H Is for Habits

Habit: “A recurrent, often unconscious pattern of behavior that is acquired through frequent repetition” or “customary manner or practice.”

When you’re not sure where to start, head for the dictionary. 😉 Those come from the American Heritage Dictionary. There are other “habits,” but I’m not thinking of nun’s habits or riding habits or habits involving narcotics.

Habits are the patterns and practices that can help you create the space that makes your writing possible. Needless to say, they can also create spaces in which writing is difficult if not impossible, so if you’re having a hard time getting down to work, day after day after day, it’s worth taking a hard look at what habits may be getting in the way.

I once wrote a whole poem of ways to avoid writing. I can’t remember any of it, but I’m pretty sure that doing the dishes and vacuuming were in it. The ways to avoid writing are myriad. I can even use writing to avoid writing.

My #1 habit in the sense of “customary manner or practice” is write every day. This started when I was working on my novel. I’d never completed anything longer than 40 pages before. I was desperately afraid I was going to choke. You know where the cartoon character runs straight off a cliff and for a moment is suspended in midair above a chasm, feet still running? That was me.

I made a New Year’s resolution, one of the few New Year’s resolutions I’ve ever made. The resolution was that I would write every day until I had a complete draft. I didn’t specify how many words I would write, or how many hours — only that I would write every day.

I have a candle burning while I write.

Some days, I swear, it would be five minutes to midnight when I sat down at the computer and opened the Word file. That was enough. I’d tweak the last paragraph I’d written and then write another paragraph or two. Just opening the file was enough to reassure me that it hadn’t turned to crap the moment my back was turned. What I’d already written would tell me what to do next.

Ordinarily mornings are my best writing time, especially for first-drafting. In the morning I’m fresh and optimistic. As the day goes on, my mind fills up with distractions, interruptions, and reasons not to write. Editing I can do at other times.

My worst habit, of the “recurrent, often unconscious pattern of behavior that is acquired through frequent repetition” type, is Spider solitaire. Decades ago I played it with real cards, then some fiend decided to bundle it with Windows and I was doomed. If the writing stalls, suddenly Spider is open on my screen and I’m playing another game without knowing how I got there. I am almost certainly powerless over Spider solitaire. I don’t think my life has become unmanageable — yet — but I may be fooling myself.

4 thoughts on “H Is for Habits

    • Bad habits, OTOH, are hard to break! When I’m trying to create or reinforce a habit, I want to make it as easy as possible. This is why “write every day” works for me, but “write for three hours a day” or “write a thousand words a day” would fall by the wayside after about a week.

      I do know people who set their goals and go after them relentlessly, but that’s not me. I’m too easily distracted, for one thing — and the distractions usually turn out to be worth their while to pursue.

      I’ve learned over the years that writing breakthroughs are more likely to come when I’m out walking than when I’m staring at a computer screen. I’m not sure I would take long walks every day if I didn’t have a dog. I like to say that some people walk because they have a dog, but me, I have a dog because I walk. 🙂

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    • Thanks! One thing that sold me on “write every day” really was that fear that whatever I was working on was crap, don’t even bother looking at it, if you look at it you’ll see what crap it is and delete the whole thing forever. If I opened the file every day, I had no trouble seeing that it wasn’t crap at all and I knew where to go next. English singer-songwriter Pete Morton wrote a great song called “Another Train” that I pretty much know by heart. One line in it: “Imagination plays the worst tricks.” Does it ever! Imagination needs a hard dose of reality sometimes.

      Liked by 1 person

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