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By: Elizabeth Gorney,
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By Howard Rachlin
‘I know these will kill me, I’m just not convinced that this particular one will kill me.’
–Jonathan Miller to Dick Cavett on his lit cigarette, backstage at the 92nd Street Y in New York
Jonathan Miller’s problem is actually a practical form of the central problem of ancient Greek philosophy (a problem that continues to haunt philosophy up to the present day): the essential relationship between the abstract and the particular. Miller is right. No particular cigarette can harm a person, either now or later. Only what is essentially an abstraction (the relationship between rate of smoking and health) will harm him. Can it be that Miller is just not a very smart person incapable of understanding abstractions? No way. He is a “public intellectual,” a British theater and opera director, actor, author, humorist, and sculptor. And on top of that a medical doctor.
No matter how smart we are, we all tend to focus on the particular when it comes to our own behavior. Only when we observe someone else’s behavior or when circumstances compel us to experience the long-term consequences of our own behavior, are we able to feel their force.
How then can we use our brains to bring our behavior under the control of its wider consequences? First, and most obviously, to control our behavior we have to know what exactly that behavior is. That is, we must make ourselves experts on our own behavior. It is this step – self-monitoring – that is by far the most difficult part of self-control. Modern technology can make self-monitoring easier, but I myself prefer to just write things down. At points in my life where I need to control my weight I keep a calorie diary in which I write down everything I eat, its caloric content, and the sum of the calories I eat each day. Then I make summaries each week. If I were trying to control my smoking I would record each cigarette and the time of day I smoked it – or, each glass of scotch, each heroin injection, each cocaine snort, each hour spent watching television or doing crossword puzzles when I should be writing, etc. Every instance goes down in the book. There is no denying it – this is hard to do. For one thing, it is socially difficult. You don’t want to interrupt a dinner party by running into the bathroom every five minutes to write down that you’ve bitten your nails again. This is one reason it’s good to be married (I’m serious). Your spouse (whose objective view is necessarily better than your own subjective view) will remember until you get home. Or you can (and should) train yourself to remember over short periods.
You may say that by recording your behavior you are constricting your freedom, but in this regard it is good to remember the poet Valerie’s advice: “Be light like a bird and not like a feather.”
This first step – self-monitoring – is so important, and so difficult, that it should not be mixed up with actual efforts at habit change. First make yourself an expert on yourself. Make charts; make graphs, if that comes naturally. But at least write everything down and make weekly and monthly summaries. Sometimes this step alone, without further effort, will effect habit change. But do not at this point try in any way to change whatever habit you are trying to control. Once you become an expert on yourself, you will be 90% there. The rest is all downhill.
After you have gained self-observational skill, you are ready to proceed to the second step. For example, Jonathan Miller’s problem is that, so to speak, each particular cigarette weighs too little. How could he have given it more weight? Let us say that Miller has already completed Step 1 and is recording each cigarette smoked and the time it was smoked. (Note that this already gives the cigarette weight. It doesn’t just go up in smoke but is preserved in his log.) Let us say further that the day of his encounter with Cavett was a Monday. On that day Miller smokes as much as he wants to. He makes no effort to restrict his smoking in any way. (He is still recording each instance.) However, on Tuesday he must force himself to smoke exactly the same number of cigarettes as he did on Monday. If necessary he must sit up an extra hour on Tuesday to smoke those 2 or 3 cigarettes to make up the total. Then on Wednesday he is free again, and on Thursday he has to mimic Wednesday’s total. Now, when he lights a cigarette on Monday he is in effect lighting up two cigarettes – one for Monday, and one for Tuesday. As he keeps to this schedule, and organizes his behavior into 2-day patterns, it should be coming under control of the wider contingencies. Once this pattern is firmly established, he can extend the pattern to three days, duplicating his Monday smoking on Tuesday and Wednesday, then Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, etc., always continuing to record his behavior. Eventually, each cigarette he lights up on Monday will effectively be 7 cigarettes – one for each day of the week. The weight of each cigarette will thus increase to the point where he no longer can say, “I’m not convinced that this particular cigarette will kill me.”
At no point is he trying to reduce his smoking or exerting his willpower. Willpower is not a muscle inside the head that can be exerted. It is bringing behavior under the control of wider (and more abstract) contingencies. This is a power that anyone can do who has the intelligence and is willing to invest the effort and time. And the exercise of this power can make a smart person happy.
Note: There is yet a third step – or rather a flight of steps. I have not mentioned social support. I have not mentioned exercise. Both of these are economic substitutes for addictions of various kinds. If either is lacking in an addict’s life, programs need to be established for its institution. I am assuming that we’re talking about the happiness of someone who already has an active social life, who already is as physically active as conditions allow. Addiction is not an isolated thing. It has to be regarded in the context of a complete life.
Howard Rachlin was trained as an engineer at Cooper Union and as a psychologist at The New School University and Harvard University. He has taught at Harvard University and at Stony Brook University. His current research, supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, lies in the development of methods for fostering human self-control and social cooperation. He is the author of The Escape of the Mind.
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Today, I'll end the series with some tips for using your mobile office to help you manage your writing life. These ideas can help you work better so you can achieve your writing goals.
Make It a HabitOne common problem for those of us who try to work writing in with our busy lives is making the time to write. Unfortunately, nobody has made an app yet that adds a couple hours to the day or makes our day jobs go away or extends the kids' nap time. However, there is a class of apps that enforces good habits and helps to break bad habits. These can be used to remind us to write, and to check our progress against our goals.Apps like HabitBull (Android, free) and Way of Life (iOS, free for three habits, $3.99 for more) let you set goals. These apps can be configured with whatever parameters you want. Use them to cut down your soda intake, or to spend more time doing something you love, like writing. For example, if you want to write three days a week, you can set a habit reminder that asks you every day if you have written. You wouldn't want to disappoint your tablet, right?
The Habit Editor in HabitBullIn addition to yes/no goals like whether you wrote today, you can set number-based goals. Want to write 1,000 words a day? Set that up as a habit, then set a reminder each night that asks you how many words you wrote.
Each habit app is a little different, so look for one that will suit your goals.
Keeping FocusedTo meet your goals, you need to stay focused.One simple use for your tablet or, especially, your phone, whether you're mobile or stuck at the office is a timer. A timer can you keep you focused. Make a goal to write for a solid hour without checking Facebook or email or grabbing another root beer float at your favorite cafe, then set a timer and don't stop writing until it goes off.
There are tons of timer apps, and they all do what a timer does, so really it probably doesn't matter which one you use. Two I like on Android are Timers4Me+ and Timely Alarm Clock. Both support multiple timers, alarms, and include a stopwatch. Again, I'm not sure what to recommend for your iPad or iPhone, but it really doesn't matter much. A timer is a timer. You can make it pretty, give it fancy options, or whatever, but in the end, it keeps track of time and lets you know when time is up.
Track Your Progress
Anybody who has learned about goal-setting has learned that an important part of meeting your objectives is to make your goals measurable. The apps I've mentioned so far will help you do that. But another way to measure your goals is to track your progress.
app for Android helps you meet your goals. It includes a timer and a writing log, and gives you rewards (guavas) if you meet your goals. For every writing project, you can set your total word count goal and your daily writing goal, and you can set a deadline date. Then, you can set reminders to kick you in the pants. By gamifying your goal tracking, Writeometer keeps you more engaged, and helps you feel good when you accomplish what you set out to do.
If your goals are fairly basic, such as writing 50,000 words in November, you might like an app like NaNoProgress
, also for Android. The concept is simple: enter your wordcount for each session and the app displays a bar showing your progress toward 50,000 words.
Those apps are great for Android users, but what about authors who use an iPad or iPhone? They have options as well, such as Word Tracker
. I didn't find anything quite as fancy or fun as Writometer, but all you need, really, is a place to enter your goals and measure your progress.
Keep a JournalFinally, many Utah writers come from a background where keeping a journal is encouraged. A writing journal (see "The Writer's Journal," a post on this blog from way back in 2009), helps you be accountable to yourself, and helps you vent those natural writing insecurities so they don't build up inside you. You can track your objectives, note ideas and problems that need to be fixed, and remind yourself where your next session is supposed to start. Writeometer includes simple journaling functionality, and the app stores include tons of journal apps. You can use one of those, or you can use the note apps or writing apps we've already talked about in this series. You don't need anything fancy. The only thing you need is something you like writing in so you are motivated to keep your journal.
There you have it, pretty much everything you need for the well-equipped mobile office. By choosing the approach that works best for you at each step of the writing process, you can easily break the chains of a desk and write wherever inspiration hits you best. Or, if you still do most of your writing in your office (I call my home office my Schreibwinkel
), you have everything you need if an idea strikes while you are on the road. Your writing comes from your own brilliant mind, so doesn't it just make sense to have your office wherever that mind of yours happens to be? Even if you prefer the routine of writing in the same place every day, sometimes the best cure for writer's block is a simple change of scenery. If your computer screen becomes the intimidating monster that sucks your creative juices, get away from it for a while.
I hope you have enjoyed this series, and that it helps you to be more productive. The key to writing, it is said, is putting your butt in the chair. But nobody says it always has to be the same chair in the same place. It's 2014. You don't have to lash yourself to a desk anymore. Enjoy your freedom and let the words flow wherever they come to you.
Do your writing first!
Leave the dishes and your exercise routine and everything else–and just write. Haven’t we all heard that advice a hundred times?
I have–but it’s something I still struggle with after thirty years of writing.
Don’t feel like less of a writer if this describes you too. Just admit it–and find a way to deal with it.
Here’s my own plan…
The First 2013 Challenge
Along with a good number of you, I joined the “31 Minutes for 31 Days: the Challenge” at the beginning of January. So far, I’ve written 19 out of the 21 days. While not a perfect score, it’s much better than I’ve done for months!
Accountability, thy name is Sherryl!
What happens when the 31-Day Challenge is over? I’ll be ready!
My writer friend, Sherryl Clark, will be my accountability person as we encourage each other to pursue our goals. On January 28, we are beginning a 28-day challenge that includes (1) writing first and (2) staying off-line until the day’s writing is done. And we’re supposed to confront (nicely) when our partner isn’t keeping her commitment.
Why the need for such accountability?
At first glance, it wouldn’t seem necessary. We both have detailed written goals, put in lots of work hours, and truly LOVE to write. Even so, we weren’t getting enough writing done on our own projects. (We wrote for others, critiqued, reviewed, taught, and blogged–but by the time we got around to our own books, we were too tired.)
Ready, Set, Go!
So, we made a deal, Sherryl and I. We have committed to writing first thing each morning on our own projects.
I’m aiming for a minimum of an hour daily. If I can do more, great, but however much I get written, I’ve promised to spend time on my book writing first.
When we’re done, we’ll email each other to say how long we wrote. It won’t take us long to send that email, but since I’ll know Sherryl is waiting for my report, I bet I get the writing done.
It’s on my schedule first now. And I’m planning ahead for success.
I take time before I quit each day to set up my desk with all the materials I’ll need to get started right away in the morning.
One iron-clad rule I plan to stick to: absolutely NO Internet until the writing is done.
Do YOU write first thing each morning, before you get caught up in the day’s demands? If so, what are the tricks YOU use to make it work?
What's the problem?
What’s wrong with me? you wonder. Why doesn’t this writing advice work?
A third worrisome thought nibbles at the back of your brain: Maybe I’m not a writer after all.
Not to worry.
I’ve identified three of the most common reasons why writers don’t get their writing done. And I’ve put together an overall solution for you.
Reason #1: No Overall Strategy
You dream of being a novelist. You’ve taken a writing course. You read writing blogs.
And you write. Daily!
But you’re no closer to writing that novel than you were a year ago. Why?
It’s true that you write every day, using exercises and prompts. And you faithfully journal.
But there’s no overall plan or strategy for writing the novel, no measurable goals and sub-goals.
Reason #2: Forcing Square Pegs into Round Holes
Maybe you diligently follow writing advice found in magazines or tips you hear from published writers.
You set your alarm to write at 5 a.m. but fall asleep on your keyboard because you’re a night owl.
You join a weekly critique group, but their need to socialize irritates you because you came there to work.
You set up your laptop to work in a coffee shop with a writing friend. She gets to work and churns out ten pages! You can’t focus, even with ear plugs in.
The problem? You don’t match writing advice to your personality.
Reason #3: Writing Habits That Don’t Help
You have less than two hours of time alone while your child is in preschool. You use that time to do a low-energy job instead of writing on your novel (a high energy job).
You’re on a roll, half way to making your writing quota for the day. Your sister calls. You could let the answering machine or voice mail get it…but you answer instead. When she asks, “Are you busy?” you say, “Not really.”
You have alerts turned on so when you’re on the computer or near your phone, you hear beeps and buzzes every five minutes. New email! A new text! A new “have to see this” YouTube video!
The problem? Sometimes we develop writing habits that are detrimental to our ability to concentrate and thus to our productivity.
Help is Here for Your Writing Life: Free E-Book
As I said above, I’ve put together an e-book dealing with these very issues.
It’s called “Rx for Writers: Managing Your Writing Space and Writing Time.”
I’ll be giving it away this Friday as a kick-off to some changes that are coming.
See you back here on Friday. And if you know any writers with these issues, please pass the word. I’d love to have them check in here on Friday for their free e-book.
As promised, starting today I’m giving away a free e-book for frustrated writers.
Rx for Writers: Managing Your Writing Space and Your Writing Time is short, but it contains solid advice for three of a writer’s biggest problems:
1. following through on our goals
2. organization of our writing space
3. lack of good writing habits
While the e-book is only thirteen pages long, I can guarantee you more success in your writing life if you follow the advice.
Why give away a free e-book now? Because I want to ask you a favor!
The Writer’s First Aid blog has a new home. When you come to visit, you’ll see a familiar face (mine). You’ll find some new pages, plus blog posts from the last two years. [I'm still in the process of moving posts.]
I’ll now be hosting the blog on my own website, so the URL will change. I don’t want to lose any of you in the transition!
After You Download the E-Book…
Here’s the favor. After you download your free e-book, please update the URL (address http://kristiholl.net/writers-blog/) in any location you have the current blog address.
- your RSS feed (wherever you read blogs…I read mine through my Gmail Reader)
- your Favorites folder
- your blog (if you have Writer’s First Aid listed in your links)
- any other places you may have linked to my blog
I still plan to post on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Jan Fields will still give you the “What’s New at Kristi’s” in the Institute newsletter.
Getting Your E-Book
When you go to the new blog site, you’ll find the form to get your e-book on the right-hand side. After you sign up, it will send a confirmation email to your Inbox.
After you confirm, you’ll be taken to where you’ll get Rx for Writers: Managing Your Writing Space and Your Writing Time.
NOTE: I’m not starting a newsletter at this time, nor do I send out sales letters. I won’t abuse your email addresses. Very occasionally, when I post a new report in my Resource area, I will let you know that. And, of course, you’ll be free to unsubscribe at any time.
By: Alan Dapré,
Blog: Alan Dapré - Children's Author
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Have Kid Will Scribble
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Peppa Pig’s school roof needs repairing. Again. And poor Daddy Pig ends up having to buy his chair back at a fundraising fete. That was the gist of our daughter’s latest bedtime story. I’ve read “Peppa Pig’s Daddy Is Made … Continue reading
Blog: Joe Silly Sottile's Blog
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My first "review" of 1O1 SECRETS! A KNAPSACK OF INSPIRATION AND HOPE is in, and it comes from a friend who is a very independent thinker. She and her husband Ron retired to Costa Rica. They built a home and turned one of the large rooms in their home into a local library out of the goodness of their hearts. And this is what she wrote about 101 SECRETS!:
I just read your bookand think it is very worthwhile and a book that needs to be read by every “tweenager.”We have sent it on to a couple of teacher friends. Do you see the possibilityof a Spanish translation in your future? I would love to buy one for mylibrary. This book could make the difference in so many children's lives!
I’ve been re-reading The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell.
The following statement got my attention:
“There is one discipline that stands above all else in the quest for writing success… It is the single biggest reason I was published in the first place, and have produced the books I have. It is, simply, this:
WRITE A QUOTA OF WORDS EVERY WEEK
The daily recording of the number of words you write is an invaluable incentive to get your work done. But set your goals on a weekly basis…If something comes up on one day that prevents you from writing your quota, you just make it up later in the week.”
Quota of Words Written or Hours Written?
I love the idea of setting a quota. However, the quota of “words written” only works for me for rough drafts, when you’re pulling words out of thin air and creating new pages of your novel. So little time, though, is spent writing that first draft.
Before that come hours of planning and writing character sketches and researching settings. After the rough draft stage, there are months of revision. Some days you might proofread five whole chapters. Other days, your entire writing day might be spent figuring out what’s wrong with your first chapter. Several more days might be needed to fix it. How many words would that be?
For those reasons, I like a quota of hours spent writing (instead of words written). My only restriction is that the time must be spent on my current work-in-progress. Not blogging, or reading writer websites, or Twittering, or being on Facebook, or answering email, or anything except working directing on the new book.
Nuts and Bolts of Setting Quotas
If you try setting a quota, keep track of time using a timer. I use a kitchen timer, but you can use one on your computer. When I am ready to actually start work, I hit the “start” button. I turn off the timer if I get up for a drink of water or to answer the phone. I only log in the minutes actually spent working. Each time I write sixty minutes, I log in another hour in my little notebook.
My quota right now is to average four hours per day, five days per week. That’s a quota of twenty hours per week. If I don’t get it done M-F, I make up for it on the weekend. (Last weekend we had a packed schedule that included much driving, so I finished my quota for the week in the car. The day I watch my baby granddaughter, I write before she gets up, when she plays, while she naps, and later that night.)
Do I always make the twenty hours quota? No, but I get close, and sometimes I go over. But the increase in writing hours is what amazes me. Before I decided to do a quota system, I was writing as much as I could (I thought). I worked around interruptions and marketing and babysitting and volunteer work, always believing that the writing was the most important thing.
But how much writing was I actually getting done? Maybe four or five hours per week. That’s right–per week. No wonder I was so frustrated!
Prioritizing Made Easier
With the quota system, knowing that it’s Thursday and you still have
My best friend (who once lost 100 pounds) leads a successful weekly weight loss group. This week she and I discussed how much time it takes to stay on top of habits you are changing.
Sometimes I am shocked at how much time it takes to maintain your success. (Not move ahead, mind you. Just not go backwards.) I was struck by the similarities of her discovery and my own (pertaining to new writing habits.)
Just as it’s easy to regain weight you’ve lost, it’s also easy to slip back into the old habits that left you with no time or energy to write. It’s oh-so-easy to slowly slide backwards. You’ve made a lot of gains—but you also must maintain. How?
Ultimately, the answer lies in how you think.
“There are approximately 5 percent of people in any country, in any nation, who will always raise the quality of their life above others. They so do because they choose how to think, day in, day out,” says Richard Bisiker, author of Unlock Your Personal Potential.
In other words, where the mind (or thinking) goes, the man follows. Raise the quality of your thinking, and raise the quality of your life.
It’s important to keep your mind focused daily on your new beliefs, your new boundaries, and your new time-saving policies. Why is monitoring your thinking so important? As psychologist William James said, “That which holds our attention determines our action.”
So, at least until all your new behaviors and attitudes are rock solid habits, pay attention daily to your new beliefs and goals. Each morning, plan ahead daily for interruptions and how to divert them. (“No, I can’t discuss that right now. I’ll phone you back at 5:00 p.m. and set up a time to talk.”) Or better yet, use your answering machine to avoid being pressured into snap decisions.
Weekly and monthly, study your schedule of how you actually spent your time and compare it to your goals and policies. Is there slippage? Where did the writing time go?
Did you get guilted into one more volunteer job or another home decorating party? Did you rescue someone again from consequences of their own actions, using your time to fix their self-created problem? Be ruthless as you examine how you actually spent your time.
Learn from both your successes and mistakes. What things worked that you’d like to repeat? What things would you like to change? Calendars and journals remind you of how you spent your time, show you whether your activities match your priorities, and help you see whether you are making progress.
If you’re not sure you’ll do this essential checking up, find an accountability partner (writer or nonwriter) who will ask you the hard questions every week. The accountability check-in for time spent writing will prevent bad habits from sneaking back in unnoticed.
Setbacks Before Success
Sometimes interruptions occur that no one can help or avoid. You need to drop everything and attend to your sick child. Or there’s been a car accident, or in-laws have arrived for the holidays. The key to rebounding from these necessary interruptions is to view them as one-time events—not your new lifestyle. The events have a beginning, a middle, and an ending. Then you go back to your previous writing schedule.
You do not stay stuck in the familiar people-pleasing role. See unavoidable interruptions as temporary
Are you thinking about your 2013 writing goals yet?
Did you know that 75% of New Year’s Resolutions (or goals) are abandoned by the end of the first week? There’s a reason for that.
I spend much time on the blog encouraging you to make changes and deal with feelings that are holding you back. So I thought it might help as we head into a new year to do a short series on the dynamics of change–or how to make permanent changes.
How do we make changes that stick? How can you be one of those 25% who keeps on keepin’ on and accomplishes his or her writing goals?
Change in Stages
One mistake we make is thinking that change happens as an act of will only. (e.g. “Starting today, I will write from 9 to 10 a.m.”) If our willpower and determination are strong, we’ll write at 9 a.m. today. If it’s very strong, we’ll make it a week. If you are extraordinarily iron-willed, you might make it the necessary 21-30 days proven to make it a habit.
Most writers won’t be able to do it.
Why? Because accomplishing permanent change–the critical step to meeting any of your writing goals–is more than choosing and acting on willpower. If you want to achieve your goals, you need to understand the dynamics of change. You must understand what changes habits–the rules of the game, so to speak.
Making Change Doable
All of the habits we’ve talked about in the past–dividing goals into very small do-able slices, rewarding yourself frequently, etc.–are important. They are tools in the process of change.
However, we need to understand the process of change, the steps every successful person goes through who makes desired changes. (It applies to relationship changes and health changes as well, but we’ll be concentrating on career/writing changes.) Understanding the stages doesn’t make change easy, but “it makes it predictable, understandable, and doable,” says Neil Fiore, Ph.D., author of the The NOW Habit.
Change takes place in four main stages, according to numerous government and university studies. Skipping any of the four stages lowers your odds drastically of making permanent changes that lead to sucessful meeting of goals.
Here are the four stages of change that I will talk about in the following four blog posts. Understanding–and implementing–these consecutive steps is critical for most people’s success in achieving goals and permanent change.
Stages of Change
- Stage 1: Making Up Your Mind (the precommitment stage). This stage will involve feeling the pain that prompts you to want to change, evaluating risks and benefits of the goal you have in mind, and evaluating your current ability.
- Stage 2: Committing to Change. This stage involves planning the necessary steps, building up your motivation, and considering possible distractions and things that might happen to discourage you or cause a setback.
- Stage 3: Taking Action. This stage includes several big steps. You must decide when, where and how to start; you must show up to start despite fears and self-doubts; then you must focus on each step.
- Stage 4: Maintaining Long-Term Success. This is your ultimate aim if you want writing to be a career. It will involve learning to recover from setbacks and getting mentally tough for the long haul.
(For a thorough discussion beyond the blog posts, see Chapters 11-14 of Neil Fiore’s Awaken Your Strongest Self.)
So…that’s the plan for the next few Tuesday blog posts. Do not despair if you’ve struggled with meeting your writing goals in the past. Help–and hope for permanent change–is on the way.
The “Stage 4″ article will be posted on New Year’s Day–just in time for those New Year’s Resolutions!
(If you haven’t already, read the overview, The Dynamics of Change.)
You want to make changes in your writing life that will last?
Let’s start at the beginning, with Stage 1: Making Up Your Mind. As I said last time, this stage involves several things, including the following:
- feeling the pain that prompts you to change
- evaluating the risks and benefits of the goals you have in mind
- evaluating your current ability
In this stage, you do not make any changes. Not yet. As tempting as it is, do not jump in and “just do it!” Remember how far your willpower has taken you in the past–and wait.
Resist the temptation to cycle through another try–>fail–>try harder–>fail–>discouragement episode. Instead, lay the necessary groundwork to make permanent changes.
The Pain of Not Changing
Wanting to make a change–but never making it–is exhausting. It hangs over our heads, constantly reminding us of some incompleted task. When you really feel the pain of not changing, you’re on your way to making up your mind. (And if you’re willing to live with the pain of not realizing your writing dreams, that’s your choice as well.)
Actively and colorfully imagine staying the same the next five years. Imagine that it’s 2018. You’re still trying to implement the “write daily” habit, you’re still trying to finish that novel, you’re still too afraid to talk to agents or editors at writer’s conferences, and you’re still unpublished. When writers’ block hits–or simply a normal writer’s frustration–you still reach for doughnuts or a cigarette or settle in for an hour of mindless TV.
It’s 2018, and nothing has changed–except you have gained fifteen pounds, you’re still stuck in a day job you hate, your baby is in kindergarten, (and you never did get to work from home), or your military spouse has moved the family again (and you still don’t have a career that can move with you.)
Write out the “future” scenario in vivid color based on nothing changing. A clear image of future pain strengthens our determination to face our current fears about changing.
Risks and Benefits of the Change
Explore (either on your own or with a friend/counselor) the benefits of making the short- and long-term writing changes you are considering. Follow the changes five years into your future and see the benefits of having written steadily for five years, submitting steadily for five years, getting five years’ worth of critiques, etc.
The risks? Most of them have to do with facing your writing fears. For a week (two is better) observe yourself and your thoughts when you sit down to write (or when you avoid it.) You’re not trying to change here–just observe your reactions when trying to write.
Do you feel anxiety? What do you think? (“Who am I kidding? I can’t do this!”) What do you do? (Write half a paragraph, then reach for chocolate?) The risk is being honest with yourself, which is necessary if you’re going to honestly evaluate your current ability…
Current State of Affairs
After spending a couple of weeks observing your writing habits, you may have uncovered a few issues to address (procrastination, feeling isolated, self-doubt, self-sabotage, fears of failure or success, etc.) Maybe you just lack motivation; whatever the issue(s), this is the time to work on them.
How you deal with them (and a combination of solutions usually works best) will vary from writer to writer. Some ways to motivate yourself and work on various writing fears include:
Remember, all this thinking and journaling and dreaming is still Stage One. You haven’t committed to making any changes yet. You’re still making up your mind. You’re thinking things through thoroughly.
And you’re giving yourself the best possible chance to succeed–permanently.
I’m curious. Do you find this thinking stage comforting? Threatening? Discouraging? Encouraging? Share your thoughts!
(First read The Dynamics of Change and Stage 1: Making Up Your Mind)
Okay, we’re ready for Stage 2: Committing to Change. This is not taking action yet. Instead, this stage involves:
1) Planning the necessary steps
2) Building up your motivation
3) Considering possible distractions and/or discouraging things that might cause a setback
The change you make at this point is to shift from “passively wishing to achieve your goal to actively committing to make it happen.” (Neil Fiore in Awaken Your Strongest Self.) If you did the work in Stage 1 (thinking through the risks and benefits, plus evaluating your personal abilities), you should have fairly realistic expectations of what does–and doesn’t–work for you at your particular stage of life.
Time to Experiment
Before you plan the necessary steps to succeed in making permanent changes as a writer, you’ll want to take time to experiment in small ways. See what you like and don’t like. See what works for you–and what doesn’t.
- Try writing for 15 minutes upon awakening or right after your morning coffee.
- Stay offline until 10:00 a.m. for three days.
- Try writing at the library during two lunch hours this week.
- Read a writing blog before you get on Facebook or Twitter.
Record your thoughts and feelings when you introduce these writing changes. How do you feel? What works and what doesn’t? You can’t fail at this stage. You are only gathering information.
Some of these changes you’ll love and find so easy! Others you won’t find helpful at all. But as you succeed with certain writing changes (writing 15 minutes each evening while supper cooks, reading 5 pages per day of a writing book), your motivation will rise. You’ll feel more like a writer automatically.
During this stage you also need to think through strategies for dealing with obstacles, distractions and setbacks. One of the most effective (and fun!) ways to do this is using what athletes call “mental rehearsals.” They imagine how they’ll handle challenges at each step along the way. [NOTE: This is not just wishful thinking. Current books on brain chemistry show incredible studies and brain x-rays, revealing changes made in the brain after "mental rehearsals."]
Envisioning how you will handle writing distractions (toddlers wanting to be entertained, friends calling to chat, school vacations) and setbacks (an editor rejects your novel after two revisions, computer crashes) helps you build stamina or mental toughness.
Use mental movies to confront each setback or distraction. Instead of your usual reaction (chocolate, TV, surfing the ‘Net), clearly envision yourself sitting tight, working methodically through your writing problem, piling up a stack of new pages, and keeping to your deadline with ease.
Not all interruptions and distractions happen to us. Be aware that you often seek out distractions as well. In order to escape writing blocks or manuscripts that just aren’t working well, we often attempt to escape the anxiety or boredom or agitation by looking for distractions.
Are You Ready?
The final part of Stage 2 is actually committing to the change. Take time to think and journal about the strength of your commitment. If you want to succeed–and make the success permanent–it needs to be more than a wish. It needs to be a strong intention.
So, what do you intend to do? What change(s) in your writing life do you intend to make? Now is the time to commit.
First of all, MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE!
Ready for Stage 3? It’s about taking action.
(First read The Dynamics of Change, Stage 1: Making Up Your Mind, and Stage 2: Committing to Change.)
If you’ve done your homework in Stages 1 and 2, you’re probably more excited about this action phase than you would normally be.
Why? You’re prepared. You’re motivated. You’ve taken obstacles into account already.
You’re primed for success.
As mentioned before, this stage includes several big steps:
- You must decide when, where and how to start.
- You must show up to start despite fears and self-doubts.
- You must focus on each (present) step, rather than focusing on the end (future) goal.
This is the exciting stage because you’re past making excuses and procrastinating and giving in to the fear of change. You’re done rehearsing and experimenting. It’s now time to take action. You take steps on the path that leads to your goal. Note that shift in focus. The daily path is now more important than the end goal. So find ways to make each successful step enjoyable.
Create Action Plans
An action plan is exactly what it sounds like–a written plan to take concrete action steps to perform a behavior that leads to accomplishing your end goal. An action plan involves when you will do something, where you will do it, and how you will do it.
Run this when-where-how scenario through your mind for each step of your action plan. Be detailed. It doesn’t have to take a long time, but this mental rehearsal is immensely helpful. The more detailed the mental rehearsal, the higher the probability that you will actually initiate the behavior.
To help you create action plans, ask yourself these questions:
- When do you want to start working on your goal? (day and time)
- Where will you start? (time and place)
- What specific action step will you take at this time?
- How will you keep this commitment?
Time to Show Up
Fear and self-doubt can raise their ugly heads when you least expect it. Even when you’re primed and eager to start, fear and anxiety can give you pause.
There are many ways to deal with fears and self-doubts. How you choose to deal with them is probably an individual thing. Here are some of the ways we’ve discussed dealing with fears.
- What’s Holding You Back?
- Pitch It To Yourself!
- Voices of Self-Sabotage
I also keep several books on my shelf such Ralph Keyes’ two books on fear (The Courage to Write and The Writer’s Book of Hope) and The Now Habit by Neil Fiore on conquering procrastination.
Focus on the Present Step
Focusing on your end goal as motivation to get started causes two problems. First, the end goal (e.g. finish a novel) can just look overwhelming. You want to quit before you start!
The solution? “Focus on what you can do rather than what is out of your control,” says Neil Fiore of Awaken Your Strongest Self. “Switch from thoughts about the goal, which is in the future and is usually overwhelming, to thoughts about what you can do in the present.”
Second, the reward is so far in the future that we feel tired just thinking about waiting that long. A reward many months in the future isn’t much motivation to stick with the writing today.
One solution is making sure you have rewards lined up for every 15- or 30-minute block of time you work on your goal. Publishing a book a year from now won’t get me writing today, but a reward of watching a favorite movie today if I write ten new pages is much more likely to get my fingers to the keyboard.
Take small steps. Reward yourself (with something healthy) for every step you take in direction of your goal. Be your own cheerleader. Each small step will get you warmed up and moving, then help you build momentum.
NOTE: Don’t stop here. On New Year’s Day we’ll discuss the final stage–learning to recover from setbacks and maintain momentum.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Remember that our “31 Minutes for 31 Days” challenge starts today! Get the new year off to a great start.
And now, Stage 4 for making dynamic changes in your writing life! (First read The Dynamics of Change, Stage 1: Making Up Your Mind, Stage 2: Committing to Change, and Stage 3: Taking Action)
You’re well on your way to achieving your major 2013 goals at this point, and you’ve probably begun several new good writing habits to support your future writing career. This is great!
You don’t want to be a quick flash that’s here today and gone tomorrow though. You want the changes to last. You want to continue to grow as a writer and build your career. But…you know yourself. The good writing habits never seem to last.
Change and Maintain
In order to keep going and growing as a writer, you need to do two things:
- Learn to recover from setbacks
- Get mentally tough for the long haul
First let’s talk about setbacks. They come in all shapes and sizes for writers. They can be mechanical (computer gets fried), emotional (a scathing review of your new book), or mental (burn-out from an accident, divorce, or unexpected big expense). Setbacks do just what they sound like: set you back.
However, too often (without a plan), we allow a simple setback to become a permanent writer’s block or stall. Setbacks are simply lapses in our upward spiral, or small break in our new successful routine, a momentary interruption on the way to our writing goal.
Warning: without tools in place to move beyond the setbacks, they can settle in permanently instead. Use setbacks as a signal that you need to get back to basics. Setbacks–or lapses–sometimes occur for no other reason than we’ve dropped our new routines. (We stopped writing before getting online, we stopped taking reward breaks and pushed on to exhaustion, we stopped sending new queries each week…)
Count each day of progress, and don’t be so hard on yourself. I used to make myself “start over” when trying to form a new habit, and it was more discouraging than helpful. For example, if my goal was to journal every morning, I’d count the days. Maybe I managed it five days in a row. Five! I felt successful! But if I missed Day 6 for any reason, I had to start over the next day at Day #1.
Maintaining: A Better Way
I don’t do that anymore. It doesn’t help. Now, if my goal is to develop a new habit, I still keep track, but I keep going after a lapse or setback instead of starting over. So if I were trying to develop a journaling habit, and journaled five days and then missed a day, I would begin again on Day #6.
I would count all successful days in a month, which motivates me to try to reach an even higher total number the next month. This works with words and pages written and other new writing habits you want to start.
In order to recover from setbacks, think ahead. Ask yourself what types of things might cause you to go off course or lapse in your goal efforts. Prepare ways to cope ahead of time and have your plans in place. (Sometimes that’s as simple as always traveling with a “writing bag” of paper, pens, a chapter to work on, a craft book to read, etc. so that you can always work, no matter what the delays.)
Coping plans have this basic structure (according to Neil Fiore’s Awaken Your Strongest Self):
“When __________ [potential distraction] occurs, I will say ______________ [inner dialogue] and I will do _______________ [corrective action].”
When my best friend calls to talk during my writing time, I will say to myself, I’m working and need to call her back at lunch time and I will let the answering machine pick up.
When company comes for a week, I will say to myself, It’s fine for me to take one hour each day to write, and I will close the door to my office (or bedroom) and write before breakfast for one hour.
Retrain Your Brain
Mental toughness–grit to persevere–is the other ingredient you’ll need if you want to maintain the changes you’ve made in your writing habits. Scientific studies have clearly shown that repeated affirmations and mental rehearsals create new neural pathways in the brain making success easier and eventually permanent.
Speaking daily affirmations aloud has been proven to help you “retrain your brain” into healthier lines of thinking. Make the affirmations to deal specifically with your own writing issues. For example:
- I am equal to any writing challenge.
- I love to write, and I never miss a day of writing!
- I get started with ease and keep going smoothly and fluidly.
- I take breaks every 90 minutes or so, using the break to refresh.
- I use visualizations of successful writing times to help build new habits and patterns.
- I love to study and then apply what I learn to developing my writing gift.
- My writing gift is unique and the expression of that gift is unique.
- I don’t need to be like any other writer.
- I never give up on my dreams.
I encourage you to make your own list of positive affirmations pertaining to any area of your life where you’d like to see change. (And yes, I use them myself, broken down into several categories: spiritual life, health, writing, children/grandchildren, and my marriage.) I guess I have a lot of areas where I want to rewire brain patterns!
Use the affirmations to help you make changes–and then cement those changes in place. It’s time we stopped yo-yoing up and down and created stable, permanent writing habits.
I hear it from writers almost on a daily basis. “I can’t find time or energy to write!” Or “If I take time to write, everything else falls apart!”
The idea of living balanced lives is popping up everywhere. It’s definitely a sign of the times and indicative that many feel out of balance. There are articles online for specific people (finding balance as a lawyer) and even websites for finding balance for your dog!
Take Time to Ponder
For your weekend reading pleasure and inspiration, here are some additional ideas and resources for rebalancing your life. [I'm not endorsing all these websites where I found the articles. Some are good, but some are not my cup of tea. The articles have merit though.]
Enjoy the articles. Just remember, though, that nothing will change unless we actually put into practice the suggestions and ideas. Start small. Choose one idea and put it into practice for a week or a month. Then add another one.
Even if you only add one new small balancing habit per month, that would give you a dozen new “balanced living habits” in a year. That’s bound to make a difference!
By: Kristi Holl
Blog: Writers First Aid
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In the August edition of Randy Ingermanson’s free (wonderfully helpful) newsletter, there was a link to a free e-book describing a new time management system Randy is using. (For back issues of Randy’s newsletter, go here.)
Since “free” is one of my favorite words, and I’m always looking for ways to manage my time better, I downloaded it to skim.
Skimming quickly turned to reading carefully, and soon I’d read the whole 57-page e-book by Jim Stone called Clear Mind, Effective Action. It deals with the subject of “fractal planning.” Fractal has to do with breaking something large into smaller parts. (You can get the free e-book here.)
In some ways fractal planning is unique, and some parts are a combination of the best time management ideas from the past twenty years.
In the free e-book, the author explains how to implement his system on your own (on paper or spreadsheet or Word document), if you don’t want to subscribe to his service. (I’m using a Word doc–for now–to see how it goes. I have to admit that–so far–it has boosted my productivity and ability to focus significantly.) If you’d like to go directly to the Fractal Planner page and check out the features, you can do that here.
If you try the fractal planner or read the e-book, let me know. I’d like to hear about your experiences–plus or minus–if you try it out.
By: Kristi Holl
Blog: Writers First Aid
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“Habits are the little anchors that keep us from straying very far from the lifestyle to which we’ve become accustomed, whether that lifestyle makes us happy or miserable,” says Karen Scalf Linamen in her book Only Nuns Change Habits Overnight.
Habits: Help or Hindrance?
We all have habits that either support or hinder our writing lives. Habits are simply the ways we repeatedly do some things. Positive habits include daily writing practice, telling ourselves positive things about our abilities, and keeping current with publishers’ requirements.
Negative writing habits run the gamut from playing computer games and surfing the Internet during our writing time, to not keeping track of submissions and not studying to improve our craft.
Do you see any consistent patterns in your writing life? Which positive habits help you? Which habits detract from your ability to pursue your writing dreams consistently?
Habits from Scratch
If you could redesign your writing life from scratch, which patterns would you reestablish? Which habits would you drop, if you could break them? Can you even identify the habits that are getting in your way? Do you wonder where your time is going, why you can’t seem to get around to working on the project that is so dear to your heart? Try journaling about it.
“Keeping a journal can help you identify hidden habits that are interfering with your life,” says Linamen. “You can embrace the changes you want to embrace–and getting a handle on what’s really going on is a great way to begin!”
The Art of Change
A good writing life–a productive writing life–is built on good writing habits. They keep you anchored to the writing life you want to have, both now and in the future. Building good writing habits may not sound very exciting, but discipline now will give you a lot of freedom later on–and a writing life worth having!
I laughed out loud when I read the quote below–mostly because it describes me so well. How about you?
“You have your day scheduled out, given over to the expectations of others. You brace yourself for what’s ahead. Then you get a call. The day is cancelled; everyone who needed you is down with a three-day virus. Is there anything more delicious? You know what I’m talking about. We don’t like others to be sick, but we love others to cancel. We become giddy at the prospect of ‘found’ time–time without plans or expectations. Time to think.”
This is from a book called Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength by Laurie Helgoe, Ph.D. She is great at defining introverts.
Contrary to what you might have heard, introverts are not geeky, shy wallflowers, or antisocial. We’re introverts (by definition) because we “recharge our batteries” in solitude or in quiet one-on-one conversations, while extroverts can get recharged in noisy party-type settings with lots of people.
Introverts are not a minority–we’re just quieter than noisy extroverts. A recent large study showed that introverts comprise 57% of the population. That was a surprise to me. I always felt like I didn’t fit in with the masses. As it turns out, introverts are the masses!
I suspect that many writers are introverts. Otherwise, we might not enjoy spending so much time alone writing. And it would explain why our favorite thing to do is read and our favorite places are libraries and bookstores.
Much of the book is about celebrating being an introvert, and then using your introvert traits to thrive in an extrovert country. (Americans prize being extroverts, whereas the Japanese prize being introverts.)
How About You?
Are you an introvert? Will you admit it? (This sounds like Introverts Anonymous: “Hello. My name is Kristi, and I’m an introvert.”) If you think you are, what’s hard for you being an introvert in an extrovert world?
By: Kristi Holl
Blog: Writers First Aid
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When re-reading Getting It Done by Andrew J. DuBrin, PH.D., I came to a section on dealing with procrastination. One suggestion is something I’d like your feedback on.
He said you can make progress with procrastination if you “compartmentalize spheres of life.” He says that if you have multiple demands on your time that seem overwhelming, “mentally wear the same blinders placed on horses so they can concentrate better on the race and not be distracted.”
Box It Up!
I would love to be able to do that on a regular basis! Are you able to compartmentalize? I agree with the author that procrastination is more tempting when multiple demands are swirling and competing in your mind.
I think that male writers have an advantage here. They seem able to put things in boxes, tape the lids shut, and then deal with one box at a time. (I know this for a fact because I can tell when I am being put in the “wife” box!)
Women, however, mix things up. Our concern for our child’s health or marriage problems or a sibling’s financial crisis “bleeds over” into our writing time. And we tend to feel guilty if we’re happily typing away while a member of our family is in trouble or needs us.
So…please share your wisdom with me. Men, if you can explain how to put things in boxes or make blinders work, please advise. Ladies, if you’ve figured out how to push aside your other concerns while you write, please share.
I bet we could all use some tips!
By: Kristi Holl
Blog: Writers First Aid
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Writers are opinionated people.
Our brains never seem to stop. We criticize because we “know” how things and people should be. This “critical editor component” of our personality is absolutely invaluable to the editing and revision process. If you can’t spot what’s wrong with a manuscript, you can’t fix it.
However, this same critical ability can cause writers to actually lose focus, allowing their writing hours to slip away with little or no work done.
Think About It
Many of us go through our daily lives with our internal critic or editor in charge. We don’t see the person right in front of us as he or she is (which may be perfectly fine.) Instead, that person reminds us of an ex-spouse, and we “see” characteristics that aren’t there. Stress!
Conversely, we think the person in front of us is “supposed” to be kind and supportive (our inner definition of parent/spouse/child/sibling). And yet many such relationships are anything but, leaving us hurt and upset because they should be supportive. More stress! Life rarely satisfies a person who lets the “shoulds” run his life.
Do we spend our time “shoulding”? We don’t see a child who is happily singing at the top of her voice. (That child should be more quiet in the store!) We don’t see an interesting shade of purple hair. (That teenager should resemble a miniature adult instead.) We don’t see the predator or user sometimes either–because trusted family members shouldn’t be such things. Our “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” color everything we observe.
Change Your Perspective
Our inner editor sometimes keeps us from seeing what’s in front of us. We are constantly “revising” the facts. So what’s the problem with that? You can’t accept–and get peace about–what you can’t honestly see or face. You stay stirred up–a condition rarely suited to being creative. Sometimes the simplest solutions evade us because we’re all riled up inside.
It reminds me of a story (you may also be familiar with) about “The River and the Lion: After the great rains, the lion was faced with crossing the river that had encircled him. Swimming was not in his nature, but it was either cross or die. The lion roared and charged at the river, almost drowning before he retreated. Many more times he attacked the water, and each time he failed to cross. Exhausted, the lion lay down, and in his quietness he heard the river say, “Never fight what isn’t here.”
Cautiously, the lion looked up and asked, “What isn’t here?”
“Your enemy isn’t here,” answered the river. “Just as you are a lion, I am merely a river.”
Now the lion sat very still and studied the ways of the river. After a while, he walked to where a certain current brushed against the shore, and stepping in, floated to the other side.
Control What You Can: Yourself
We also can’t gain peace of mind and the ability to focus unless we’re willing to give up trying to control everyone and everything in our environment. We spen
For many reasons, we set writing goals–and then promptly get stuck. The reasons vary:
- The goal is overwhelming, and we don’t know where to start.
- We don’t have an hour or two each day to devote to reaching our goal.
- We don’t really believe you can reach goals “a little bit at a time.”
- We see others going gung-ho toward similar goals and feel intimidated by their (seemingly) effortless success.
Regardless of what your writing goal is, one answer that nearly always works is the concept of “gradual exposure.” Certainly gradual exposure can be a negative thing, like the poor frog who is boiled alive when the water temperature gradually rises. But “gradual exposure” can also be a very positive–and easy–concept to work into your writing life.
Gradual exposure simply allows you to take actions toward your daily and long-term writing goals little by little. These small actions build on each other over time and form habits (such as daily writing, networking with other writers, writing a novel, etc.) According to Kelly Stone in Living Write, “This technique [of gradual exposure] is particularly helpful in areas where you have resistance to writing or fear taking some action that is required to attain the success you desire.”
One Task Per Day for a Week
Stone’s recommendation for gradually inching your way into your desired writing habit is to break down the task into tiny baby steps. You take one baby step toward your goal every day for a week. And you try to enhance or increase the action daily until you reach your goal.
Example: Let’s say your goal is to eventually write an hour every day. Currently you only write sporadically. Your first week of gradual exposure might look like this:
- Monday: write 5 minutes
- Tuesday: write 10 minutes
- Wednesday: write 15 minutes
- Thursday: write 20 minutes
and so on until you hit 60 minutes per day.
Or maybe you want a production goal that gradually gets you to the point where you can write 2,000 words per day. Start small, and increase daily by small amounts.
- Monday: write 200 words
- Tuesday: write 250 words
- Wednesday: write 300 words
- Thursday: write 350 words
Each day is a tiny stretch, but with enough tiny stretches, you can soon be writing those 2,000 words per day this way.
Other types of writing tasks can also be accomplished using ”gradual exposure.” Let’s say you want to eventually have a successful social networking group of writer friends. When starting out, it can look overwhelming! But by using gradual exposure, you can get your feet wet and not feel like you’re drowning. This can apply to getting involved in Facebook, on Twitter, commenting on blogs, writing a blog, etc.
- Monday: subscribe to five writing blogs
- Tuesday: read two blog posts and leave one comment
- Wednesday: read four blog posts and leave two comments
- Thursday: [continue building until you scan perhaps ten blogs daily]
When you’ve met your blogging goal, set up a gradual exposure schedule for creating a Facebook page, inviting friends, commenting on others’ posts, etc.
Gradual Vs. Gung-Ho
For me, I think the “magic&
By: Kristi Holl
Blog: Writers First Aid
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I was wrong–again.
For twenty years, I’ve told students and wannabe writers that you have to put the writing first! Do it before other things take over your day.
Fight the impulse to clean your kitchen first, or straighten your office, or clean up the mess the kids made before leaving for school.
“But I can’t work in chaos,” writers protest.
You know what? Neither can I anymore–at least not well! And when I force myself to, the work is doubly tiring. Doubly stressful. Much less satisfying.
Energy Drains in Disguise
Something I read today made me realize my advice might be a tad off. Not wrong altogether, since if we don’t make writing some sort of priority, we won’t do it. However, to eliminate energy drains in your life, you need to look at the whole picture. Certainly all the things you do in a given day take your energy. Every action you take on your lengthy “to do” list uses energy.
What you may not realize is that actions you don’t take use energy as well. Your disorganized office, the piles of laundry on the bedroom floor, the stack of bills to pay, the two birthday gifts to buy, the clothing needing repair–all this drains your energy reserves as well. It happens whether you are looking at the unfinished business or just thinking about it.
It siphons off energy that could be used in a much more positive way. “These items on your mental ‘to do’ list, the ones you’ve been procrastinating about, distract you or make you feel guilty and drain the very energy you need to accomplish your goals.” (So says Cheryl Richardson in Take Time for Your Life.)
NOT an Excuse to Procrastinate
Taking care of the unfinished business that nags at your mind–and keeps you from feeling like you can settle down to write–may be necessary before you can tackle your writing assignment. Don’t go overboard though, or you’re just procrastinating. Washing the dirty dishes is one thing–taking time to replace the shelf paper in your pantry is something else.
Figure out the things that you MUST have done to feel at peace in your environment, and do those things ONLY. (It helps to do as many of them as you can the night before too.)
Eliminate the chaos in your environment, and you’ll eliminate a LOT of the chaos that blocks your writer’s mind. Now…off to clean my office.
As a writer, don’t ever under-estimate the power of self-discipline. Talent, passion, and discipline are needed–but the greatest of these is discipline.
Best-selling author Elizabeth George speaks to this point on the first day she faces her students in her creative writing classes. Study this quote from her book, Write Away–and read through to the zinger at the end.
“You will be published if you possess three qualities–talent, passion, and discipline.
You will probably be published if you possess two of the three qualities in either combination–either talent and discipline, or passion and discipline.
You will likely be published if you possess neither talent nor passion, but still have discipline. Just go the bookstore and pick up a few ‘notable’ titles and you’ll see what I mean.
But if all you possess is talent or passion, if all you possess is talent and passion, you will not be published. The likelihood is you will never be published. And if by some miracle you are published, it will probably never happen again.”
This is great news for all writers, I believe. We worry sometimes that we don’t have enough talent, that we have nothing original to say, that our voices won’t attract today’s readers. But as Ms. George says above–and after writing and teaching for thirty years, I totally agree–discipline is what will make you or break you as a writer.
Why is this good news? Because self-discipline can be mastered, bit by bit, day by day, until it’s a habit. Talent is a gift over which we have no control, and passion comes and goes with our feelings and circumstances. But your necessary ingredient to success–discipline–can belong to anyone.
Do whatever you have to do to develop the writing habit. Let that be your focus, and see if the writing–and publishing–doesn’t take care of itself!
I love routines! It streamlines the daily business of life and lets me get more done. I have some habits (like how I brush teeth or do dishes) that haven’t changed in years–maybe decades. They work efficiently.
Writers have habits too, and I think that’s a good thing. It streamlines daily chores like email, website updating, reading professional journals and blogs, and other writing-related chores.
BUT…routines can become ruts without anyone noticing.
Habits: A Slippery Slope
You may suspect your routines have become ruts if you are more bored than inspired when you sit down to write. When all your writing has the same tired voice, when you continually repeat subjects and themes–it may be a sign that your writing routines have become ruts.
So how do you break out of ruts? Try making changes in some of these areas:
- Writing area: choose another place to write, change the furniture around in your office, move your desk to the window, clean up the clutter, make a traveling writer’s bag for the airplane or car
- Time: even if you’re a morning person, try writing during the lunch hour or in ten-minute segments every hour on the hour; try a Saturday morning
- Length of session: experiment with writing daily for short periods, writing daily for longer periods, writing just on the weekend
- Tools of your trade: experiment with writing longhand, writing on a laptop, using online journals, Internet vs. library research
- Sound: if you’re used to writing in total silence, try background music you love or a white noise machine (mine makes raindrops and ocean wave sounds)
- People: if you always write alone, try writing with a group or joining a critique group (in person or online)
- Body position: try writing at your desk, standing up, lying in bed or a lounge chair, curled up in the porch swing
Mix It Up
If you’ve lost some enthusiasm for your writing, it may be nothing more than you’ve allowed your routines to become boring ruts. Try mixing it up a bit. Choose another time, place, and position to write. Change your environment with new sounds or new people. See what that does to your creativity.
What about you? What writing habits will you always keep–and where do you like to make changes? Let’s share ideas!
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Writing requires energy. Life requires energy! What fuel are you running on?
Many people these days are frantically running from place to place, working too many hours, volunteering for too many projects, working nights and weekends (partly) because of a need for approval.
They are fueled by sugar, caffeine, cigarettes and adrenaline to keep going. You might get more done short-term this way, but if this is your fuel, you’re injuring your health in the long run.
Last week in the online retreat workshop, we talked about “destressing the writing life.” Before we can do much, we have to destress life in general, I think.
I don’t need to tell you that we live “on alert” these days. We are bombarded from so many information sources. We allow ourselves to be at the beck and call of anyone who rings our cell phone or shoots us an email. Adrenaline is used like a drug, pushing tired bodies to work faster and harder. The end result is a crash-and-burn depletion of your reserves.
Go Against the Flow
Do you want to have a long-term writing life? Do you want to have enough energy to write longer than a 30-day NaNoWriMo stint? Then while you still have time–while you still have your health–I urge you to develop a counter-cultural lifestyle. Look at your life now. Make a list of the things that have stressed you out this past week.
No groceries in the cupboard because a meeting ran late and you couldn’t stop at the store? Phone call from a teacher saying little Johnny forgot his required permission slip for the day’s field trip? A bounced check? Having to work late at night while everyone else is sleeping, just to keep life from derailing?
All of these things make us run on adrenaline that wears down our bodies. And much as we might argue otherwise, all of these things are preventable.
Replace the Old with the New
Habits that cause you to run on adrenaline are habits that need to be replaced. I can’t tell you which habits you need to exchange, but I can share some of mine.
For one thing, I’ve noticed that for six months, I’ve arrived places out of breath and a little bit late, and I go tearing into meetings or classes after the program has begun. So embarrassing. I sweat it on the way to the meeting, and backed-up traffic skyrockets my blood pressure. I hate to waste time, so I hate arriving somewhere early and waiting. Solution? To avoid the adrenaline rush, I plan to leave early enough to arrive early, but take work or a book along, stay in the parking lot and write or read, then walk in calmly ten minutes before the class starts.
I have also noticed that the days I DON’T run on adrenaline are the days I start with exercise and devotional reading and prayer. And yet, too many times lately, I’ve awakened feeling energetic, considered the two hours I’d lose if I stuck to my exercise/relaxation regimen, and jumped into work instead. Make hay while the sun shines, right? Mostly, I’ve made headaches and a sore back and neck. I need to remember that my health regimen actually saves me time in the long run. And I run those days, not on adrenaline, but on healthy energy supplies.
I am going to set a boundary on working in the evenings. I couldn’t see what difference it would make if, while watching a good movie with my husband or chatting, I also answered some email questions and deleted hundreds of blog spam and updated my websites. Most of it was “no think” activity, so what did it harm? A lot, I think now. My mind won’t shut off when I shut off the computer to go to bed. My neck and back hurt terribly by then. And