Not in a reading mood right now? Sara Russell offers up more advice on building a writing habit that sticks on the Trends w/ Benefits podcast.
I became a writer at four years old. Mom bought me The Letter People record and I would sing along to their alphabet songs while coloring outlines of their letters. My love of words continued through college, where I ditched my biology degree for one in writing (it was inevitable—I had cut too many chemistry classes to audit Russian literature instead.) Not surprisingly, my primary love language is words of affirmation.
But it was still a beast to develop good writing habits.
It felt more romantic to be spontaneously inspired at 3 a.m., frantically writing in the dark, than to sit down and write with any kind of consistency.
It wasn’t until I got serious about writing and realized that like most everything else in life, it doesn’t matter how much talent or drive you have if you aren’t willing to get your reps in. As Thomas Edison said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.”
So how do you start—and keep—good writing habits?
First, you need a plan. You know what you’re going to do: write. Now you need to figure out the where, when, and for how long.
James Clear, author of Atomic Habits (which happens to be the first book selected for MUD/WTR's book club), has four laws of change that can help make this process easier:
Make it obvious. When building a writing habit, I knew I wanted to write first thing in the morning. To keep focus, I would place a journal on top of my phone so when my alarm went off, my knuckles hit the cover, blocking me from automatically opening Instagram. Put your writing tools someplace where you’ll see and use them.
Make it attractive. This is all about anticipating pleasure. If you’re trying to journal in your cluttered office on the back of your electric bill with a chewed-on Bic, you’re probably not stoked to start writing.
My brother writes with a golden, fine tip nib that looks like the talon of a hawk with shimmering green ink. And he uses 80gsm white paper. Are you drooling? Go find the tools that delight you.
Make it easy. Rummaging through drawers to find something to write with? No. Sitting down and blanking on what to write about? Uh-oh. Do whatever you need to make this as painless as possible. Try setting a timer and only writing for 3 minutes. Have a list of prompts ready to go. Sarajane Case, author of The Honest Enneagram suggests making a list of 10 good things. The bottom line? Jotting anything down builds muscle memory.
Make it satisfying. This is about giving yourself carrots while leaving the sticks behind. Reward the crap out of yourself everytime you hit your goal. Spent 3 minutes writing I don’t know what to write over and over? Great! You did it! Hop on Instagram and watch cat videos, have a second cup of hot chocolate, or buy yourself a new pen.
Most of all, remember why you want to write. Cultivating awareness, dreaming about future you, or prioritizing a creative outlet are far more compelling motivations than “because it’s good for you.”
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