Forming Habits: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
“A writing life is built by habit, page by page, with a few perks thrown in–like indulging in buying books or making many visits to the library because your reading is another habit. Or not feeling guilty for going on a binge at Staples or Office Depot.” Barbara Ambercrombie as quoted in A Year of Writing Dangerously.
“Writer’s are people who desperately need habits to fill their days.” Ann Patchett as quoted in A Year of Writing Dangerously.
“I have found that the wonder of life is often most easily recognizable through habits and routines.” Anne Lamott as quoted in Stitches.
“I’ve found that writing novels is an all-absorbing experience–both physical and mental–and I have to do it every day in order to keep the rhythm, to keep myself focused on what I’m doing. Even Sunday if possible….Whenever I travel, I get thrown off completely. If I’m gone for two weeks, it takes me a good week to get back into the rhythm of what I was doing before.” Paul Auster as quoted in A Year of Writing Dangerously.
“I have forced myself to begin writing when I’ve been utterly exhausted, when I’ve felt my soul as thin as a playing card…and somehow the activity of writing changes everything.” Joyce Carol Oates as quoted in A Year of Writing Dangerously.
As I mentioned in my previous post about discipline, my dad was my first writing mentor. One of the things he taught me was it takes six weeks to form a new routine. Running during my 300-mile summer was a relatively short commitment one when compared to writing a novel. But, establishing writing habits are similar to solid training for marathon.
I admit I have never run a marathon. My writer-reader friend has. She trained last summer, ran her race, and accomplished her goal. But, she has not stopped running. Through the dismal duration of winter, she took herself to a local 24-hour gym when sleep remained dormant or temperatures dipped to dangerous. As far as I know, she still wakes early to run near the creek now that spring has sprung. What began as a calling and a personal challenge remains a habit.
I wish I could say the same for my running habits, but I have switched to walking. It is nicer on my hip-pointers, and my husband will join me. I am trying to figure out how to motivate myself to walk more in the winter. But, for now, I’ll enjoy this season.
I have been training toward a different marathon. After fifteen years, I think it is about time I finish my novel. Its route is completely different from the one I anticipated back then, but I have mapped it better this time. At least, I know how it begins and ends and have 49,975 words written in between. Now it is time for word training, adjusting chapter intervals, and rerouting if the path proves impassable. Either way, similar to Minnesota’s roads, it is still under construction with many plot holes to fill.
Fortunately, in the process of roughing out my novel, I have formed some soothing writing habits smoother than that pun. Each day I begin with reading and journal writing. When I miss this time, I feel tight and fidgety. I make it up later in the day and catch up on my reading the next day. But, it is not the same as doing it before the rest of my day starts. Almost six months into the year, I feel confident I have formed a lasting habit. The readings and writing structure may change, but the practice will remain.
On a recent my walk with my husband, I was reminded about the bad, even ugly, part of habits. I said I had not written anything that day.
“Good. You need to take a break.”
A break?! Maybe a coffee break…with my computer in front of me.
But, I know what he was saying. So, I didn’t write anything the rest of the day. I spent that time with him.
Another wake-up call was when my youngest said he wanted to stop playing guitar. I was about to give in, then thought twice. I decided I would take him to his lesson. My oldest son has been doing the shuttling recently so I could use the hour to write while my middle son was at another appointment. Great for my writing and highly appreciated by myself and my local coffee shop! But, my youngest son’s interest in guitar was dwindling because, while his guitar-playing brother was doing me a favor, it just was not the same. So, I took him–and my rough draft–to the lesson. He passed his theory lesson, moved forward with his song, and I read-through one chapter. Win-win.
Writers–as well as runners, musicians, and anyone striving toward a goal–need habits to support their efforts. But, balance is necessary or those habits threaten supportive efforts required to meet the needs of others. Taking a break can be one of the best habits if it shows others they count more than the daily word count.