~ Managing Habits That Get in the Way of Writing

~ Managing Habits That Get in the Way of Writing

Many of us want to develop a writing habit—or improve the one we have. Often enough, we may get started, later to find ourselves checking something online or standing in front of the open door of the refrigerator—sometimes not quite sure how we got there. Habits are essential for our lives, no question whatsoever. Yet, acting out of habit may not well serve our goals for developing a writing habit—or for writing. How might we improve on this?

An Unintended Consequence of Habit

One of my sisters recently recounted how she’d carefully prepared a dinner in a crockpot, complete with a $13 roast, before heading out for work. With foresight—given predictions of unseasonably warm temperatures that day—she’d carried the crockpot to the basement so it wouldn’t contribute to the house’s heat. On her return home, she found both crockpot and contents exactly as she’d left them. Yes, she and her husband shared a Plan B dinner that night.

Although the roast didn’t survive, my sister’s crockpot is fine—as is the outlet she’d plugged it into that morning. The “trouble” was that she had switched off the light at the top of the stairs when leaving the basement that morning, just as she had done countless times before. The outlet she’d used for the crockpot is one that is on when the basement light is on—and otherwise off. It’s not that she was unaware of this feature, only that she had acted out of habit. That she had been paying attention up to that last step did not guarantee her success.

A Mindful Approach to Habit

We cannot always avoid similar well-worn paths that may get in the way, yet we can work with them as we hone our writing habit. The commitment requires a mindful approach to the entire process, at least until more and more of the parts we want to keep become “automatic.”

We know people who tie their writing habit to such things as:

  • time of day
  • a special location that spells W R I T E (and only write)
  • a particular table or chair
  • a specified number of words per day
  • a predetermined time spent writing on any given day

  • They use specific cues for writing—and likely certain rewards as well (even though, indeed, writing is its own reward).

    Intriguing research points the way for all of us to use our motivation in service of starting or honing our writing habit. Although we each need to find what works for us individually, i.e., what serves as cue and reward in the process, we can all manage the multiple “other habits” that may take us off track or otherwise slow us from meeting our goals.

    Writing with the Power of Habit

    Charles Duhigg provides welcome insight to this in The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business—a highly recommended read (and study). The process involves more that the proverbial carrot, however. Among other things, Duhigg suggests the need to make a decision about our actions ahead of time. He also notes the need to increase our awareness of what leads us to engage in our unconscious behaviors—what we are craving, as he terms it, in The Power of Habit); mindfulness of what we are really after when we abandon the task at hand then enables us to make a change. Check out his TED talk (above), too!

    In time, the writing habit we’ve developed may become every bit as natural as turning out the light when we leave a room—or at least when we leave the basement. Further, we can enjoy the process of writing sans the struggle of what, where, and when, as well as without so many unintended side trips. We may find ourselves more frequently enjoying Plan A rather than Plan B.

    Written by Ro