Chapter 2 – Habits and the Lack of Them

When it comes to habits and writing, there are two types of people: the ones who have habits, and the ones who don’t. The habits can be big or small, barely noticeable or something that’ll scream to everyone present that you’ve sunk into your own writing world. It can be a certain amount of words to write, a special pen you always use, a fixed soundtrack, that one comfy armchair…

You might not even realize you have writing habits until you take a better look, as habits tend to be something you just do without really thinking about it. If you don’t have habits, don’t worry. There’s nothing stopping you from jumping camp but it takes persistency.

But how do habits affect your writing? Does it matter if you have any? Professional writers usually write daily, which makes sense as it’s their job. They write either for a set amount of time or until they reach a certain word/page count. This way they get something done every day, they don’t get rusty, and they don’t get stuck with writer’s blocks. Some have a special space only for writing. That is to help your brain connect the space to writing, which should make you more creative in it. I don’t know any professional writers personally and there are so many of them in the world that it’d be silly to try and summarize all their habits in a few sentences, but you get the idea.

Then again, I know people who are capable of writing enormous amounts of words (compared to me in any case) over a weekend, wherever they are. They might not write a word during the week, some might not have written a word for a month, and then they suddenly get inspired. So irregularity can be very effective too. Usually these people aren’t pros though: they have another job, or studies, or something else they need to use time on. It doesn’t make their writing any better or worse, they just have another way of doing it.

If you think about whether it’s good to become organized and regular or not, it comes down to a few simple questions. First consider your goals. Are you hoping to make a living? How much time are you willing to dedicate to writing? Can you tolerate several thousand (or tens of thousands) words a day or do you have a limit?

For “hobbyist” writers and those who write for their own enjoyment, it’s perfectly fine to write whenever you feel like it. But if you want to make a living with writing, habits and regularity are your friends. I’m not saying you couldn’t be successful if you only write on weekends or in 20,000 word bursts, but generally I’d say regularity is the key. It’s better to keep going, even if you’re not satisfied with your words, than to pause and realize you’ve spent the last week doing nothing.

I’ve finished two novels and I have to thank habits for it. First thing I did in the morning was write until I managed to get 2,000 words. And then I’d continue in the evening, right before bed. It started slowly: I got to the word count but it took a long while. As days went by and I became accustomed to always writing at certain times, it became easier. The words appeared faster and I didn’t need to stop much before hitting the daily target. In the end I had a finished first draft.

What happened afterwards? Well, I lost the habit. The story was done so I didn’t have a set goal and deadline, and I didn’t bother waking up early anymore. I was supposed to start editing the draft after a month but by that time I had lost my flow and touch. The poor manuscript is still un-edited after two years, abandoned and alone, occasionally crying out for me to pick it up again. I keep telling it “later,” but just between you and me, I doubt it’s going to happen. But never say never.

The second novel, written with similar habits, is doing much, much better. In fact it’s the novel I’m preparing to publish! I will dedicate a post (several probably) to it later and go into more details, but for now it’s not important. What’s important is what I did differently. I became organized and stayed that way through the editing phase. I set goals and I did my best to stick to them. There were lapses and currently I’m about… five months behind the initial schedule. But that’s alright because even belated, I still kept doing what I was supposed to: editing, or at the very least planning on what to edit next, or working on the cover image, or figuring out how the self-publishing thing actually works.

For shorter stories I tend to write them on one or two goes. It’s easier to stay in the flow and the right mood when I write the whole thing from start to finish. My short stories are usually only a few pages long so it’s not that hard, but with longer stuff I should definitely stick to a daily schedule.

If I think about my writing habits as a whole, I have to say I don’t have many. I don’t usually write daily, I don’t have a fixed spot where I write, and I keep changing the program I use to write. I already mentioned a little bit about this in my previous post (Blank Page =/= Blank Mind), but if go too long without writing, I usually run into a block when I try to start again. So for me the lack of habits can be very bad. However, I know I’m capable of forming habits when I put my mind into it. Now that I still have my daily habits clear in mind after editing my soon-to-be-published novel, I’m definitely going to hold on to them and hopefully even end up in a situation where I do write daily, even if it’s just a short story or one scene. Blogging should help me as my goal is to post once-twice a week, so I have to write at least that much.

Another great force that makes you get a routine and keep to it is something called National Novel Writing Month. My next post will be dedicated only to it, but a short description is that it is held every November and your goal is to write 50,000 words during the month. That’s 1,667 words a day. You can probably see the need for regularity.

To wrap up this post, I’d say writing habits are great to have but unless you’re really aiming to become a full-time writer, it’s not something to worry about too much. Everyone probably has some kind of habits already and with some effort it’s fairly easy to build on that until you’ve created the habit you want, be it 500 words a day or spending an hour doing nothing but writing. Do you have any habits? Do you feel they’re helpful? You probably thought something while reading this, so go ahead and share your ideas!

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