How to get rid of habits
that screw with your writing.
What’s tripping you up?
If you constantly find yourself not writing, it’s time to find the tripwire.
The best writing ritual in the world won’t overcome a habit-snare hiding among your prayers to muses and your affirmations that you are a brilliant and prolific writer. The perfect morning routine can be thrown out of whack despite your best intentions.
You can have all the good habits in the world, but one bad habit can rule them all.
First: Find the tripwire. What has it got in its pocketses?
This requires reflection. Often, a lot of it.
- What are you doing, immediately before you’re supposed to sit and write?
- What about that activity or act is throwing you off?
For example, when I went to my desktop computer each morning, I would often find myself chasing shiny objects when I should have been writing; A new way to structure stories, an insight into reader psychology, a new marketing tactic. All of them seemed both urgent and important at the time.
With thought, I realized that what I was doing immediately before heading downstairs each morning to work was browsing through my RSS feed reader while finishing my breakfast. Articles and posts with cool new ideas would snag my attention and take up all my attention bandwidth while I processed how to use them in my business…and the writing day would be sunk before I left the breakfast table.
What’s tripping you up?
Two: Remove the prompt. With sword and shield, if necessary.
BJ Fogg said, in Tiny Habits;
You can disrupt a behavior you don’t want by removing the prompt. This isn’t always easy, but removing the prompt is your best first move to stop a behavior from happening.
- What makes you do that thing that is screwing with your day?
- How do you stop yourself from doing it? How do you remove the prompt?
In my case, I was looking for distraction in the idle minutes at the end of the morning. Realistically, I can read my feed reader at any time of the day. I can even use it as a reward for good habits. But each time I browse through my feed reader, I was getting little hits of dopamine and sometimes adrenaline jolts from truly fantastic ideas.
I tried to find something else to do in those idle moments but found myself coming back to reading blog posts. So I deleted the feed reader on my laptop and phone, leaving it only installed on my desktop.
I also removed the quick link to the feed reader on my desktop, which required me to use the all-programs section of my Start Menu to find it.
As I needed something to do (I apparently can’t abide idleness), I installed a shortcut on my laptop’s task bar that opened the file for my current book, and also jumped directly to the point where I was writing last. I could scroll back a few pages and read through, tweaking as I went.
By the time I went downstairs to work, my head was already in the story.
Another way I could have approached this would be to shut down everything electronic at breakfast and just thought about the story I’m currently writing, but that would require willpower that the old habit would beat to a pulp. So I distracted myself with something else, instead. And that something only required a single click of the mouse to invoke.
How can you remove the prompt that is wrecking your day? What can you replace it with?
Three: Remain vigilant. The White Wizard is everywhere.
I have no idea who said it takes thirty days for a habit to form. From experience, I know it can take a couple of months before you can truly relax and not be in danger of slipping back into old habits and find your writing has been sabotaged once more.
Just think about how long you must watch yourself when you quit smoking. You can suffer unexpected cravings months later. Alcoholics remain in recovery for the rest of their lives.
Good habits are a lot easier to acquire than bad habits are to expel, for good habits provide benefits and gains, while you’re giving up the pay-off you get from the bad habit.
That’s why you need to root out the prompt.
It is possible to coax yourself into writing when you say you will. You have to do a bit of digging into your thought processes, but it’s worth it. As Samwise Gamgee said: “It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish.”
How quickly do you was to
return to the Shire finish your book?