Writing is my heroin. I am unquestionably a happier more productive human being when I write regularly.
I didn’t know this about myself for a long time. I remember distinctly, having a series of very bad days. I was constantly grumpy, everything seemed to be going wrong, the world was falling apart around me, and I didn’t know why. It dawned on me that I hadn’t written in a few days. Up until then, I’d been writing daily as I was working on an epic novel. I had pitched it to an agent who had asked for the first three chapters. I figured I’d better get the thing done in case she asked for more. (She didn’t, but she did give wonderful feedback. It was a terrible novel).
Once the draft was done, I stopped writing. I hadn’t realized how much the writing, the satisfaction of achieving my daily word-count, had affected my mood.
I needed to make writing a habit the way it had been. But once you stop something, it’s hard to start up again. (Look at me talking physics!)
There are ways we can make writing a habit. Scheduling regular time is the most obvious step. But just because we have the time scheduled, doesn’t mean we will spend it writing.
I’m going to recomend a great book on habits and how we form them, called “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business” by Charles Duhigg. It is a fascinating read on how we form habits and the studies that have been done.
One of the things Charles Duhigg talks about is the cue – action – reward cycle that is the basis for forming habits. We have some kind of cue that inspires action and when we perform that action, we get a reward. So, in our case, as writers, the cue might be sitting down at the computer, using our favorite pen, having our cup of coffee in our favorite coffee mug. We associate that cue with writing. Favorite pen in hand? Must write. Favorite coffee mug? Time to write. The reward for our writing comes from the satisfaction of achieving your writing goal, achieving a word-count, having written an exciting scene, whatever it is that makes you feel satisfied at the end of your writing session.
The reward is great, but it isn’t enough to make this cycle a true habit. The habit forms when we see the cue and anticipate the reward, we want the reward, we crave it and we will do whatever we need to do to satisfy that craving.
If you’ve ever had an addiction, on a diet, pregnant (or live with someone who is), you understand cravings. The example Duhigg gives is the box of donuts. Until you’ve had your first donut, you don’t know that that box contains oh so sweet and sugary carbs. But once you’ve had that first donut, you know. And every time you see that box, your brain anticipates that sugary goodness. If you deny yourself that reward, your brain releases a chemical that makes you sad, almost depressed, until you satisfy that craving.
If the key to making writing a habit is a reward you will crave, how do we come up with a suitable reward?
These kinds of rewards are very individualized. I’m going to recomend another book here, which covers this far more than I ever could, and has been a great help to me. “Motivate Your Writing!: Using Motivational Psychology to Energize Your Writing Life” by Stephen P. Kelner Jr. It is an indepth look at what drives us emotionally, what rewards suit certain personality types, and how we can use those to get us sitting down to write.
For example, one motivation type is Influence. This means that when readers and fans respond positively to your work, you have incentive to keep writing. Those fan letters or tweets or comments that you made a positive impact on them remind you that you are succeeding in your writing.
If you find your motivation, you will find the reward you crave. Satisfy that craving often and make writing a habit. Make it your addiction, your drug of choice!
What will your motivation, your reward, be?