I’ve heard different theories about how long it takes to create a habit. The most common is that it takes about a month. Unfortunately, I’m not sure I agree. I’ve also read somewhere between 50-60 days. Perhaps that is more accurate, but in the end, I’m not sure it matters how long it takes if it’s something you really want.
One habit I have failed to cultivate is that of writing every day.
It’s one of those things that many people tell you to do, especially if you want to write for any kind of living at all. I’ve done an appreciable amount of reading on creating habits and tips for writing every day. Some of them I think are more useful than others. I’m going to document some of the tips I feel will be most useful to me here, and then try to implement them over the next several weeks. I’ll follow up in a couple of months to evaluate their effectiveness.
In vague order of what I think is most important to least important, they are:
1) Disconnect from the internet. Even as I’m trying to write this, I’ve followed numerous rabbit trails off into the far reaches of the internet. I’ve skimmed articles called “3 Books that will Make You Quit Your Job and Travel the World Now,” “13 Good Habits You Should Start to Take Up Now,” and “Is Your Morning Coffee Fix Unhealthy?” not to mention browsing through my email and Facebook.
I’ve read several ideas on how to do this. One is to simply disconnect from the internet and don’t reconnect until you’re done. Another is to go old school and use pen and paper, obviously disconnecting you. The last is one I haven’t investigated extensively, but it could be useful if the previous two fail. There are apps that you can download that will temporarily block the internet or just certain sites like Facebook and Twitter. A couple of free ones include SelfControl and StayFocused. This one makes me strangely paranoid about giving control of my computer over to an app, but depending on how desperate I become, I may try. There are a host of apps like this out there and if you choose this option I would recommend doing more extensive research for which ones would suit your particular needs.
One of my problems with disconnecting from the internet is not being able to do research as I’m writing. I’m writing away and come up with a question and of course use Google so I can answer it and continue writing. But as I’m Googling I see other interesting things and then more interesting things and I’m down the dark internet spiral of despair again. One helpful hint I read from LitReactor is to create an annotation system to mark those places I need to research and then do it later. Use brackets, slashes, or a different color so I know where I need to do more research, and set aside a specific time, not my writing time, to do this.
2) Know what you mean by writing. Does it mean continuing work on your current project, starting a new one, brainstorming your next project, journaling? I have quite a bit of practice talking myself out of things, and if I don’t define what I expect in some detail, then I will find some way around it. I could also see myself starting something new every day on a whim or rambling on about my frustrations with life and never actually getting anywhere. Obviously, I will have to start new projects, but my goal is to primarily work on existing ones so I can actually finish projects and be able to edit and hopefully submit them.
3) Start slowly. I want to start all at once and get up an hour early and write like mad until I have to go to work. Obviously that hasn’t happened, nor is it going to happen at least to begin with. I’ve never been very good at being a beginner. I want to be an expert when I first start and no matter how many times I start something new, somehow I haven’t managed to realize I’m never going to be really good at something in the beginning. It takes an unfortunate amount of frustration and angst for me to realize this anew and then step back and begin again slowly. A blog that I follow called Zen Habits recommends starting with 10-15 minutes and working up from there, and I think that’s a reasonable amount to start with.
4) Pick a time and write at that time consistently. This could work out a couple of ways. Either pick an actual time of day like morning or evening and write then, or tie writing to another activity like breakfast or walking the dog and use it as a trigger. My preferred time is in the morning, so I need to get up 15 minutes earlier and write before getting ready for work.
5) Analyze what problems you’re having making writing a habit. Obviously working through writing this has helped me identify what issues I already know I have, but I’m sure I’ll discover more as I attempt writing every day. The second half of this is to figure out how to deal with these problems. I’ve done my best to outline my personal struggles and strategies, but everyone is different and will need to approach this individually.
This last one is less a writing tip and more a resource for those days when you sit down to write and have absolutely nothing, which apparently is rare for some people, but less rare for others, like me. I know one of my goals was to continue on existing projects, but at some point I’m going to finish them and may not have another idea lined up. It’s also for those mornings when there is just nothing. I ran across this website helpfully called Writing Exercises. They provide a wide selection of prompts to start you writing from subjects, dialogue, images, names, titles, or words. You click the green generate button and off you go, hopefully. Unfortunately, this could also be a huge time waster because you really just need to push the button one more time to see what comes up.
By Melissa Blakely