Writing is hard, so we avoid it. Yet, writing is the number one thing we want to do. Quite the paradox, isn’t it?
It’s normal to want to avoid things that are difficult and require a lot of energy, as writing most certainly does. But it’s also the only way to complete a manuscript. Instead of stressing about when to write or why you’re not writing, why not create better writing habits?
We all know that once we’re in the flow, it’s easy. But we’re not always flowing forth with ideas and words. Sometimes we need to force ourselves to get in the groove. And that can happen if we just kick-start good writing habits.
Make Your Brain Crave Writing Time
Our brains mostly run on automatic. We don’t consciously think about walking or brushing our teeth or putting pajamas on before we sleep. Once you’ve passed the toddler years, you don’t usually bargain or complain about having to brush your teeth. You just do it. It’s easier on our brain to do things on automatic. That frees it up to think intentionally about what’s important. Once we do a behavior long enough, it becomes routine. We need to make writing routine.
Unfortunately, writing and other conscious thoughts are controlled by a different part of the brain. This part of the brain is the reasoning brain, which sounds good until you realize it’s also the voice that tells you: “Don’t you have some laundry to do instead? Wouldn’t it be better to check social media? What are you going to write about, anyway? What’s the point? You haven’t published anything so far. You’d write more, but you just don’t have the time.”
Does any of that deleterious self-talk sound familiar?
The good news is that you can change it. And you can change it by changing your habits. You just need to make writing as automatic as tooth brushing. To do so, you’re going to have to…write. Regularly. For a set period of time. And you’re going to have to do it even when those good excuses come into your brain. The only way to set the pattern of writing is to do it when you don’t want to do it.
You don’t have to do it seven days a week, but you should plan to do it most days or at least regularly. To the extent that you can do it at the same time every day, you will begin to establish a pattern. If you can do it in a designated place, forming that pattern will be even easier. Eventually, your brain will crave writing at that time.
A Spoonful of Sugar Helps
According to Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit, our brains take to habits better if they get a little dopamine kick when we do them. If the reward center in our brains lights up, we’ll look forward to the behavior more. I don’t know about you, but when the alarm goes off in the morning, I often remember how much I enjoy drinking coffee, and it helps me get out of bed easier. My reward for getting up in the morning is hot coffee.
The fact is, I’ve got to get out of bed and so do you. Adults don’t get a round of applause for it, but if it feels easier by getting a reward (in this case, coffee), then so be it. Why not find a little reward for writing time too? It could be a tasty beverage. You could use a carrot/stick approach with yourself by saying that you’re not “allowed” to check social media until you’ve “earned” it by doing an hour of uninterrupted writing time. Whatever it takes. Just know your brain will crave writing time more if it’s associated with a dopamine boost.
Duhigg also said that habits form when they start with a cue, followed by the routine itself, and then end with a reward. If we keep the wakeup time analogy going, we hear the alarm, we get up and do our morning ritual, and we get a treat (like not getting fired, lol, or delicious coffee or breakfast).
Most of us write in our spare time from home. We do it for no pay for a long time. The reward might be far off and the routine is what we want to establish. Let’s start with the low-hanging fruit: the cue. Set an alarm on your phone or make a schedule for at least a week. Show up and execute that schedule. Maybe your cue to write is an actual alarm. Maybe it’s when the kids get on the school bus. Perhaps it’s when your lunch break starts. Pick a trigger and stick with it. Soon you’ll be like Pavlov’s dog, salivating, er…itching to write, when your cue goes off.