How to build good writing habits.
I watched the new Matrix last week. It was enjoyable. I liked seeing Neo and Trinity together again after so many years, with their gorgeous wrinkles and meaningful eye contact. I loved that the local cafe is named “SimuLatte.” There’s also a really great writing room montage – I’m biased, but I think it’s the best scene in the film.
Anyway, all of that is just to make the point that WOW, we humans really are so programmable! This morning, as freezing rain slicks the street outside, I am wilfully transporting myself to Tuscany with this 4 hour Enchanted April Youtube video.
As virtual birds sing out of my speakers and peaceful light motes dance across my TV screen, my whole mental and physiological state has changed.
Write with me in Italy!
I am coming to Tuscany (the real Tuscany!) and leading a writing retreat from April 23-29th. If your writing life needs an infusion of craft, focus, and friendship, and you can get to Italy in 23 days, it’s not too late to join us. Our retreat has room for 2 more writers ( you can even bring a non-writing friend or spouse with you).
Meanwhile, Duolingo is teaching me Italian with its addictive, game design tactics. I’m into it! More than that: I appreciate the way this app is taking over my brain. The candy colours and incessant pop-ups give me constant dopamine hits that are actually helping me learn, And building this new neurology feels so good.
I’m reading Atomic Habits by James Clear (more on this below) at the same time. This gives me the neat meta-experience of learning how Duolingo is making my brain more plastic as I change my identity into someone who speaks Italian, moving my mouth awkwardly around vowels to say the phrase, Io sono una scrittrice.*
*I am a writer. (or, Io sono uno scrittore, for people who identify as men.)
How to keep good writing habits.
Atomic Habits is a great book. Though it’s seriously lacking feminist theory, I do like what he says about changing your habits to live into the identity you choose – rather than trying to produce a desired outcome.
For instance: saying I run every day because I am a runner is more powerful than saying I run every day so I can run 10K by the end of the year.
Because once you run 10K, then what? You reach your goal, and your motivation runs out, because it was based on the end result. But when you make your running practice about living your life as a runner, then your habit is built on running. You might run 15K and 20K and maybe even a marathon. Your identity (and life) changes as a result.
You see where I’m going with this.
Saying, I write every day because I am a writer strengthens good writing habits more than saying, I write every day so I can finish writing this book.
When you identify as a writer, you start arranging your life around being a writer. The habits fall into place because they are aligned with who you are. You start to ask yourself, What would a writer do today? How would a writer plan her schedule this month? What does a writer do in the summer? Etc.
Extra tips & recommendations for your writing practice
Understanding more about how you personally feel about making commitments can help you with your habit-keeping. I’ve written a little about Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies here. It’s worth knowing your Tendency before you choose your tiny habits!
Speaking of practice, habits and desired outcomes, Martha Beck also mentioned Atomic Habits in a recent episode of her Gathering Room podcast. She has her own response to the book, and it’s such a great take – an inspiring teaching on the transformational value of tiny incremental practices (like 10 scrawny minutes of writing a day) and how to have a breakthrough. Have a listen.
Ready to start writing, begin a new practice (and/or live into your identity as a writer)? That’s what I’m here for.
I recommend joining Centered. You’ll get daily writing prompts delivered to your inbox every day. You’ll also meet other writers and gather for monthly co-writing dates, workshops, and live readings. Centered supports your writing habit by making it a lifestyle.
If you want to focus on craft and technique, you can learn how to be a better writer by doing the Story Course. Learn about this self-paced program here.
You can also get on the waitlist for the Story Intensive, which takes you through the Story Course, but with deadlines, feedback, and live guidance.
Photo credit: Chloe Frost-Smith on Unsplash.