Whenever something new is created, something old must die. One minute spent writing is one minute away from your children, your spouse. It is time away from exercising, from watching movies and chatting with friends.
Fear of the future, fear of being laughed at, fear of pouring your heart into something and being rejected. These are all reasons to procrastinate, to let your new habit die on the vine.
3. Do it for yourself
Create the habit because it will nourish you, because you will get something personal out of it. (Really, I think this is the secret to accomplishing anything.)
That may sound odd so let me use my blog as an example of what I mean. Yes, I think it is a good idea for writers to have a blog. For starters, I believe that regular blogging helps to build that mysterious thing called “a platform” (and, actually, that’s why I began blogging). But at some point every single one of those external reasons will be stripped away. At least, that happened to me. Those were tough times and I would have stopped blogging if the act itself didn’t fulfill something deep within myself.
4. Find, or create, a support group
It’s a rare thing, but if you find a support group—that is, a group of people who will encourage you to write no matter what—then treat them like the treasures they are.
And, here, I’m not suggesting that if someone says to you: I’m going to quit my job and write full time because I know I can produce a New York Times Bestseller within the year,” that you should paste on a smile and say, “You go girl!”
There is one very simple rule I follow when giving writers feedback: Writing is better than not writing. No matter a writer’s level of skill, there is only one way to get better: keep reading and keep writing. Ultimately, a good support group will encourage its members to do just this.
So write! And if you’re not writing, read! Form those productive habits and, above all, never, ever, give up.
See you on Wednesday. :-)
Photo credit: This is a collage I adjusted and assembled with the aid of Photoshop.