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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