Writing Habits

on October 19, 2006

Thanks to my friend Edie for the information that it takes 30 days to develop a habit. That’s great information to have . . . and I think it’s very true.

Samuel Johnson said:

The chains of habit are generally too small to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.

Truer words were never spoken. Consider bad habits. How hard it is for people to quit smoking. To stop drug use. To stop biting their nails.

But this goes true for good habits as well. Take brushing your teeth. When you form that habit early, the one day you can’t find your toothbrush is a crisis (I have five kids, believe me, my toothbrush has disappeared!)

Moral excellence comes about as a result of habit. We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts. — Aristotle

. . . and we become writers by writing.

In his book ON WRITING, Stephen King says he writes 2,000 words a day, every day. He sits down and starts writing and doesn’t leave until he gets his 2,000 words done. This could be a couple hours or all day–and night.

Everyone has a different process, but most successful writers DO have a process. Without the process, the HABIT, your writing takes the backseat to everything else in your life.

This translate to everything you WANT to do but can’t find the TIME to do. If something is important to you, like maybe learning how to knit or cooking or getting a promotion at work, you need to carve out the time each day to focus on that task. Set a goal and then develop the skills to achieve it. How? But putting that goal at the top of your list and setting a daily goal–creating a habit–to achieve it.

I started my writing habit by setting a time–every night from 9-11 I would focus on writing. I had a family and a full-time day job. I gave up television and sleep to write. But I knew it was necessary if I was ever going to get published. Some nights it was hard. Really hard to sit at the computer and write. Some nights it was easy, and the words flowed and I stayed at the computer far past my “mandatory” 11 pm.

Habits change. Now I write in the mornings and early afternoon–when the kids are in school. I still have a set time I write, but I also have a page goal. I want 10 pages a day minimum. That number increases as my deadline nears, but for me I can comfortably write 10 pages a day. Actually, 12-15 pages a day is my average, but something about goals: make them achieveable, especially when you’re trying to create the habit in the first place. At the same time, challenge yourself. It’s probably hard to give up your favorite television show. That’s a sacrifice. But do it and sit down and challenge yourself to write. Set a goal you can achieve. When you achieve it, was it easy? Hard? Adjust accordingly. Give yourself rewards for meeting each goal.

For example, I buy a season of a television show on DVD when I finish a book. This is how I’ve watched LOST, DEADWOOD, FIREFLY and soon CRIMINAL MINDS. I have a list of other shows I want to get as well. I used to love television and going to the movies, but when my writing came first, I had to put other things aside. Now I use them as rewards.

Getting into the writing habit is much harder than breaking a writing habit. All it takes is a couple days of listening to your self-doubts, making excuses, ignoring yourself, for you to break the habit you worked so hard to create.

Yes, life interferes. Family and friends, spouses and children. Day jobs and other concerns. Sometimes you even get sick. (I shiver to even think about that!) But do something that stimulates your muse, whether it’s reading a craft book or editing something you wrote or reading something inspirational–something to give you the fix so that when your personal crisis has ended, you can fall back into your writing habit. I know this from personal experience. There was a two month period I didn’t write a word. Coming back to the computer after that was like suffering to create the habit all over again. It became a chore.

I never want my writing to be a chore, so I’m never going to break the habit again.

Charlotte Dillon, a writer and friend of romance writers, has a great Q&A with authors up on her website. The first question is about their daily writing schedule. Sherrilyn Kenyon starts writing a 7 in the evening and if on a roll, stays up until the wee hours of the morning. Shirley Jump writes four hours a day, but at different times. Carly Phillips has no set schedule, but writes 25 pages a week. Christine Feehan writes seven days a week, a minimum of eight hours a day.

I like Kay Hooper’s advice:

My schedule works for me. Every author has to find his or her own schedule, and copying mine or anyone else’s will only short-circuit their own instincts. WRITING IS A SOLITARY ACTIVITY. Find the way — schedule, speed, whatever — that works best for YOU.

Anything worth having takes sacrifice. Even if you’re “only” writing for yourself, if it gives you joy, make the time for it. Create the habit. You’ll know when writing has become a habit when you crave more writing time like a drug addict craves his next fix.