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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.

BULLSHIT!

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!

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Grammar Sensitivity

handle_criticismRecently I had my first three star review for Dissolution of Peace.  There are many who believe that writers should avoid reading reviews of their work.  Of course, as a new writer that can be tough.  There is a certain quest for validity when you are first starting out.  This is especially true of independent writers, those not publishing through one of the big house publishers.  But you also have to have a certain level of thick skin when it comes to reading reviews.  It is the same thick skin you have to develop when you get those first critiques back from beta readers.  I think I am fairly good at taking a bad review or critique.  I am willing to admit that my writing isn’t for everyone.  I don’t think every story is for everyone.  In fact, I don’t think there is one story that is for everyone.  Tastes vary, and I can appreciate that.

But there is one chink in my review armor, an Achilles heal of bad reviews, and that is grammar.  Nothing makes me feel more incredibly horrible as a writer, or even as a human being, then when someone points out bad grammar.  The worst part is so many people feel compelled to do so.  I have a friend who doesn’t even like to read who will point out just about every grammar mistake I make on social media.  My sister-in-law loves to do it as well.  My wife, she can do it all the time.  She especially loves to point out bad grammar in my speech.  My mom even pointed out that she thought I had a bad editor, because of the mistakes she saw in my writing.  I found this even more disheartening because I thought my Editor did a great job helping me polish this out.  So my first thought was how horrible the original could have been without his help.

Every time someone points it out, I feel like a hack.  I have an insecurity when it comes to my grammar.  This includes my spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure.  Really any of it gets me down.  So while a three star review is decent, the text of his review got me down.  Down to the point that I nearly scrapped my current novel in progress and packed up the keyboard.  Nothing makes me feel more like a want-a-be writer than when I get hit with grammar points.

But like any Achilles heal, I’ve had to learn to deal with it. There are two reasons I never pursued my original dream career, one of them was a mentor of mine who repeatedly pointed out my horrible spelling skills.  I don’t think she ever called them horrible, but that is what I heard. So when the second thing came along, I never bothered to overcome it because deep down I was self conscious of my ability to deal with spelling.  I can’t let that become the stumbling block for my dream to write.

If it wasn’t for spell check, my spelling would be worse.  But one can not rely on spell check alone.  It isn’t a perfect system.  Sure, I could resort to blaming others.  But that really isn’t fair either.  In fact, I really haven’t found a trick to dealing with this.  I try my damnedest to learn everything I can about grammar, and do my best to catch it all.  I hire an editor to make sure my grammar is on point.  And I listen to those grammar complaints from everyone who points them out, even when it gets me beyond angry.

I also try to remember that I am not the only one.  I know others that have had, or continue to have grammar difficulties.  So here are some tips I use to help me deal with my Grammar Sensitivity:

Grammar Police1. Not everyone knows what they are talking about.

Frankly, many don’t know what they are talking about.  There have been a lot of people to point out grammar mistakes for me to spend time looking up only to find they were the ones that are wrong.  But, just because they are wrong doesn’t mean I didn’t learn a little more about grammar.

2. Learn what you can about grammar.

If you are like me, you hate learning about grammar.  I don’t like it at all.  But if you have the dream of being a writer, it is something you have to deal with.  When someone points out a grammar mistake, look it up.  And when you are not sure, look it up.  There are many ways to look it up.  A fellow author shared this site with me: http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/  It has helped me out a lot.  But if grammar is your stumbling block, learning it may not be so easy.  But you could also be making it harder of yourself.

3. Don’t over think grammar.

Once of the biggest draw backs to constantly studying grammar has been that I am now constantly second guessing myself.  I don’t know how many articles I have read on then versus than.  Yet, I still make the mistake.  And 95% of the time, I make the mistake because I spent so much time over thinking the way I was using it.  And spending too much time thinking over the grammar only slows down your progress on the story.

4. Grammar can be fixed

I believe I have said this before.  But grammar can be fixed while the ability to tell the story generally can not.  Story is much harder and sometimes impossible to fix, but changing a semicolon to a period is easy.  But only if you can catch your mistakes.

5. Hire someone to catch those mistakes

Hire a grammar cop to edit your stories.  If you know grammar is your weakest link, get a grammar strong editor.  Get grammar strong beta readers too.  And don’t restrict them from pointing out grammar issues, especially in later readings.  I’ve made this mistake before.  I’ve been very restrictive on grammar comments from beta readers and in the long run it only shoots me in the foot.

6. Have a safe zone.

My friends tend to make this impossible.  But I used to use social media as my reprieve from grammar.  That is why I have made it one of the rules on my blog that there be no Grammar policing on my site.  This is my break.  But, my mom still feels compelled to point it out.  While there is no real safe zone from grammar cops, you can do your best to make some sort of buffer area.  It is why I get so angry with my friends on social media when they get grammar crazy.  It just isn’t the place for it.

7. Grammar mistakes are not a stopping point.

Grammar mistakes should not be something that stops you from realizing your dreams.  I wish I understood that ten years ago.  Grammar mistakes can actually be a starting point.  They can be a spring board for you to learn from.  You can make yourself a better writer by getting these mistakes brought to light.  And then learning about them.

8. Watch out for the ones that point out grammar too much.

Yes, there can be too much grammar.  Those that expect perfect grammar in dialogue for example.  But it has also been my experience that many who are absolutely crazy about grammar are not exactly good with story.  I know some people are going to go nuts over that comment.  But it is still my firm belief that when you are writing a story, you should be obsessed with the story not the grammar.  If you have people around you that drag you down over grammar, they may not be the type you want to have around.  But that ones that want to build you up by helping you with grammar, those are the keepers.

Here is a trick to tell which type of person they are:  It is all in how they point it out.  If they point it out with a rude comment, then it is obvious they are the “drag you down” type.  But sometimes it isn’t so cut and dry.  The sarcastic joke, the laughing at you (even an LOL or a 😛 count as laughing at you) for your mistake, and the constant pestering of you for your grammar.  Those are all signs of the “drag you down” type of person.  And most of the time, the “drag you down” person is jealous of some other aspect of your writing, such as your story telling ability.

But the person who wants you to succeed will point out resources for you to learn.  They will explain the grammar error to you.  They will do their best to tell you how to fix it, how to learn more about that mistake, and how to keep from making it again.  That is a person that wants you succeed.  They are happy that you have all the talents for writing that you do have, and they want to help you make grammar another one of those talents.

I Don't Know9. Once it is published, it is published.

Don’t get me wrong.  If you don’t think a work is acceptable and you are self publishing it.  You can pull it down.  But, if you have been following some of my other tips and tricks, you likely did all you could to make it the best possible work you could put out at the time it was published.  Going back and changing something after every review that points out a mistake, will only lead to an inability to move on and progress as a writer.

10.  Push on.

I mentioned above that I was ready to give up on writing over the grammar review I got.  It hurt.  But I also had to recognize that it is also their opinion.  And, I think it is a bit exaggerated.  But even if it isn’t exaggerated, the point of Amazon reviews is for a person to give their honest opinion of the product.  Even if it gets all one star reviews, you have to move on.  You have to move on and start on that next project.  You have to keep pushing for that dream.  Giving up on it now will only cause regret later.  I still kick myself for giving up on my career goals.  Giving up on my writing dreams will not work.

 

If you are going to be a writer, you will have to deal with grammar.  Even worse, you will have to deal with grammar critics.  If you have a sensitivity to grammar correction, like I do, you will have to learn to work around it.  I hope with a few of my tips you can at least manage to keep writing.

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