Monday, April 29, 2013

Creators of Habit: Writing that Works for You

In “7 F***in' Great Ways to Build Your Writing Routine,” author Phil Jourdan recently shared a tried and true science experiment. In an effort to increase his writing productivity, Jourdan researched the psychology of habit-formation. He then applied a few new theories and tricks to his daily writing routine—with perhaps not surprising results. 

Writers or not, we are all creatures of habit. We have our quirks and ticks. We have favorite TV shows that must be seen on a particular night with a particular snack, or we have preferred chairs for curling up with a good book. We are drawn to the familiar, be it fashion or cuisine. For those of us who write, we have—whether we acknowledge it or not—a pattern of behavior that either works for us or doesn’t. 

In his drive to understand his creative productivity, Jourdan took a serious look at how he spends his writing time. He made observational notes. He evaluated what aspect of writing results in the most (and least) word count. He set boundaries on social media and phone calls. And, most importantly, he acknowledged that there is something within him, something ingrained as part of his habitual act of writing, that governs all else. 

“Why? Because I am an animal and I respond to environmental cues.”

So often I hear emerging writers speak about their productivity woes. “If I had more time to write”… “I want to write, but I get stuck”… “I have writer’s block”… and so on. We all hear it. We have perhaps been there ourselves.  

Yet I’ve often wondered how much of this lack of productivity is our own fault. Emerging writers hear so much advice, and all too often the tips for success are prescriptive, even if vague: Write every day. Wake up an hour early. Stay up an hour late. Don’t leave your page until you hit the desired word count. 

Specific? Yes, in some ways. But as Jourdan discovered, writing 250 words of dialogue is not the same as writing 250 words of narration. Every piece of the writing puzzle has a high or low and what may move quickly for one writer may be slow and draining for another.  Or, while one writer may find morning writing time to be exhilarating, another may find the early hours to be less focused. We need to recognize our own strengths and weaknesses whether these conform to someone else’s advice and standards or not. 

My own habits have altered over the years. I have not forced myself to change; rather, I have adopted in response to what has happened organically. I used to be a heavy night writer, staying up until 4 or 5am to complete a chapter. Now I crank out more words before 10am than I would have ever imagined. Our lives change. Our bodies and internal clocks change. 

Forcing myself to stick with the old habit would dampen my productivity. Instead, I have grown into the changes by recognizing my own habits. Like Jourdan, I acknowledge what works and what doesn’t—for me. While I used to enjoy the thrill of completing a chapter in full, I now prefer to leave a chapter incomplete at the very last paragraph. The next time I sit down to write, I know exactly where to pick up. I don’t need to generate momentum. I finish the train of thought left hanging the day before and in no time I am moving on to the next page, the next chapter. This is a trick I implemented organically a few years ago. I could have never foreseen this tactic working for me, but it does. Now. 

What Jourdan’s article brings home is this: our creative power is ours and ours alone. All the dos and don’ts offered by others are just one piece of the puzzle. It’s up to us to determine how and why we write the way we do. There are no wrong ways to go about your writing day. 

Learning what works for you—and working with that knowledge—can not only heighten your productivity, it can alleviate any lingering guilt that you’re doing something wrong or not living up to your potential when compared to others. If we allow ourselves to create in the environment that suits us best, and respond to those creature habits that influence our state of contentment, then we’re on the right track. Then we’re focused on the writing.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Prioritization: Or, the Fine Art of Hypocrisy and Procrastination

I have been putting off a much-needed salon appointment. The last receipt I have for a proper haircut is dated September 2010. I know this for certain because I am obsessed with tracking our finances. Some people live in anticipation of a zombie apocalypse. I live as though a tax audit could come at any moment. I blame this paranoia on the nature of self-employment.

Yet it’s not a matter of finances why I haven’t stepped into a salon. Rather, it’s my fear of commitment and a stalemate with the necessity of change.

I once had a stylist that knew exactly what to do with my hair. He was creative and impulsive, eager to experiment with color and cuts, and yet I trusted whatever he proposed. He knew my strands better than I did. So when he moved to Vancouver and I moved to Michigan, I feared the search for a new, trusting relationship.

I have dabbled. Three strangers have since cut my hair. But it’s not the same. I have yet to establish the rapport and the confidence I once had with a scissor-wielding warrior. So rather than make my stylist search a priority, I have conceded defeat. When necessary, I pick up the scissors and trim off my own split ends, content for the time being to ignore what needs to be done.

This is not unlike how I have recently treated my blog. 

For some time, I have been imagining a new layout, style, and approach to my blog. Of course, implementing these changes would take time and thus we come to the predicament. While I have the desire for change, I have not made this a priority in my schedule. Between an international move, getting hitched, roadtripping half the year, and—thankfully—a number of deadlines to tend to, the blog simply didn’t measure up in the priority list.

But each and every time I open my mouth to share social media tips, suggest ways we can connect with one another online, and exercise our creative brains through blogging, I want to smack myself down and point a finger. In not tending to my blog, I have become a hypocrite. So, enough is enough. No more. I may not make the time for my hair, but I am finally revamping my blog.

And, so, I now present the redesigned, newly titled blog, “Journeys & Destinations.” I will continue to share book reviews. I will continue to share musings on the craft of writing. I will most certainly continue to share opportunities for writers and feature interviews with inspiring authors. But I also want to share some personal stories. 

Since my husband and I roadtrip about 30,000 miles each year, purposely covering territory off the interstate, I want to share mini tales of people, places, and experiences from the small towns and bustling urban centers we have visited. I want to share the food we’ve tasted and the micro-roasted coffee that I am obsessed with finding on the road. I want to share our near brushes with disaster and our embarrassment in getting lost—only to discover something worth finding. I want to share and connect.

So hold me to it, dear reader. While I won’t be updating the blog daily, you should find at least one new post each week. That will make me feel like less of a hypocrite. That should put blogging back on the mid-list of my priorities. And, who knows? With this task in check, I may move my way down the list and make time, finally, to find a new stylist.