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.

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!

Creating your own writing ritual

A daily writing practice is essential to becoming any kind of successful or productive writer. And part of that can be finding a writing ritual that makes you ready to start your writing work. Some people who don’t much know about the writing life seem to think you can just wait around for inspiration. But you have to have ways to seek inspiration out and drag it home by the hair if you want a daily writing practice, not just a once-in-a-great-while habit.

Clearing the area is a part of my writing ritual. I don’t have children or other family members to worry about, but I do have a lot of cats. Some of whom are willing to jump in my lap or on the keyboard just when I really get going. So, I start the writing day by catching the in-the-house cats and putting them on the back porch. I recently streamlined this ritual by serving up some canned cat food on the porch, which made most of the cats who need to be removed from the writing area remove themselves.
Some writers, I understand, don’t need a distraction-free environment to write. In fact, some need the distractions. Which is why some people write in a coffee shop or a public library. If that is you and you have such a place handy, make plans to write there at least some of the time.

Music is essential to some writers, whether from a CD or radio station. I’ve heard that author Stephen King actually bought a local radio station to keep it playing his writing music. Music helps if it is functioning as a kind of white noise cancelling out the distractions. If the music itself is a distraction, best not to make music a part of the ritual.

Models. When I write my poetry I use models. If I am writing a sijo poem, I first copy out a sijo from one of my poetry books. I then use it as an inspiration when I write one of my own. Or else I ignore the model entirely. When prose writing, writing out a whole novel would be a bit intimidating. But I have once copied out bits of a novel I liked before beginning with my own work.

Keywords. I have been writing poetry using keywords since long before I ever knew that some poetry writing teachers recommended it. I glean keywords from a variety of sources, books, encyclopedia articles, prayerbooks, television commercials…. Or dull political speeches.

The important thing about your writing ritual is that it has to be a ritual that works for YOU, not some imaginary ideal writer that is NOT-YOU.
The other thing is to stick with a possible ritual for a while. Doing certain things every time you sit down to write is a way to train your brain to be ready for writing when you do these things. That makes writing a repeatable action you can do every day until your writing is finished.

Is ‘The Miracle Morning for Writers’ just a time sink?

Some time ago I bought a book called ‘The Miracle Morning for Writers’. Yes, I own a book that tells me how to get up in the morning! ‘The Miracle Morning for Writers’ has you getting up earlier, and gives you a list of important items to do in your new, earlier morning.

These items are called the ‘Life S.A.V.E.R.S.’ Yes, it’s an acronym, and one which renames the six practices in odd ways so they fit the acronym. They are based, so it says, on the habits of the world’s most successful people.

Silence: the first one is just a weird retake on meditation. It also mentions ‘prayer’ as a possible way to do ‘silence’, but then continues on as if we are all doing Trancendental Meditation for our ‘silence’ step. So, in other words, ‘silence’ is denatured Eastern religious practices. Some of us Christians won’t do it on principle, and so we are just to sit there and wonder if our own Christian prayer and meditation routines are really ‘proven’ as a habit of the world’s most successful people.

Affirmations: yes, the good old-fashioned New Age technique of lying to yourself daily is part of the ‘Miracle Morning.’ But it claims that the most blatant lying-to-yourself doesn’t work. You shouldn’t use ‘I am a millionaire’ as a prosperity affirmation because your mind knows it’s not true.
The only thing that affirmations are good for, in my opinion, is to change your own negative thought patterns. Affirmations aren’t a magic spell to get you more success and prosperity from the obedient universe who grants us our wishes if we express them in the right New Age way. It’s just a way to turn your brain’s ‘I fail at everything’ mantra into a ‘Sometimes I succeed’ mantra.

Visualization: Supposedly it is actually proven to work when top atheletes do it. The book recommends visualizing the process of ‘getting there’ rather than the results. So instead of seeing your book at the top of the bestseller list, you see yourself working on writing the book, or doing the things you can actually do to promote that book. Visualization might actually help— I find sometimes when I think about, and ‘visualize’, doing a dreaded task it functions as a rehersal for actually doing the task.

Exercise: Yeah, they want you to do that, too. Artificial exercise, that is. Because if you lift 40 pound hay bales all morning to get your animals fed, you aren’t exercising. You’re just farming. You have to get on a treadmill or go to a gym for your exercise to count! And some exercise does stimulate your mind. But does doing a full workout in the morning help you, or exhaust your mental energy so you can’t use that energy for your writing?

Reading: It is a little horrifying that the authors of ‘Miracle Morning for Writers’ think that they even need to pursuade writers that reading is helpful. Even if you assume that the ‘Writers’ they are writing for are just get-rich-quick schemers who pump out self-published how-to books in order to separate fools from their money. Fiction writers are at least encouraged to read some how-to-write-fiction books as well as the New Agey ‘success’ books they recommend. It doesn’t really cover the importance of reading in your genre or genres, or even that a writer is someone who actually reads books for enjoyment.

Scribing: Since the word ‘writing’ doesn’t fit the acronym, they have to call it scribing. But it doesn’t mean writing the next chapter in your Work In Progress. No, this is about writing in your journal. Yeah, keeping a journal is another task that The Miracle Morning adds to your day.

Now, what does the Life S.A.V.E.R.S. actually add up to in terms of your day? A 60 minute practice, according to the schedule they give as an example. And at the end of it you still haven’t touched your writing for the day. And the amounts of the other activities may not be enough for you. The 10 minutes for ‘Silence’ aren’t enough to, say, pray the rosary. The 10 minutes of exercise don’t seem like much, either. And 20 minutes for reading? I’d want more than that, and I’d want to do it at a time of day when I don’t have to end quick in order to get my ‘Scribing’ and my actual writing done.

Would getting up earlier to do these 60 minutes of tasks help me get my daily writing stint done? Or would they end up being a substitute for getting my writing done? I don’t really know, but given the hard time I have getting my writing and other daily tasks done, I’m not sure if it would help.

What about you, the reader? Have you ever read ‘The Miracle Morning for Writers’ and tried out its recommendations? Did you ever try something similar? How did it work for you?

I don’t know exactly if I want to try the whole ‘Miracle Morning for Writers.’ But maybe I could add the recommended activities, one by one, to see what happens.

Why only 8 minutes to build a daily writing habit?

Lately I have been working on developing a daily writing habit. Main reason: when I take a day or two off from writing, that leads to a writingless week or even more. Which tends to turn current writing projects into ones that aren’t going anywhere.

What inspires me is the idea of doing a daily 8-minute timed writing stint (you are allowed to do more.)  To get more accountability, I post daily on Facebook, tagging a few friends who also are working on their writing habit.

But the question is, why 8 minutes? Wouldn’t it be better to do an hour or two? Or even three or four hours like most professional writers do?

The problem is this: if you are trying to build a writing habit, but you know you have to do an hour or more at each writing session, it’s too easy to decide you just don’t have time for writing today.

But 8 minutes— that’s not so much of a challenge. I once did my 8 minutes just before bedtime when I thought my brain was already asleep. My brain woke up and did its job surprisingly well.

The thing about doing 8 minutes of timed writing it leads to longer writing. If you really get on a roll, are you really going to stop at 8 minutes and not even add a sentence or two? Sometimes I do a few 8 minute sessions and then perhaps do 20 or 25 minutes because I’m really hot.

Monica Leonelle suggests in her book that you can use your 8 minute sessions to increase your writing speed, so that even if you can only fit in 8 minutes, you will get many more words in.

In my experience, timed writing increases my writing speed by eliminating distractions— I don’t look up facts on the internet or pull out one of my name books to name a new character. I skip that bit and do the research later. So I don’t end up spending 6 of my 8 minutes fooling around online.

The accountability partners really help. I feel a little silly when I tag the participants and interested persons on Facebook every day. But they can tell me not to do that if they don’t want to any more. The posting— and the comments and ‘likes’ of the others— motivate me. And it’s great to see other people doing their own daily 8 minute stints.

So— do you have a habit of writing (or blogging) daily? If yes, how did you build the habit? If no, are you doing anything to change it? Perhaps you could try the 8 minute writing method to see if it works for you.

If you want to join me and my friends/followers in the daily 8-minute writing, you can drop by my author page, https://www.facebook.com/nissalovescats/  and post your daily 8 minute triumphs there. You can also ask to be on my list of tagged people. I also do it on my personal FB page, https://www.facebook.com/nissa.amas.katoj  Though maybe you should mention on my author page if you are making a friend request?


Marian Elizabeth: The 8-Minute Writing Habit http://www.marian-elizabeth.com/2015/10/the-8-minute-writing-habit.html

Monica Leonelle Will Help You Develop a Consistent Writing Habit http://www.writewithimpact.com/monica-leonelle-will-help-you-develop-a-consistent-writing-habit/

Buy The 8-Minute Writing Habit on Amazon.com https://www.amazon.com/8-Minute-Writing-Habit-Consistent-Storytellers-ebook/dp/B013ZVSFFC

My divided writing life

8MinuteWritingLately I’ve been reading & rereading Monica Leonelle’s 8 Minute Writing Habit. She recommends doing timed writing for 8 minutes as a way to create a daily writing habit. And it does work, except for one thing. I have more than one kind of writing I need to do every day, and I don’t know which to do ‘first thing in the morning.’

You see, I want to make writing poetry a daily part of my writing life. It’s the kind of writing I’ve had a bit of success at. Writing a poem is something I know I can finish, and I know I can submit my poems to literary magazines and sometimes get published.

But writing poetry is a money losing proposition if you have to buy sample copies of poetry magazines, pay for postage submissions, and get paid in nothing but contributor copies. And I’ve always dreamed of being successful at writing fiction. So working on my fiction project — a novella about a man who has to fight zombies to protect the innocent and clueless— is a priority for me. It’s something I can sell and perhaps generate money to support my poetry-writing habit.

And then there is blogging. I’d like to be able to blog daily Monday-Friday in order to build this blog up into something that’s useful to other people. And an essential part of blogging is writing comments on other people’s blogs. I’ve heard of a man who habitually writes hundreds of blog comments a day and now has a blog with about 80 comments on each of his posts.

So there I have three things that demand a place in my ‘first thing in the morning’ new writing habit. It’s enough to eat up my whole morning! And then there are other writing-related things I must do. Such as: social media activity, assembling-editing writing projects once written, and keeping myself alive and fed.

So, this is a dilemma. I wonder what other writers do who need to do more than one form of writing daily. How do you pick which goes first? How do you arrange your schedule so that all of that gets done?

Today I’m doing 8-minute timed writing sessions to get this blog post completed as the first writing act of the day. In part that’s because I’ve been sick and slept in this morning, and I do want to get my blog posts up around 7 or 8 in the morning. Perhaps when I get up earlier I can get some other writing done first and then shift to my blogging. But maybe what I really need to do is FIRST establish a daily blogging habit using the advice in Monica Leonelle’s book, and THEN, after about a month of daily blogging, work on establishing the poetry and prose writing habits. What do you think?


That pop-up

I’ve added a pop-up ad to try to get a few people to sign up for my email list. I wanted to go over to this free pop-up provider I heard about in hopes of getting a less annoying popup and putting it on enough of a delay that people could at least look at my blog content for 10 to 20 seconds before dealing with it. But after I got started with it, I found out that the pop-up from the provider doesn’t work with WordPress.com, only with WordPress.org. *Sigh*