If you’ve known me a while you’ll know I love a good goal (2015 writing planner anyone?). Actually I think they’re essential if you want to live a fulfilling life. You can just drift about waiting for interesting stuff to happen to you and end up wondering where the years went, or you can work out what you really want to do/have/be next and take steps to get there.
There’s just one problem. A goal alone won’t get you very far. The existence of the goal doesn’t magically mean that book will get completed, that you’ll be a better writer at the end of the year, or that you’ll make hundreds of sales.
So what makes the difference between achieving your goals (or making good progress at least) and that sinking feeling of failure at the end of the year?
It’s not that you shouldn’t have big goals (you absolutely should), but even when they’re broken down into small steps the scale of the task ahead can be overwhelming.
What would happen if, knowing that you had a goal of writing a novel this year, you put that aside entirely and focused all of your energy on writing 500 words (or doing equivalent work) every day?
We have a tendency to think that we need to make big progress every time we pick something up to make it worthwhile, but if you were to sit and write just 500 words every day Monday to Saturday, you wouldn’t have written enough words for a novel draft by the end of the year. You’d have enough for two.
The brilliant thing about habits is that although they take a while to get into because they are built by repetition (meaning you have to actually do them for a while), they become routine behaviours that you do automatically. This means that once you’re in the habit of writing regularly it will just be something you do, like the way you do your washing on a Sunday almost without thinking about it. The more often you write the easier the act of sitting down and writing gets.
The important thing is to create some kind of space and time for writing in your life and to make it an automatic part of your life.
What would be the best, most appealing habit for you? It’s pick your own adventure time, and here are 5 good habits for writers to get you thinking:
- If you’re re-starting or struggling with procrastination, just sit at your desk for one minute every day with your manuscript open. Don’t feel silly about it, and don’t start thinking you must write. If you do, you do, if you don’t you still sat there. Once that habit is ingrained you can take another step.
- If you’re writing but doing it inconsistently, try 750 words. It’s free and gives you cool badges when you write consistently, and rewards are good for forming habits.
- Read whenever you’re on a train or bus. Writers need to read.
- Keep a note by your bedside and write down at least one idea or one thing you’ve noticed every day. Doesn’t matter what it is, just that you do it, that you make a habit of noticing, of thinking like a writer.
- Pick an activity where your brain isn’t fully occupied (walking, showering, washing up) and get into the habit of asking yourself questions about your writing. Who is that character, why does this happen, what happens next, what’s the problem here?