Writing Exercise: Habits

Photo by Alexa Mazzarello on Unsplash

Writers write. You hear that all the time, but how to do it with a full-time job, two kids, spouse, errands, and the one-night-a-month social outing to remember who you are as an individual outside of the spouse-parent-worker hats?

Sit in a chair and type. Grab paper and pen and scratch while waiting for the school to let kids out. Dictate during a car pool while sitting in the back seat.

Easier said than done, but an initial habit forms. One day, then the next. Soon the twenty-one days of a new habit is complete. Easy sailing thereafter, right? Wrong.

Whatever habit you develop, be prepared to change it when it no longer works. Sit in a chair and type between the first and second nursing doesn’t matter when no longer nursing. When the kids start being bused, the paper and pen approach disappears. The car pool turns into just you because of layoffs and the drive requires you to pay attention to the stuff outside the head. Use the habit you have for as long as you can, but be prepared to change it when you need to.

Now that the easiest habit for you to create is gone, what other options are there? If nothing else, writers are inventive. Here are some of the habits people have shared with me over the years.

Time of day: Always write before going to work, always write before going to bed, always write during lunch hour. Work writing into the pattern of the day. No word count, no time frame, just have the habit of writing between (getting up and dressed) and (grabbing breakfast while walking out the door). Challenge: When the day pattern changes, like weekends and vacations, change of jobs or schools.

Sneaks: This works best if you have a lot of breaks in your day. Going to the doctor’s offices, traveling on trains from client to client, running errands with children. Keep pen and paper in the purse or satchel. Challenge: Every time waiting starts, pulling the pen and paper out requires a conscious, constant discipline.

On the clock: Every day (or every other day) you type for a set amount of time. It could be 30 minutes or 2 hours. It could be four-fifteen minute windows. Whatever it is, you don’t go to bed until you meet the time. Challenge: As the day fills up, remember to keep the writing habit like you keep the bathing and eating habits. “I’ll just skip this meal.” and “I’ll just skip writing today.” both happen as life’s busy-ness steals all your time.

Word Count: Every day you type for a certain word count, or you type until you reach the word count for the week then can take a day off. Most writers recommend setting the number low – like 100 to 300 – so if the mind doesn’t want to play you get off the hook, but when the mind is ready to write the words can tumble out. Challenge: Sitting down for the word count.

Combinations work best, the habit of a certain time of day with a word count goal for example.

Be prepared for things which break habits. The biggest one is mourning. Loss of a job, pet, relationship, family member, moving and changing friendship circles, illnesses – all are versions of loss. Your subconscious mind is sorting through the emotions, redefining your life – sucking up energy. For some writers mourning is their most productive time as they write out their subconscious sorting of emotions on paper. For most, though, the energy of dealing prevents writing. It’s okay. Some of the big ones can take up to three years to get over; don’t kick yourself while you are down.

For example, I had a relationship loss and a move in 2015 – in 2017, I am ready to write again now the house is sorted out and I have a new set of habits. I wrote a little during the two-year sorting period, but I simply did not have the energy for a sustained task of a book however hard I tried.

WRITING EXERCISE: Develop a habit of writing. Pick one (or more) of the above methods or choose your own. Do it for twenty-one days – every day including weekends.

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I’ve tried so many of these methods and haven’t found one which works for me as yet. The time-of-day gets killed every temporary job I get as my daily habit/schedule gets up-ended again. I respond strongly to the seasons so cold-winter and hot-summer, I am at my least productive. On-the-clock doesn’t go well because I get caught up with whatever my major project of the moment is and concentrate on that to the exclusion of anything else. Sneaks are used for my embroidery projects, where I can hang out with people and stitch at the same time, like at meetings. My sneak discipline habit is hard-wired at this point and not available for other uses.

I’m going to try word count. I recently ran across the concept of the “500 club”. Five hundred words per day. I can do that. Heck, this post is over 500 already. I cut neon index card in two and wrote “500 club” on the resulting slips. I taped one sign so I can see it when walking into the computer room and the other for walking out of the house. I told myself I am not allowed to leave the house until I join the club every day. I was a little worried because normally such things make me stress; another task in my life. Instead “I did that today.”pops in my head as I pass one; “I haven’t missed a day since I started.” I say to myself as I leave for work. I am getting a “happy” buzz-reward seeing them. Even during the middle of tax season.

I think I finally found something which fits me.

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Don’t be afraid to change things if they are not working, or if they have stopped working. Ask yourself why they stopped working. Are you in mourning for something? Give yourself (at least) a week if you are. Process your emotions. Get healthy. Forgive yourself. Then start again to find the habit which works for you.

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