3 Elements of a (Writing) Habit

What is your writing habit like? Does writing happen daily? Twice daily? Twice weekly? Or irregularly, whenever you feel like it, have a good writing idea, or have lots of free time?

Chris Fox, who writes books about writing, has a book out with the title “Lifelong Writing Habit.” In the book (which I highly recommend) he talks a lot about habits. Habits you have, good and bad, and habits that can be changed, or ‘flipped’, into better and more helpful habits.

A habit, according to Fox, consists of 3 parts:

  1. The Trigger
  2. The Routine
  3. The Reward

The Trigger is the event that triggers the habit. In a writing habit, the trigger can be based on a certain time (4pm) or an event (getting up in the morning.) Getting an great writing idea can also trigger a writing session, or feeling ‘inspired’ or creative.

The Routine is the meat of your habit. In a writing habit, it is when you sit down and begin to write. The actual events of the writing session vary from person to person. One person does most of his writing in timed writing sprints, the next person does one long open-ended spontaneous writing session. One person outlines the day’s writing, the other person wings it.

The Reward is what you get when you do the Routine of the habit. When you habitually brush your teeth, your Reward is a clean mouth, and the hope of better dental health.

When you write, your Reward might be a feeling of accomplishment. When I was a kid and did writing assignments in school, my ‘reward’ for finishing the assignment was to have my paper all marked up with teacher criticisms. With a reward like that, you can bet I didn’t finish my assignments too often.

Think of the habits you have that you really do every day, without thinking. Make a list of at least 5 of them, and think about this for each habit— what triggers it? What is the meat of the habit? And what do you get from it?

For example, I have a habit of putting on clean clothes every morning. I don’t even think about it— unless I’ve gotten behind at doing laundry. The trigger is getting up in the morning. And my reward is that when I go out in public, I don’t feel ashamed when people notice me.

That’s an example of a good habit. What about a bad habit? One I’ve had for years is that when I see an appealing but unhealthy/carb-filled food I like, I buy it and eat it. The reward is nice taste and a sugar/carb rush, followed by a lack of energy, weight gain, and higher blood sugar. The immediate reward— taste and rush— often outweighs my concern about the long-term consequences. What I try to do is NOT look at the high carb foods (junk foods, even ‘natural’ ones) when I shop. And keeping plenty of the foods I can eat in the house, so I’m less tempted when I go shopping.

Exercise:

For the next week, track your writing. What triggers you to have a writing session? What is a writing session like for you? How many times do you actually write during a week? How many words do you write each day? In a week? And what are the rewards you experience when you complete your writing session for the day?

Advertisements

JUST 8 minutes: improving your writing habit

The problem with my daily writing habit is that I don’t have one. I mean to write every single day but then life happens— laundry, cooking, handling a sheep escape or a cat who wants to give birth in my lap— and writing is the thing that gets pushed out.

So I’ve gone back to Monica Leonelle’s book, ‘The 8-minute Writing Habit’ and started to do my 8 minute writing sprints. Miss Leonelle’s book has helped me— it’s gotten me to take up writing by dictation, and to track my writing sprints on a spreadsheet.

But this month I’ve checked my calendar and out of the 13 days in the month so far, I’ve only written on 3 of them (counting today.) What is wrong with me?

I’ve been thinking that over and I’ve decided this is the problem: though the Leonelle method would allow me to do just 1 writing sprint of 8 minutes and call it a day, I haven’t been doing that. I have been requiring myself to do 3 writing sprints. That’s 24 minutes of just writing, plus with writing down the results of the writing sprints, entering them into the spreadsheet, bathroom break, getting up to walk around a little to prepare for the next sprint— I’m doing 30 to 45 minutes, and even though I hadn’t calculated it out, my brain knows I’m not just asking myself to write for 8 minutes, but use up a significant chunk of time. So I put it off till later, and the late evening comes and my brain is tired from the day and just wants to play the Walking Dead game on my smartphone, and my body wants to take a bath and go to bed, and there went writing for that day.

So— change of plan. This morning instead of doing my writing just after getting dressed, I got up, put the cats off of me, and did urgent things like a bathroom visit and drinking a glass of water and feeding the cats, and then sat right down and did 8 minutes.

JUST 8 minutes. When I finished I put the result in my spreadsheet and put the flower sticker on my calendar (where I learned it was St. Anthony of Padua’s feast day) and now I have done my required writing for the day. I deliberately started to do other things to show my pesky subconscious mind that I really do mean ‘JUST 8 minutes’ now instead of ‘8 minutes that is really almost an hour.’

I may do more writing sprints today on my WIP. Or I may not. I have a lot of things to do today, like the blogging I’m doing right this second, or checking in with my online discussion groups, or folding clothes or moving the chicken pen with the GOOD chickens to somewhere the predator can’t find them….

As Miss Leonelle points out in her book, many writers who are NOT writing daily will do more words in a month with ONLY 8 minutes a day than they are doing now with longer writing sessions that they only manage to do 4 or 5 days a month.

EXERCISE: Stop right now. Close or minimize your browser, set a timer for 8 minutes, and WRITE! How many words did you do? How do you feel about it? Do you think you can do 8 minutes tomorrow? Please comment about it on this blog post.


My current WIP: Don’t have a title yet. It’s space colony fiction set in the same universe as some stories I’ve written. Main character is a girl from Earth who is sent to a colony where she ends up as a teacher of the children of a nobleman. I gave her the temporary name Amanda because my dictation software can spell Amanda, but the name is growing on me.

Changes to this blog

I’ve always worried that this blog has been a little unfocused. I’m about to change that. It’s still going to be a somewhat personal blog, sharing what is going on in my writing life.

But with all the writing blogs out there, I want to stand out by focusing this writing blog on three kinds of writers-like-me:

1. Writers who are conservative or conservative-libertarian or ‘superversive’ and who have to deal with SJWs (social justice warriors) trying to stamp out hatred and bigotry by being hateful and bigoted about US.

2. Writers who are Christians (Catholics, Protestants, Evangelicals, Orthodox, LDS, and other Jesus-followers) or Jews— in the traditional understanding of the words ‘Christian’ and ‘Jew’— who write fiction that they hope is pleasing to God. Or fiction that is at least not a mortal sin.

3. Writers who are struggling with problems such as Asperger Syndrome/Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, and other problems that can interfere with getting writing done.

I’m going to be changing and updating the sidebar and pages of this blog to reflect the new focus, and I welcome suggestions from readers as to what you want to see more of on this blog.

I’m also busy with another project, which will take some time away from my work on this blog. I will be announcing what that other project is on this blog. At some point.

Blessed Sunday to you all!

Dictate Your Novel: Built-in Mac Dictation improves with use

I have been using voice dictation to work on my current WIP for most of a month now, and thought I would give an update. I know that most authors who recommend using dictation say you have to buy Dragon NaturallySpeaking, but I have been using the dictation built in to my Mac to start. (There is also dictation built into Windows, I used it years ago for a little while.)

The most exciting thing I learned while Googling around looking for more info on dictation using the Mac’s Enhanced Dictation is that this dictation gets better on recognizing your voice over time. I’ve noticed that myself. Mistakes that I bother to correct sometimes lead the Mac to get it right the next time. On the other hand, I’ve just spent time dictating the word ‘caste’ into the Mac in various phrases. When I put the cursor at the very end of the word ‘case’ which it usually types, ‘caste’ still isn’t among the options. Since I use that word a lot in my sci-fi novel, I will have to google around to see if I can get more info on how to help the Mac recognize it. But I also can correct it during the editing stage as I do with the names of people and places the Mac doesn’t recognize.

I have a headset with built-in microphone that I use for dictation, but am planning on getting a better quality headset soon. I think that will improve the accuracy.

Some people ask me if I have problems with using the keyboard. No, not currently, though I do have arthritis in my hands that sometimes flares up. My real reason for using it is to learn to write faster, and overcome my ‘writer’s block.’

My problem is that I can make up stories in my head at a lightning fast rate, but getting them down into a computer is slower and thus frustrating. I easily lose interest in the project when I go through day-after-day of writing down things at a slow pace.

The dictation seems to be helping. I’m getting more words-on-page per writing session, and I have more writing days and fewer where I procrastinate until the day is done.

I have been doing the 8-minute timed-writing sessions recommended by Monica Leonelle’s “The 8-Minute Writing Habit,” and find I do more words in 8-minutes of dictation than in 8-minutes writing by keyboard. I continue to track my timed writing sessions on a spreadsheet, as I mentioned in a previous blog post. I think there is some improvement.

What I have to do:

Monica Leonelle, in ‘Dictate your Book,’ says that one value of learning dictation is that it will force you to separate your first-draft process from the editing/revision process, and she says that is a valuable thing.

I don’t quite do that yet. I am still correcting whenever the dictation fouls up. Now that I know that the Mac will get better recognizing what I want to say, I will probably want to correct. But that does slow down my writing. I’m trying to plow ahead. In cases where I might forget what I originally meant to say by the time I edit, I say the sentence a second or third time. If that fails, I correct the key word I might forget, and leave other mistakes for later.

The ‘space’ problem

One problem that happens over and over is that I end a sentence, and open the next one by saying ‘open quote’ and starting to speak a line of dialog. It puts the quotation mark at the end of the old sentence, puts in a space, and only then starts the new sentence. Googling around, I’ve discovered that this happens to other people too.

I tried ending a sentence and saying ‘space’ before I say ‘open quote’ but that just makes it spell out the word ‘space’. I needed to know the command to make the dictation add a space. Turns out, the command for that is ‘spacebar.’ I will have to try that next dictation session. Because, although you can certainly leave things to be edited later— I mean, some people even leave out all the quotation marks and much of the punctuation when they get started with dictation— anything you can do correctly the first time through voice dictation will be something you don’t have to fix later.

The Blog Post series

There are some people who might really be interested in this voice dictation thing, and so I am gathering my articles on this into a category or perhaps a tag. So people who are interested can find my other articles on the topic.

Do you have any questions about voice dictation for writers? Just ask. I will be glad to share anything I know. Or maybe I can find out for you.

Monica Leonelle books:

The 8-minute Writing Habit

Dictate Your Book

 


Links about dictation using Mac’s built-in software

Mavericks Dictation vs. Dragon Dictate: How good is OS X’s built-in tool?

The Complete Guide to Dictation Software: How I saved my hands

Can I print out the list of Dictation commands?

How to talk to your Mac: Using Dictation Effectively

How to track your writing sprints

Have you ever done a writing sprint? This is when you write intensely for a certain number of minutes, hoping to increase your project’s word count. Many writers, such as Monica Leonelle and Chris Fox, recommend writing sprints both to build up a daily writing habit, and to learn to write more quickly. After all, much writing failure and abandoning of books takes place because we can’t get our brilliant ideas down on the page before we lose all interest in the project.

But doing your writing sprints isn’t enough. Both Monica Leonelle and Chris Fox recommend recording your writing sprints, to see how you are making progress. Chris Fox has a downloadable spreadsheet you can get at: https://www.chrisfoxwrites.com/5kwph/. I have used this on both my old Windows computer and my current Mac.

The spreadsheet can work for sprints of any length of time— 5 minutes, 8 minutes, 10 minutes, 25 minutes. It gives you your words-per-hour so you can compare how you are progressing, if you write more in shorter sprints, and so on.

Monica Leonelle recommends doing 8 minute sprints. Why? Because 8 minutes feels like a tiny time commitment. You can’t always work in time for an hour of writing, but 8 minutes? You can quick sit down and do that without much fuss. And if you start doing an 8 minute sprint every single writing day, and you learn to write a bit faster, you will in time be able to finish your writing project.

My most recent sprints
Yesterday I did an 8 minute session, writing by means of my dictation software. And then did 2 more 8 minute sessions. Dictation can be helpful if only because it can make us separate the first-draft writing process from the editing/fixing process, but I must admit that when I’m dictating, I do make corrections when I am afraid the interesting mistakes that my Mac’s Enhanced Dictation makes will mean that I will forget the clever words I actually said. When I do today’s sprint, I am going to try to minimize the corrections. My word counts on the 3 sprints were: 203, 125 and 185.

The spreadsheet gives you several choices to characterize the KIND of sprint you are doing: writing, editing, ‘other’… Since I do both dictation and keyboard writing, I use ‘writing’ to mean keyboard writing, and ‘other’ to mean dictation. I haven’t done any editing sprints yet.

What about you?

If you want to work on your writing habit using writing sprints, here are your assignments for today:

    1. Buy and download Monica Leonelle’s book ‘8-minute writing habit.‘ Start reading the book.
    2. Download Chris Fox’s spreadsheet. It’s free. https://www.chrisfoxwrites.com/5kwph/
    3. Do at least 1 writing sprint of 8 minutes. Use either keyboard writing or dictation. Or you can do one session of each. Record your word counts for each sprint and enter them into your spreadsheet.
    4. BONUS: buy Chris Fox’s 5000 Words Per Hour. Read that when you have finished the Monica Leonelle book.
    5. Accountability step: mention your word counts for today on your blog, Facebook page, or Twitter. Anyplace you can have a fairly supportive crowd.

Are you happy with the current state of your daily writing habit and your writing speed? If not, are you doing anything to improve your situation? Why aren’t you doing an 8-minute writing sprint RIGHT NOW? Go do one, I’ll wait. And brag about your word count for the sprint in a comment!

Avoiding anti-male bigotry with the Reverse Bechdel Test

International symbol of masculinity

In the July/August 2018 issue of Writer’s Digest, on page 8, is an article called ‘Girl Talk’ which touts the ‘Bechdel Test’ as a way to write more feminist fiction. Yeah, ick.

The Bechdel test is actually familiar to me. It originated in a Lesbian comic strip, ‘Dykes to Watch Out For,’ that I used to read at a time I was not a Christian. I must confess it’s hard for me to take a comic-inspired test seriously.

Now, the common feminist belief is that the writing world is actively hostile to women. But there are actual genres out there that are JUST for women readers and women writers. Romance novels, chick-lit, Lesbian fiction…. there’s nothing quite like that just-for-guys. And anti-male sexism is rampant in these women-only forms of literature.

 

How many works of WOMEN’S fiction would pass a reverse Bechdel test? Here are the rules:
1. The work must have two men in it.
2. They must speak to one another.
3. They must speak about something other than a woman.

 

OK, think about the last women’s romance novel you read (traditional or Lesbian.) Who were the men in it? Did they talk to each other? About something other than a woman? I think a lot of romances wouldn’t measure up as masculinist fiction. (And if all women need to be feminists, why shouldn’t all males have to be ‘masculinist’ and let a men’s movement shape all their opinions for them?)

 

Most of the time, the men in a romance novel talk about the fictional heroine. The talk may be complimentary, or it may be harsh. If harsh, the man is probably either a villain, or the love interest who is destined to change his mind. All males in women’s fiction are destined to serve the pleasure of the female reader. Quite literally the pleasure, in the case of the misnamed ‘sexy romance’ novel. (It’s actually not romance at all, but sex fiction with a requirement for 3 full-on sex scenes per novel.)

As for Lesbian romances? Many might as well take place on a planet with an all-female population. In fact, one of the Lesbian novels I own DOES take place on a planet with an all-female population. That one would flunk the Reverse Bechdel Test bigtime.

 

But wait a minute. There are much more important tests your fiction REALLY has to pass that are about more important things than if your work rigidly conforms to this year’s ideas about ‘diversity.’ (No one has suggested a test to create ‘diverse’ fiction which portrays political conservatives, American Republicans, or prolife persons as human beings entitled to respect and a lack of bullying.)

The real test of your novel’s plot is this: Are all the actions, characters and conversations in the plot furthering the plot? If you put in a scene with two unconnected women in your thriller novel discussing how much they want Elizabeth ‘Pocahontas’ Warren for our next president, it may help your novel pass the Bechdel Test, but if it doesn’t help any of your characters find the terrorist nuclear device hidden in the center of Washington, DC, that conversation has no real place in your novel. Cut it, unless you have a readership that demands feminist ideology and doesn’t care about plot. (Sadly, there probably are no readerships that don’t care about plot.)

Science Fiction: Space Colonization stories

When we watch science-fiction series like Star Trek and Star Wars, it is assumed that somewhere in the universe there are Terran space colonies. There are Earth-type worlds were Earth human people grow crops and manufacture goods. These worlds support the larger culture of the series.

But where do these colonies come from? How were they formed? What kind of people went to the colonies? Did they go voluntarily, or were they required to? These are the kind of questions you must answer when writing a space colonization story.

One of the first questions is that of government involvement. Are the first colonists on the new world subject to an all-ruling government? Or are they, once they arrive, able to form their own government? We can look at examples of colonization from our own world and, in the United States, from our own history.

The Pilgrims that came on the Mayflower took it for granted that they could make some of their own governmental rules. They did not believe that they had to enforce the primacy of the Anglican Church. They were of course dissenters from the Anglican Church, and they built dissenting church communities, feeling they had the freedom to do so.

Some space colonies might be heavily supported by the home planet. Goods from the home planet might be brought to make the colonists’ lives easier. On other colonies, the colonists might be dumped with a handful of primitive tools, and allowed to survive or not by their own efforts period

Medical support is one thing that colonists may need to live without. On our own world and in our own culture, hospitals are available both for emergencies, and for routine events like childbirth. Women tend to expect high levels of medical care during pregnancy. They expect advanced interventions in cases where something goes wrong. In some cases, they expect genetic screening, followed by the termination of the lives of imperfect unborn infants. On a space colony world, women may not be given much medical support at all. Pregnancy terminations may be considered taboo, especially if done for the limitation of family size. Colonies must have an expanding population to survive. Routine abortions might make this impossible.

A big question is whether the colonists are volunteers, exiles, or draftees. Volunteer colonists may seen as the ideal, but very many people might wish to avoid giving up their whole lives to come to a primitive world. If life is made hard for certain minority groups, such as practicing Christians or Jews, these groups maybe willing to leave Earth to gain the right to practice their religion in peace. If colonists are drafted and taken against their will, they will be very disaffected, but will not choose two fail to survive just to spite those who ordered them there.

A big part of any space colonization story is the surprises. A planet is a very large place. There may be lifeforms or other dangers which have not been detected prior to the arrival of the colonists. The colonists will have to cope with these dangers on their own, whether they like it or not.

Many space colonization stories start with the very first days of colonization. Others may start years or generations after the beginning of the colony. It all depends on what the authors’ interests are. And the readers. What kind of colonization might you like to read or write?

This blog post has been written using the Enhanced Dictation available on a Mac computer. It is considered a good practice to use the dictation software on blog posts, emails and note taking, to make it easier to dictate the novel. Dictating is a skill that must be practiced.