Damned Useful Writing Habit #2 - Study Your Existing Habits


When you find yourself stuck in a rut, even before you attempt to free yourself, your first course of action should be to check the soundness of your wheels.

Four key cylinders keep the writing machine turning: depth of focus, depth of determination, available time, and soundness of habits.

It’s important to spend some time identifying your own habits. We all have at least a few good ones. We’ve all got at least a few bad ones, too. They are our default starting points. Some people thrive on deadlines. Others (like me) turn into catatonic, rocking messes at the thought of pulling even a single all-nighter and instead insist on dragging projects out into blind infinity. Some people are paralyzed by the challenge of writing that first opening paragraph, but can motor along to the finish just fine after that hard initial work is tackled. Other writers love crafting beginnings, but invariably grow disillusioned and bored halfway through a story and tend to struggle with finishing anything at all. Some people do their best work when life is otherwise noisy and chaotic, while others require an empty house and a clean kitchen before they can even begin to start focusing.

There’s no wrong or right way; there are only ways that make it easier to get the writing done and ways that make it harder. And one thing most everybody values is ease, right? If every step of this hurts, you’ll eventually stop bothering, even if you’re talented, even if you have a few early successes. And that would be a shame.

Habit Hack: If you want a good gauge of how you’re likely to behave in the future, you’ve got to have a look at your past behaviors, so spend a month watching your writing routine. Not fixing it. Not judging it. Just observing it, and taking good notes. Now, look for patterns: which emotions compel you to write? Which prevent you from writing? What distracts you in a good way? In a bad way? What kind of writing habits have you nurtured, both good and bad, over time? And how many hours are you actually spending writing? Not “researching.” Not sending emails or checking writing blogs. Really, writing. Detailed data can offer a powerful reality check, so start gathering some on yourself. After all, if you don’t measure it, you won’t ever be able to manage it.