What I’m learning about writing: habit
A few weeks ago, I had spent more time than I want to admit opening Scrivener, popping down a hundred words and then thinking that I would become inspired later, that I would know what happens next later. I had gone from actively writing a book to occasionally brushing up against an unfinished manuscript. I was barely writing. Instead, I engaged in the things I enjoy more, like sitting and crying. And once I had exhausted sitting and crying, I opened Scrivener again and wrote things like, She cried until the only thing left to do was stop crying.
Yes, I have already chosen my awards ceremony dress.
The trouble is, I’ve told people I’m writing a book. People like my dad. Every day he calls me and we have this conversation:
How is your writing going?
Yeah, I wrote 200 words this week.
Okay. At that rate, it’s going to take you seven years to write your first draft.
ME SITS AND CRIES
I hate lack of progress (which is paradoxical, because I am also menacingly lazy). It hurt me to admit to totally failing at finishing what I was writing. I wanted to be able to pick up the phone and say, “Yeah, I wrote 10,000 words this week.”
The idea of creating a writing habit is touted by fair dinkum every writing book I’ve ever pretended to read. Block out hours of time in your diary, like a meeting, and make that time non-negotiable writing time. Make your office for work, and your kitchen table for creativity. Write in the mornings, before you check your email or go behind paywalls.
So, motivated by the idea of finishing my book this decade, I opened up my Outlook calendar and made a new appointment.
Location: At your desk
Time: 2pm – 3:30pm
Then I clicked on Recurrence and checked Every day.
I’m good at forming habits. People with anxiety disorders often are. Turn down this street, have a panic attack. Enter the supermarket, have a panic attack. Get a clean glass because the old glass might be poisoned. I’ve had drinking habits, smoking habits, sex habits and food habits.
Ergo, I could also successfully form a writing habit, right?
Every afternoon, while I have my head down in code or emails, a reminder pops up. WRITE AT YOUR DESK! Five minutes later. WRITE AT YOUR DESK! I’m scared of computers, so after snoozing three times I give in to its demands.
And I write from 2pm to 3:30pm. To form my habit, and to move my story.
At first it was nearly impossible. “But I have to finish this first!” I shouted. “I have to go to the toilet! I have to sweep the back verandah! I have to put out the washing! I have to make a lasagne! I have to go to the shops! I have to wax my moustache! I have to brush the dog! I have to watch The Matrix! I have to buy an octopus! I have to dress up like Heston Blumenthal! I have to time travel! I have to buy a star in someone else’s name!”
But I slogged through it. I wrote a word and then another word until I had some words and it was time to watch Everyday Gourmet with Justine Schofield.
Then then this amazing thing happened. Every day at 1:30pm, I began to think about my story. Not consciously, just in snippets and scenes in the back of my mind. The characters started to have opinions about things, about where I had left them and where they should go next. They kicked me in the shins and pulled on my hair and told me it was time to write, and by 2pm I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to do more than write.
I formed a habit. I convinced my brain that at 2 o’clock every afternoon, we write for an hour and a half. So now we do.
And this week, I wrote 8000 words.