You’re Not Getting Your Writing Done Because You’re Building the Wrong Habit

Tom’s cat. No, it’s not a tomcat.
Editor Tom asks how we manage to start writing projects without bedeviling ourselves.

Short version: make it a habit.

Slightly longer version: make it the right habit.

Full version:

After 18 months of experimentation (following 18 years of dabbling) I’ve made writing my habit. It’s part of my daily routine.

Every morning, Best Beloved and I have our tea and a chat. Then, I go downstairs and write one scene (+/- 1,000 words is where mine seem to fall.)

Then, back upstairs, fix breakfast, and down again for a second scene.

Upstairs again to grab the laundry bag which I take downstairs and put in a load (the stairs are my secondary workout, after a very sedentary lifetime.)

Check email. Tidy the kitchen. Downstairs to shift the laundry to the dryer.

Out for my daily mile (or nowadays, mile-and-a-quarter, building to three eventually.)

Home again to fix lunch. Some days, lunch and walking are swapped.

Afternoons are fluid, my time to do whatever I feel like doing, whenever it arises.

Notice the lack of any clock times on my activities?

I don’t live by a clock. I live by routine. Do this, and then that, and then the third thing.

If I did it to a clock, one of my infamous sleepless nights followed by waking at 9:30 would be a very different day from one of my less famous “like the dead” sleeps where I wake at 5:15 ready to take on the world.

But when I wake up, it’s not hard to make a cup of tea first thing. Feels natural.

And while we have tea, we talk about our day.

And now that I’ve done the two things that prime my brain, the next thing just happens, naturally, without much effort: I go downstairs and write.

Even that has a miniroutine: close the door, power up the computer, put on an album that suits either my mood or the mood I want for what I’m writing, light the citrus candles to fire up olfactory memory settings, bring up all the documents I need for reference and a blank one for writing, and go.

I can do what comes next all day every day.

Here’s Why You Can’t Build a Habit

Yes, you’ve tried and tried and you keep giving up.

Here’s what you’re doing: choosing a method, and then shoe-horning yourself into it come hell or high water.

If you don’t work that way, you’ll spend the rest of your life making it a habit.

I don’t work to a clock. But “this follows that” is cake.

You have to find a habit that suits your thinking and creative methods, not just one that suits your preconceived ideas which you probably collected in a dismal cubicle somewhere.

Yes, it takes time to see if a new work style fits. But it doesn’t take years. Even if you spend the full 21-day habit-creating period, you can test more than 30 variations in 2 years.

If you spend a month on something that’s not working, check the horse’s pulse and then find another mount.

If you’re going to give your kingdom for a horse, it might as well be a live one.

3 thoughts on “You’re Not Getting Your Writing Done Because You’re Building the Wrong Habit

  1. Joel, I can’t stand it; you are So funny, some of the lines you use — the horse, the mount?? hahaha.

    Anyway, I love hearing about your days spent at the lake house. It’s all so dreamy, but yeah I know it’s very real. Keep on enjoying.

    I’ve been doing the same thing for some time, but I don’t know I’m doing it — I listen to your comments here, then, and it comes up that, wow, this is what I do. The DIFFERENCE! — is that at the end of every day, believe it or not, my tendency is to beat myself up because “this is not how Productivvvvve People get things done!!!??” And so it goes. But your words give me joy today, because I know that’s BS…

    Happy Holidays to you and to Best-Beloved, Joel! And Fiona.

  2. I’d wager that if you made a list of “things productive people do” and asked real genuine productive people how many they do, you’d be surprised.

    So many processes have been generalized to the point of uselessness. To do lists? Schedule? Setting aside blocks of time?

    Do them right (in both timing and methodology) and they can have value.

    Do them without understanding why they work in the first place, and waste even more time getting nowhere.

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