This excerpt from Becoming a More Productive Writer will give you the blueprint to conquer your writing goals and achieve more from the time and energy you’ve dedicated to your writing.
Creating Change and Conquer Your Writing Goals
If you have worked through the concepts in the first chapters, you should be at this point clear on your values, writing vision, and some potential blockages, like fear.
Hopefully, you are inspired to action, but if not a lot is happening yet, there are a few more things we can try.
Create Good Writing Habits
The human brain is a fascinating thing. If we know how it works, it makes achieving your writing goals that much easier.
When it comes to habits, there are some basic rules which we need to accept and work with rather than against.
You can’t remove a bad habit, you can only replace it. So if you have any existing habits that you thought you might get rid of to create space for your new writing habit, think of it more as switching out one set of unwanted behaviors for the desired behavior instead. Whatever you are getting rid of needs another, different action to replace it.
A habit consists of a trigger, an action, and a reward. For example, getting home and seeing your couch may be the trigger for you sitting and watching TV, and the reward is both relaxation and sensory input and entertainment.
Be aware of your habit triggers.
List your usual habits, and then list what comes immediately before the habit action. It could be stress, or a certain time of day, or seeing something, or any range of things which set off a specific habit. If you want to alter the habit, you will need to remove, change or somehow manipulate the trigger so that it looks different. You could also replace the trigger with an opposite action. For example, if driving past the KFC triggers random buying and snacking, choose another route.
My writing trigger is the first cup of morning coffee. With that in hand, my natural next step now is to sit down and write. And if I don’t do so now, it feels strange. These triggers, no matter how small or large, may help you conquer your writing goals.
The stronger the reward the quicker a habit will habituate. The strongest rewards are physically pleasurable. So, food, sex, sleep or rest, comfort, stimulants like alcohol or cigarettes, and so on. Less immediate, yet still extrinsic, rewards can include money, vacations, benefits and access to resources, and last on the list come the intrinsic rewards of growth, learning, calm, happiness, a sense of achievement, satisfaction etc.
If you want something to become a habit—that is, habituate, it will be quicker and easier to initially at least, choose a stronger reward system. For me, with writing, I use meals, tasty biscuits or even a small chocolate treat—which I give to myself only after I have spent a certain amount of time writing. There are also many intrinsic rewards that back these simple things up, like satisfaction with my work, pay for work done and pride in what I have accomplished. This is where knowing your values and having a vision board also works well, as this keeps the intrinsic rewards in the front of your mind all the time.
Other things you can do include making your writing area a pleasurable place to be—adding scents, sounds, and tactile elements to make being there and doing that a reward in itself. I burn aroma oils—orange, rosemary, and cinnamon most often for concentration—and play music softly in the background. My chair is comfortable, but not too comfortable that I will fall asleep. My desk is tidy (ish) and I love running my hands over the smooth wood. All sensory pleasures which add to my writing experience.
When first starting out with a new habit, keep it very small and simple. You want the action to habituate first. So don’t set a goal of a full day of writing if you are not used to it yet. Unless you are incredibly inspired, of course. I would recommend starting with a maximum of 30 minutes a day. Once the writing action is habituated, you will find it much easier to add extra time.
The length of time it takes for an action to habituate depends on the strength of the rewards used, as well as how consistent you have been. Luckily our brains set habits based more on a law of averages—so if you sit down to write on most days, but sometimes skip a day—it won’t destroy the habit. So long as, on average, you do that thing, the thing will habituate eventually. A new habit can take anywhere from a few days to a year or more, and you will know it is set when you automatically perform the action without giving it much thought.
Get support for your new habit. Ask a friend, or mentor to check in with you, or join a writing group online or in person. Having a bit of peer pressure works for some of us. You need to figure out what level of support you need. I personally prefer not to involve friends and family; my editorial deadlines are more than enough to keep me on track. As one of my values is always following through on my word and commitments, I really hate missing writing deadlines on a number of levels.
Schedule your new habit for earlier rather than later in the day. Research has proven we have more energy, and ability, to motivate ourselves at the beginning of the day. We tend to be more positive and able to act independently of how we feel physically and emotionally. As time goes by, we become less able to do so, and by the end of a long day, it is easier to put off that activity until later, or never.
When it comes to creating a stable writing habit—which is the cornerstone to being a successful writer—you should think carefully about the following:
- What time of day will you write and for how long?
- Will you take a day off now and then? Perhaps a Sunday for family time or just to unwind?
- What will trigger your writing activity?
- How will you reward yourself and at what intervals?
- What values, vision, and dreams are the motivation for the activity?
These will all go into a personal writing plan, which we will unpack further later.
Using these tactics, I am able to conquer my monthly, quarterly, and annual writing goals. What tactics are you using to achieve writing success?
This blog post article has been an excerpt from my book Becoming a Productive Writer.