Breaking the Habits
You can probably search the internet and find plenty articles about the good habits that a writer needs to have. You can probably even find some blockbuster (writer’s block busting that is) ideas to get you writing in ways you never thought possible. Maybe you even found this post in one of those searches.
But what happens when you have habits that are interfering with your ability to start new habits? In this case, the habit of writing regularly. As they say, “Old habits die hard.” But why is that? What makes us stick to our old ways over the new? Even if we enjoy the new, we tend to fall back into the past way of doing things.
I’ve read articles that say a lack of passion or a lack of dedication are to blame for this. They’ll tell you that if you want something you need to be dedicated, and if you’re not achieving it you must not be dedicated enough. Your passions are misplaced.
These people make you feel as though you’re not good enough. You must not really be the writer you thought you were. Worse of all, they offer little more advice than to pull yourself up and get it done. And after a number of years of feeling in a slump with my writing I realize there is little truth to the idea that I lack passion or dedication to the desire to write and be a writer.
So I thought I would take a moment to offer my perspective and how I am working to get myself back on track and break down my old habits. Will it work for you? I promise nothing.
First, identify what it is you wish to achieve. This may sound simple, but don’t make it about a large goal. Make it about a simple solution. Rather than, I want to write 10 novels this year. Think, I want to write X minutes a day. You may think, I want to market myself more. But instead think, I will dedicate one hour twice a week to self promotion.
Next is recognition that you’re not achieving what you want to accomplish. Time gets away from us all and it can be very hard to recognize your missing opportunities to improve. Don’t confuse this with procrastination, which is actively putting things off. When you say I want to write X minutes a day, it can be easy and the end of the night to not even realize you didn’t accomplish the goal. You didn’t intend to miss out, you didn’t even notice, but it still keeps happening. The problem is, one day turns to one week, turns to one month, and next you know, nothing you hoped for was done.
Now that you know what you want, and you recognize you are not achieving it, take a look at what it is that is keeping you from doing it. What takes up your time and keeps you from that goal? Identify the pitfalls, but also recognize what you have no control over. Don’t expect to change things you can’t change. You won’ t ever be successful if you do that. But what you can look at is your other obligations, and see if there is a balance. You can even find some you’d rather not do anymore and work towards elimination of those roadblocks.
Now for that difficult part, the breaking of the habits. What are things you do that take up time that you could be working on your goal of writing? What are some mental habits you have that prevent you from getting started? What isn’t needed in your day? Be realistic with yourself. Don’t say you’ll make the kids eat PB sandwiches for dinner every day so you don’t have to waste time cooking. But instead evaluate other areas you use your time. Especially those where you lose track of time.
There is no magic trick for making bad habits go away, and there is no way to magically get rid of those things you’re doing instead of your goal. But once you see what you’re doing rather than getting your dreams done, you can tell where to start. Humans are species of comfort and habits make us feel comforted. It may not be daily habit, but a response habit to a stimuli.
I spend most of the last quarter of 2020 looking at this and trying to determine why I wasn’t writing. My goal was to write more. But that was too grand. Some days words just won’t come out. Other times the day just gets away from me. So I broke it down further. I just want to write more. Still not well defined. So I broke it down to, I want to dedicate time to writing.
I recognized why I wasn’t achieving that goal despite wanting to do it. First, I was depressed, and feeling a bit disgraced, from the closure of Factor Four Magazine so I retreated, subconsciously, away from writing and reading Science Fiction. But also, I was filling my time with scrolling Facebook, again and again and again. Seeing nothing new, but still doing it. I realized that was because of the lack of social connections I was feeling. And finally, I filled my time with video games, something I enjoyed. That was all in addition to my obligations to work, feed my family, help run the home, and getting my kids to their respective events.
I realized that if I dedicated 2 hours, between when I get off work until when I need to start cooking, to writing projects, I could accomplish more writing. But I worried about those days my wife wasn’t at work I’d rather spend the time with her. She has a preference to gaming. So I scaled my goal back a bit more. On the days she was working, I’d dedicate the 2 hours to writing. On her days off, I could use the time to game. I also didn’t want to eliminate gaming from my routine on any day because I enjoy it. So after dinner, on any day, is dedicated to free time until 9 pm. This allows me the time to game, or scroll Facebook.
At 9 PM it is time to wind down for bed. And so I dedicate the last two hours of my day to reading a book. One, I recognized I wasn’t reading enough to be happy. Two, I know how well writing and reading go hand in hand. And three, it allowed me the chance unwind in a way that is conducive to better sleep in comparison to checking my phone.
By putting this into a schedule I created some definition around my day. By piggybacking off of a required schedule (my work day) it was easy to transition from one into the next. And my wife calls me on her way home from work, giving me the perfect stopping point to begin working on cooking dinner. It creates the definition I needed to get started. And I already find myself running over from time to time.
Now the trick is not to fall into old habits. I caught myself scrolling Facebook during reading time just the other day. And it wasn’t until I was going to bed that I realized I never started the next book on my “to read” list. Don’t beat yourself up, recognize the need to fix it and try again the next day.
I have this weird idea that everything needs to start on a Sunday or Monday. So when I’d mess up on Monday, I’d think. I’ll just start it next week. Well, then I’d never get it done. This is another reason why I went with my wife’s schedule to start. She works a rotating schedule, so it didn’t have to by Monday to start.
I am still working hard to break the old habits. Today work ran late and I thought about skipping out on writing. Instead I realized I could write this blog post and still accomplish the need to work on writing related stuff. But I just as nearly said I didn’t have time and chose to walk away. It took the conscious effort to work out a solution. Dinner became chicken strips and fries, so I could throw them in the oven and finish this post up.
I hope this process helps you some along your path to achieve your goals. And I hope that it works for me. What are some of the tips and tricks you use to stay on point with your goals? Share them in the blog comments. I want to hear them!