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.

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.)

The Great Novel-Dictating Experiment

This is day two of my experiment in dictating my novel. I am using the dictation software that came with my Mac. It is a secondhand Mac that I bought a few years ago. There is similar voice dictation software built into the old Windows computer I had previously, but I didn’t use it. Whether you have a Mac or a PC, Google around to find info on the voice dictation software that came with your computer.

So far I have done 1000 words on each of the two days I have been working this way. There are a few little difficulties but I am overcoming them.

You may think that you have to memorize a lot of commands in order to use the dictation. That’s not so. Since you’re going to be editing anyway, you can add many features such as additional punctuation, quotation marks, and other things. You can start out just saying ‘period’ and ‘comma’ to add the most essential punctuation, and saying ‘new line’ or ‘new paragraph’ to add line or paragraph breaks. Actually, using the Extended Dictation on Mac, you are supposed to say “Press return key.”

One problem that dictation software has is with proper names. If your main character is named Tom, Harry or Adolph, dictation can spell it. But if you have strange character or place names, as an fantasy or science fiction novels, dictation cannot handle these names. The solution is to add a placeholder name. Use common names as substitutes for your characters strange real names, or the names of your fantasy cities and planets. Yes, it is silly to have a planet named Iowa when its real name is Glariniafini. But it’s a good workaround. You can just do a find-and-replace during the edit phase.

Fast flow writing

You may have heard about the importance of fast flow writing. This is writing really fast, without worrying about spelling, punctuation or getting all the details right. Dictation was made for fast flow writing. You can produce a lot more text with the fast flow than with more careful writing. Since correction is required in either case, you might as well write faster in the first draft phase. Forget those commas and semicolons! Just write!

I am currently writing this blog post with Extended Dictation, directly on to  WordPress. It’s not as easy as writing it on Scrivener first, and then cutting and pasting. But it is far easier than typing it.

A little trick

Sometimes when I’m dictating a sentence, it clearly misspells a word. Or it gets my words wrong. Often it’s because I didn’t speak clearly enough. When I see this, I just dictate the sentence again more clearly. I can just delete the sentence that did not come out well. Sometimes I’ve said a phrase or sentence three times before Extended Dictation came up with the best that it could do with the sentence in question.

I am still using the dictation that came with my Mac,. I downloaded something called Extended Dictation, which means I can dictate without being connected to the Internet. It works fairly well. At this point I don’t think it’s worthwhile to spend $300 on DragonDictate since I don’t know how long I am going to continue to write this way. The Extended Dictation works well enough for my current purposes.

And so that is my blog post for the day. I hope it will inspire anyone who’s experimenting with dictation software on their own. Please share your experiences in a comment.

 

Link

Use your voice to enter text on your Mac

Dictating your Novel

A number of authors of books on how to write faster have suggested using dictation software to write your novel. Is this really a good idea? Isn’t writing supposed to be about, well, writing? Or could dictating help you write faster or better or overcome Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

I have thought for some time of buying DragonDictate. This is a software which allows you to dictate your text. But I have discovered that both Macs and PCs come with dictation software built in these days. I am dictating this blog post with the dictation that comes on my Mac.

It is awkward. It is a new skill that I have to master if I want to write this way. So far, my work tends to be more prosaic and boring if I dictate it. But I’ve only been doing this for two days.

I have written a post in my personal writing diary using this method. It’s awkward. I think I said that already. I have also started a new WIP using only dictation. I did about 800 words this morning, and after revising, I ended up with over 1000. I feel like it might work for me.

Using dictation is one way a writer with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome can continue to write. By dictating, you can avoid having to use your poor abused hands.

You also have to learn a few voice commands. For example, you have to use the words ‘period’ and ’comma’ to add punctuation to your text. (The dictation software did not handle this previous sentence very well.)

Is this worth doing? Even if you don’t have any physical disabilities that make typing hard?

It could be, if only as a change of pace. It’s doing something different. If you feel like a failure when writing the normal way, dictation might be a way to revive your interest in writing.

Can it increase your writing speed? It can be fast, but you have to wait for the software to catch up with your words. And you have to go over to make corrections. But I think I composed this blog post in a shorter amount of time than normal.

Have you ever tried writing with dictation? Did it work for you? If you want to give it a try, do an Internet search on ‘dictation’ or ‘voice to text’. You will find something that will explain how to activate dictation on your own computer. Practice a while. It may be something that is useful for you.