We’re almost at the end of January, so it’s probably a good time to take a look at those writing goals you set at the beginning of the year and see how things are going. If you planned to write more regularly, or up your productivity, this probably means you’ve attempted to form new writing habits and, as we all know, whilst forming bad habits seems incredibly easy, forming good ones can be a little trickier.
I started a new writing project at the beginning of the year and in order to make it possible to achieve, I’ve had to think realistically about my year, and schedule the first-draft writing time appropriately. I know there will be times later in the year when I’ll be so busy at work that by the time I get home, my brain will be mush. I also know that, come the longer spring days and lighter evenings, I’ll be devoting more time to all things equine. I need to establish a habit now that has a chance of withstanding these conflicting demands. They say it takes 3-4 weeks to develop a habit, so here are my tips from my first four weeks:
- Have a specific goal that gives you something to work towards – and make it something tangible and measureable so that you can see yourself making progress. A goal of say “writing more short stories” is too woolly. How many short stories would you be satisfied with? How many might you expect to write over a given period? Break it down so that you know exactly what you have to achieve each week to be on track to complete the overall goal. Then you know the minimum you need to achieve daily. This is also why I’ve chosen to have a goal of a specific weekly word count rather than, say, a finite number of writing hours a night – I know I could easily fritter away the time without really having achieved anything.
- Be sure you really want to achieve this goal or develop this habit. At New Year, it’s easy to get carried away and plan some really aspirational stuff. But you need to be realistic and absolutely sure that this particular writing goal is for you, otherwise as soon as you hit a problem, it’ll be too tempting to give up. It may help to write down your reasons for wanting to achieve it – and how it contributes to your long term game plan. Later, if things do get tough, you can go back and remind yourself why you are putting yourself through this!
- Keep it simple. I’m working on one specific project, writing about one thing. So far this is working for me. It might not work for you – you might be the sort of writer who needs to have several projects on the go at once so you can flip from one to the other as inspiration takes you. That’s fine, just as long as you know what you’re doing each time you sit down to write.
- Habits are easier to form as part of a routine, because then they arise from some kind of trigger. (This of course applies to bad habits too – my mum always used to say that when she gave up smoking all those years ago, the cigarette she missed most was the one straight after her evening meal.) I’m writing in the weekday evenings: after we’ve eaten and washed up, I take a cup of tea up to my room and crack on. This has become the norm very quickly.
- Build in small rewards. Obviously the achievement of completing your targets will give you a bit of a boost, but you don’t want your writing to turn into this horrible chore which will make you feel miserable (remember, it’s supposed to be something wonderful and creative, otherwise why are you doing it?). Assuming you made your goals reasonable and achievable in the first place, you should be able to reward yourself with time off to go and do something else! (I try to write more at the beginning of the week so that Friday is either an easy stint, or completely free.)
- It helps to have support from your nearest and dearest. Indeed, your habit may become built into their routine too. (So now my OH plans his own things to do “while you go and do your word count” and then we both know that we can build all the other stuff of life around this protected bit of time.)
- Be flexible. Other things in life will crop up and prevent you sticking to your plans. (I didn’t write much towards the end of last week because we had to have our cat put down, which obviously made for a very sad household.) Don’t beat yourself up and abandon the whole thing just because it’s been derailed for a few days by outside pressures. Pick yourself up when you’re ready and carry on. And you may find that the habit helps you deal with the other stuff which is going on in your life.
My first month on the new WIP has been very positive. Of course there have been rubbish evenings where I’ve really struggled to write anything, but I’ve definitely found that the routine of going up to sit at my writing desk every night is really helping. Now “not writing” is the exception rather than the norm. And writing in the weekday evenings gives me time at the weekends to do other things – like write this blog, for instance! 🙂