Habits can be good or bad, and sometimes—at the most inconvenient times—habits can be terribly distracting.
What does this mean for the budding writer aiming to finish that novel hidden away in the back of a drawer? Well, it means you’re human.
So don’t fret too much just yet.
But if you’re prone to watching squirrels outside your window or falling down those pesky rabbit holes, never to return to the writing you swore you’d do, I have a few suggestions for you.
Note: I based these thoughts and suggestions on my experience as a neurotypical, creative individual who struggles with chronic illness.
Let’s look at habits and what they mean:
- First up, we have GOOD habits.
James Clear—probably my favorite habit guru—defines a habit as this:
The small decisions you make and actions you perform every day.
– JAMES CLEAR –
That’s it. Habits comprise all the tiny actions you do over and over throughout your life. These habits together reflect:
- ✨The goals you have,
- ✨The things you value,
- ✨Your energy levels and how your brain works,
- ✨And the person you ultimately want to become.
That’s why habits are unique to each of us as individuals.
You can look at the habits of other writers to provide a baseline for what to do each day. But you should always, always measure your habits by your unique circumstances.
Here’s an example from my life…
I am a night owl. I’ve always had trouble turning in early and waking up before 8 o’clock in the morning.
From the days in high school when I had to catch the bus super early every morning—but I pretended to be awake and getting ready when I was actually sleeping in—until now when I stay up until (at least) 2 a.m., I really don’t know how to be anything else.
Those early 5 a.m. drink-a-pound-of-coffee-just-to-get-going writing challenges won’t do anything for me.
Does this mean that I’m doomed as a writer? NO!
In fact, I can get a lot accomplished if I build habits around my natural sleep rhythms.
After years and years of trying to fit in, I decided while I can wake up and exchange pleasantries with the best of the morning folk; I am not a morning person. My body doesn’t feel good or right in the early morning.
So why would I try to cram my habits into someone else’s mold of what they think “a good writer” looks like? Knowing myself and what works best for me, I can craft a GOOD habit that is based on my personality, values, and energy levels.
Building a good habit can and should reflect those things.
BUT what about BAD habits, you might ask?
I want you to ponder this question: Is there really such a thing as a bad habit or is it more like you have a habit that isn’t serving you? A habit that you want to adjust to better fit your goals/values/energy levels/busy day/etc?
I believe what we call “bad habits” are simply things we’ve done without reflecting on why it’s done and how it fits into the larger picture of our life.
It’s easy to get into an imperfect routine made up of habits that don’t fit our values or lives. (And I’ll go so far as to say that we’re always course correcting. That’s what life is, right? One big imperfect routine? But I digress.)
You might not write every single day. Or you might not be able to for whatever reasons.
BUT you might desire to write more often. Yet writing every single day doesn’t work for everyone. You might work twelve-hour shifts, then look at my life and habits and think, “I should write more.”
Your habit of not writing often is just a result of your lifestyle and work schedule.
Sometimes it’s a result of other creative struggles we all endure (perfectionism, comparisonitis, imposter syndrome, etc). And sometimes you might have other things, like me (chronic illness), that make consistent writing a challenge. If you want to write more often, you can make a habit change.
But that change needs to fit into your life.
You value writing. You want to be a writer. And you might want to change some habits.
If you have habits you don’t like, my challenge to you is to look at why you’re doing what you’re doing.
Then ask yourself a few questions:
- 1️⃣ Why am I doing this task or action? Do I want to change it to better suit my life and goals?
- 2️⃣ What do I hope to gain from what I’m doing?
- 3️⃣ Do I need tools or resources to help form a habit that’s more in line with my goals/values/energy levels/etc?
- 4️⃣ Am I in a season of my life where I need to shift my goals and habits until I have the tools or resources to do what I want?
Thinking and journaling on these things can help you shift a “bad” goal into a better one.
Last up, we have something that I believe everyone deals with at one time or another: Distraction habits.
These are the habits you might use whenever you’re facing creative resistance. Or whenever you find a lull in your day.
Computer taking too long to load that program you need to use? Cue picking up your phone.
“Only for a minute,” you say.
Then thirty minutes later you’ve watched the entirety of TikTok and you’re left wondering what you wanted to do before the lovely people on the Internet distracted you. I’m not speaking from personal experience or anything. 😂
If you do this once in a while, and you don’t care that you have the occasional trip down social media distraction lane, no worries. But if you do this every single time you open a program on your computer, you may have developed a habit that isn’t serving you.
A.K.A. a distraction habit.
This type of habit doesn’t have to get your whole day off course. For me, the best solution is to do one of two things:
- ✨Set a timer while I browse social media and stop when it goes off,
- ✨Or do something from my list of other tasks that better fill my time.
If you get distracted and find you’re building a habit out of your distractions, you can make a list of what you do and why you do it. Then you can look for a solution that works for you. The above are suggestions but if they don’t work for you, you can try a whole host of other solutions. Some folks will lock their phone in a drawer until they’ve finished a task. I haven’t done that yet, but there could come a day.
Now onto the practical things you can try to start habit building…
For me, I like to use habit trackers whenever I’m building a new habit. I typically use a bullet journal or a word count tracker. There are habit tracking apps, kanban boards, stickers, etc that you can use. Accountability buddies also have helped me SO much in the past.
I’m a fan of focusing on either one new habit or tracking things according to the project I’m working on.
What about you? What do you use to build your habits and create a writing routine that works for you? Leave a comment below to let us know!
Other helpful posts and resources:
- 📌 Make A Writing Routine – a blog post on habits, routines, and overcoming writer’s block from my lovely bestie who writes from a neurodivergent POV
- 📌 Atomic Habits, by James Clear (my favorite book on habits)*