What are the most life-changing habits for writers?
This week, I was looking through photos on my desktop, trying to find a certain one. I came across a photo I took of my new year’s resolutions for 2010. Written in bold black Sharpie at the top of the list was: “Publish!” I had to smile. It didn’t happen that year. As a matter of fact, it never just happens. I had to get tough with myself and make it happen. And the way I did it was to get mad enough to actually change my routines and patterns of behavior. There was mental work, sure, but the most powerful work was in setting up new behaviors. Interested? Check out these life-changing habits for writers:
Stop Watching/Reading the News So Much
I know, we want to be informed, responsible citizens. But you’re a writer. Think about the news from the perspective of a writer. Imagine you have two stories. The first is an upbeat, positive story of peace and growth, with skillful descriptions of glorious settings. The second story starts out the same as the first–same characters, same setting. But then disaster strikes and the tension increases page by page until there’s a life-or-death conflict with evil.
Which story is more compelling?
Duh, marketers know this, too. And they use it to hook viewers with the news. Actually, they’re in the business of selling ads–don’t forget that. Marketers know humans are wired to respond to the negative. (For good reason! It’s pretty important to recognize threats and predators as quickly as possible, right?) So they use negative, scary messaging to keep us riveted. And you can understand why; they’re struggling to keep pace with other online outlets, and are losing ground fast.
A few years ago, I went on a media sabbatical. I had some pretty intense personal situations at the time, and then the Boston marathon bombing happened. If you’re a writer, there’s a good chance you’re also highly empathetic. (Especially if you write fiction. How else do you juggle all those characters?) So you know what it’s like to feel totally devastated by something like that. I withdrew from the media frenzy and actually asked a couple of people to change the subject if I couldn’t get out of a conversation about it. I explained I wasn’t a snowflake or trying to bury my head in the sand, but that there was nothing I could do about it in that moment, and that I would revisit it later when I had a little more emotional distance.
Guess what I discovered?
No one needed me to wring my hands and stumble around in a depressed fog. We’re not made to internalize every single crisis that erupts on every single continent every single day. It lessens our effectiveness and ability to respond to actual crises in our own communities. There will always be times you want or need to get involved emotionally, politically, or financially. But you don’t have to be overwhelmed by all the problems in the world all at once.
So disconnect from the daily disaster feed. Unfortunately, if the problem’s big enough, you’re going to hear about it anyway. Otherwise you can focus on being a positive force for good, by creating powerful work.
Set a Limit for Social Media
This is going to be a lot shorter, because many of the same principles from the above section also apply here. We know, intellectually, that we’re seeing the highlights reel of other people’s lives, but it’s still impossible not to play the comparison game–just a little. That person who seems like she’s got it all together may be the loneliest person you know. That guy with the job, the house, the car, the family? He might be leveraged up to his eyeballs and meeting with a bankruptcy lawyer next week. You just don’t know the whole story. (And as writers, we know how important the whole story can be!)
But maybe the most costly aspect of social media is in time spent scrolling through others’ lives. That’s time you can be writing, researching, dreaming, thinking, editing, and sharing. And let’s be honest–you fell down the Facebook rabbit hole because you were procrastinating. Maybe because you were afraid to write that tough chapter, right?
Set the timer for fifteen minutes and face the dragon, friend.
Take Better Care of Yourself
You make sure your kids get enough sleep and eat something besides Lunchables and Slurpees, right? You’ve even probably explained to them once or twice that they have to wear a coat and long pants so that the neighbors won’t think you’re guilty of child neglect.
So why don’t you worry about self-neglect? Are you age-ist? Just because you’re a grown up, you don’t deserve sleep, nutrition, or care anymore? That doesn’t make any sense. Think about how you want your kids to take care of themselves when they reach adulthood. Then treat yourself with that careful consideration. After all, your kids learn how to take care of themselves by watching you…
I know, I know. There’s a lot of weird baggage that comes along with this. You think you can’t spare the time, money, or emotional bandwidth to take care of everyone else if you actually take care of yourself. But, again, step outside your skin and look at everyone who’s counting on you. If you can’t treat yourself well for your own sake, do it for their sake.
Habits for writers are critical. Think about the words you have that are burning to get out. If you were well-rested, if you had more energy, if you could think more clearly, do you think the writing would come more easily? Test it out. If you hate taking better care of yourself, you can always go back to living on energy drinks, four hours’ sleep, and adrenaline every day. (But I bet you won’t…)
Make Time for Joy
Talking to a friend recently, I described the reading/writing cycle as a teeter-totter. Sometimes I’m reading more, then I drift back to writing more. It’s not so much a balance as it is a back-and-forth creative dialog.
It really comes down to input versus output. If it feels like the words are resisting you, stop and think. When was the last time you filled your creative tank? Reading is particularly important for writers, but I’ve also noticed how many of us have artsy hobbies. There are many painters, photographers, bakers, and sculptors in the writing community. When did you last allow yourself to play? Creativity thrives in a relaxed environment.
Treat this like a dentist appointment, schedule time every week, and don’t break your word. When you allow yourself to dream, think, invent, and experiment, it pays dividends for your writing. You can even try inviting your family to join you for creative free time, and see benefits in your relationships, too. Writing is solitary. Spending time with your loved ones helps open you up to ideas and different points of view–vital to writers. (Ignore this advice if you’re surrounded by others all day long and just want a few moments alone. You do you!)
If you want to make a positive change this year, and gain real, tangible progress in your writing, try these life-changing habits for writers. Choose the smallest, easiest change first, and add other habits as you go. Most importantly, have fun. Don’t make this another to-do task to check off your list. You’re a writer–enjoy living the writing life!
NOW YOU: What do you think are the most crucial habits for writers?
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