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?

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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