You often hear it said, ‘Old habits die hard’ or ‘habits are made to be broken’. However, what about good habits? Helpful in many capacities but for a writer essential. You’re on your own, no rules of the work place, a boss hovering at your door, colleagues to consult and spur you on. You are on your own.
I was reminded of this when reading two articles published in The Guardian on Monday 20th January, the day which has been declared the most depressing day of the year, ‘Blue Monday’. On the second page of the G2 they explored ‘Five ways to read more books’, one of which was making it a habit. Then turning over the page, I found ‘Can I kick my bad habits?’ Both useful in what they offered. If, however, you were feeling ‘blue’ on that day, you might not have wanted to pick up on either. And a lot has been written about bad habits, the need to and the difficulty of getting rid of them; self-help books and articles galore.
Benefits provided by good habits
However the benefit of good habits, such as reading, habits which help structure time, creating a routine to do what can often seem impossible to fit in, cannot be emphasised. Habit and routine can be luxuries to take the stress away from decision making, absolve the guilt of prevaricating, and any other reason not to be able to write.
I’ve fought my way through all the pitfalls: is my writing good enough, worth my time let alone anyone else’s to read; ideas stuck behind that mythical cloud of waiting for inspiration; mundane and essential tasks which take priority.
That writing gives me huge pleasure, especially having written, that it’s a passion without which I feel bereft, should mean that I could dismiss all the above, sit down whenever there’s a moment free.
When I was working full time, I was only able to write for a few hours in the evening having finished my ‘homework’. This is a habit which, thank goodness, remains. I am never tempted to do anything else, be it watching TV or reading, I automatically go to my computer.
Having stopped working full time, I can extend the time when I write and although it seems remarkably stupid to admit this, I find it hard to use a whole free day. Analysing this, I realise that I need slots, set periods, a starting time and a point where I must stop.
An online article by Drew Margery ‘How to Write 10,000 Words a Week’, at first sight filled me with a feeling of inadequacy. What a daunting level of production, I thought. However when I set those six hours he writes each day, which is less than in a 9 to 5 a job, against his word count, I realised that it is not so far from what I can achieve in a my part-time week. I then read on to find that I agree with all his advice; to keep a note book, jotting ideas, scraps of conversation and situations, not worrying about what you are writing for a first draft, just getting the words down on ‘paper’ to redraft at another time. And of course he already has a day to day routine.
Creating a habit for those of us who have to juggle writing with other occupations is more difficult. Setting a time in the day, be it only half an hour, when you go take up your pad or computer to write anything; a word, a paragraph, a few notes, an essay, isn’t necessarily that easy. A friend of mine, whose job is super demanding, sets his alarm half-an-hour earlier each the day and takes that small amount of time to kick start the process. It’s become a good habit. So why can’t I?
The coffee shop has come to my aid. I know that many writers have written in cafes, J K Rowling the most well known. Though I realise it may have been because she didn’t have, at that time, a Virginia Woolf ‘room of her own’. I have no such excuse but I am making a habit of any morning or day that is free, I go to my local only a few blocks away, as soon as it opens. It’s become my salvation. It kick starts the writing day. It isn’t merely the caffeine, though that helps, it’s the action of going out into this space, as into a different cocoon, spending money on a drink which I could as easily have made at home. As my friend does in his ‘stolen’ half hour, it gives me permission to write. It’s at a specified time, before the crowds, friendly as the baristas know me but don’t disturb, as well as the chance, if I want it, for observation of other people; grist to a writers craft. And when I do emerge, whether it’s because of noise or dodgy internet, I am in writing mode and can go back to my own room, to continue with what I’ve begun.
Co-working is another helpful ruse. Meeting with other writers in a space with the intention of writing; a mutual time which isn’t necessarily a habit, but the time slot agreement makes it special and important.
A good habit
In a blog in March 2017 about the ‘hunger’ to write, a quote from Sebastian Barry, reminded me of this precise problem. The need for that good habit. I hope that nearly two years later I have, to some extent, found a solution.
Image Credit: Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash