Habit Bankruptcy

I tried to do it. Meditate 20 minutes a day. Write in a journal by hand every morning. Exercise. Eat 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of waking up. Write 750 words a day. Work on my book edits. Write in this blog twice a week. Read more books. Read more articles. Organize my life. Get up from my desk and stretch every hour. Practice gratitude.

Of course I had a meltdown. There’s enough hours in the day for all that, but good lord I do not have the brain capacity.

The Good Habit Overload didn’t start all at once, which is how I got in so deep. One habit crept in at a time, before the one before it had really taken hold, until I had a morning checklist that was too long to look at, let alone expect my fallible human self to always complete. So I had one or two good days, checking everything off in an orderly fashion, feeling great.

Then the next day I woke up late, or was feeling off, or my brain just would not start. And one thing didn’t get done or another.

And then at night I felt disappointed at that one lingering, undone habit, and vowed to do better the next day.

And then I didn’t.

And then it snowballed, until I was doing no habits, because what was the point of doing just one if I had ten more to go after that. The hill was too steep and the summit was too far away.

So, the other week, I declared habit bankruptcy. My little daily habit tracker at HabitRPG got wiped. I started over. Three habits: Exercise, Write Something, and Study Japanese.

This week I added: Take your medicine. Not because I need to develop that habit, but specifically because I’ve already got it down. Now there is one box I can easily check, and it makes all the other boxes easier.

I’ve got other habits I want to add. I do want to meditate, and I do want to watch my protein and veggie intake, and I do want to be more consistent about dog training and stretching after workouts and yes even posting to this blog.

But I also don’t want another habit meltdown, and if that means I let things slide, then they slide. Anyway, isn’t this what I wanted when I was a kid, imagining life as a grownup? Sometimes you just gotta have cereal for dinner to have the energy to keep the rest of it together.

29 Tips to Not Go Mad Writing

World of Wanderlust had an excellent list of 29 Tips to Increase Your Productivity as a Blogger that I find apply almost 100% to maintaining your productivity and wits as a fiction writer. In particular:

2. Do the most important things first thing in the morning

4. Work in bulk

12. Turn off all other distractions

18. Celebrate both small and big achievements

20. If nothing goes right, go left

and perhaps most importantly,

24. Don’t be concerned with what everyone else is doing

Go take a look at the full list.

Time Off

I need time off from just about every long form piece that I write. Short stories can and should be written in one go (whether that one go takes a few hours or happens in pieces each day over a week). Novels, though, can start getting on my nerves. It’s not going according to the outline, or I’m stuck, or the flow that’s part of being really excited about an idea just isn’t coming.

Sometimes I can and should just force myself to barrel ahead. Other times I need time off. But time off can quickly turn into (or be an excuse for) procrastination. A few tricks to doing time off right:

1. Write. Just not the problem book. Write fanfiction, write an ode to puppies, write something fun and silly and easy.

2. Read. The writer brain needs to take it easy but not totally shut down, so I read things without highlighting and taking notes but with an eye for what’s fun and entertaining and engaging to me.

3. Think. Instead of sitting down and staring at my outline though, I think about the bits and pieces of my book while I’m doing the dishes, or walking to work, or drifting off to sleep. If I think of something good I write it down, but otherwise I let the thoughts come and go and work themselves out. Sometimes by looking at something sideways instead of straight on I can figure it out.

4. Set a limit. Vacations end, and so does time off. I decide how much time I’m taking off and when I’m getting back to it.

5. Give yourself permission to fail. See how I missed that post on Thursday? My brain had hit a wall in all forms of pulling words from my brain and putting them into the world, so rather than beating myself up and forcing something out I said, okay. You don’t have to today. Be vigilant about how much leeway you give yourself, but be sparing with your self-punishment too.

Pomodoro

Just 25 minutes. That’s nothing. 25 minutes out of your whole day. You can do it–you know, “it,” that thing you don’t want to do, that thing you’re procrastinating on, if you’re here likely that thing you keep saying you’ll write later–for 25 minutes. You can even set a timer. 25 minutes! that’s it. You’ll feel so much better if you just get down to business, and you only have to do 25 minutes.

The nice thing is after 25 minutes, maybe you do another 25. Then another. Then another. But don’t think about that when you start. Just think about 25 minutes. Then you’re done.

Or you can keep going.

I use Tomato Timer.

Photo by tbn97.

Working While Sick

20141014 the microchip

I hate getting sick. If there are “good” sick people and “bad” sick people, then I am the literal worst. I whine and I resent and I think of all the things I could be doing if only I wasn’t sneezing out every ounce of bodily fluids.

I try to take care of myself in times like that. Scalding steamy baths, vaseline all over my poor, sad red nose, curling up in a fetal position, etc. There’s also something to be said for giving myself a break from my usual daily writing goals.

But I have to write something, or it all goes to shit. Sick days will always feel like wasted days, because they were days where I didn’t feel awesome, even if the exact same amount of “lying around being useless” would have happened. If I can spew out a few ideas for my next book scene, or work through a problem in the plot, or just write something, even if it’s a lot of blather, I’ll feel better. Because the day wasn’t a total wash, and I kept my momentum up, which, like that finely tuned microchip of the human body, can go to hell with just a bit of dust (or one missed day of writing).

*This post coming to you late courtesy of my monster allergies this weekend. The microchip has been compromised.

See Succeeding in Writing as a Way to Write More Things

I read Entrepreneur for various day job related reasons, and recently gave their 8 Slow, Difficult Steps to Become a Millionaire a read. Though I haven’t succeeded (YET) at the whole making a living off fiction business, their steps seemed pretty spot on for how I think about writing.

1. Stop obsessing about getting published.

Write good stories that you believe in. Then write some more. Then keep doing that. Trying to write to trends or craft what you imagine the market wants are recipes for disaster.

2. Get out of your hidey hole and interact with other people in a helpful, supportive way.

There’s this weird paranoia that some unpublished writers seem to have about being plagiarized or having their ideas stolen that causes them to go into full isolation mode. Sorry, but your ideas were never original to begin with (nobody’s are!) and so what if someone steals them? If you’re a better writer, you’ll write them better. If you’re not, well, keep working on that.

Also there’s a lot to be said for what you can learn by being cool and helpful to other people.

3. Stop thinking about being wildly successful and imagine the people who are excited they read your book.

Writing “for” other people is another fool’s errand, but thinking hey, I’m writing this cool thing that I bet people would enjoy is pretty motivating.

4. See making it as a writer as a chance to write more.

Writing as my full time job. It sets my heart a-flutter just thinking about it.

5. Do your thing better.

Whatever your thing is, get better at it. Write fluffy schmoopy romances? Hone your fluff and schmoop. Write detective stories? Practice those plot twists. Write epic adventure stories? Refine each and every sentence for maximum tension. You’ve got a thing. Focus on that and do it better.

6. Study people who are good at the thing you want to be good at.

They figured it out. Try to figure it out from them. This doesn’t mean copying, it just means watching and learning then doing it your way.

7. Have a way to know how far you’ve come.

I know it’s painful, but save old drafts of stuff with dates. Maybe do a year review where you look at what you wrote last year and what you just wrote. Is it different? Is it better? If you have a problem just sitting down and writing already, use 750words.com or a similar site to track how much you write, how often. Make sure that number gets better over time.

8. Create habits that make writing happen

The most important thing you need to do to be a writer isn’t introduce yourself at parties as a writer, isn’t to talk about that novel you’ve got in your head on Twitter, and isn’t to drink out of novelty writing-related coffee mugs. It’s to write. However you can make yourself do that, whether it’s with the aforementioned 750words.com, with betting friends, with setting 7pm-8pm as your absolutely must write time, whatever, do it.

Then, if nothing else, you’ll be writing. Hell, you might even like it sometimes. Whether or not the publishing, wild success thing works out, there are worse ways to spend your time than doing something you like.