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It's that time of year when our thoughts turn to habits: breaking out of the easy, undesirable ones and into the ones that will lead us to our goals. But as many of us know, habits are hard to break, hard to form, and are about as sticky as Teflon. In short, habits are riddles wrapped in enigmas.

The simplest of habits, like smiling right before you open the door to work everyday, took on average, 21 days to form before they became automatic. The more challenging the behaviour modification or addition, say, writing for an hour everyday, the more days it will take. According to Jeremy Dean, in his book Making Habits, Breaking Habits, it took an average of 66 days for a habit to form. It only took Sandra Bullock a month to change her hedonistic life around in 28 Days because, that's Hollywood, and not reality. Everything takes longer than you think it will.

The laws of gravity and inertia are against us all. A body at rest tends to stay at rest, and even if it gets propelled forward by something, it will eventually slow and come back to resting. This is not to thwart or deter you, just a call for you to make things easy on yourself. If you want to go from passively enjoying Netflix to writing your own entertaining stories, know the habit hurdle and pace yourself. I'll even be super generous with you. If you write a little everyday for 66 days in a row, you can call yourself a writer!

Here's what it takes:

Preparation

  • Get a Moleskine Volant notebook, (size "large") that you can easily shove into your bag. I prefer unruled paper. The Volant comes in packs of 2 or 3. Trust me, when you fill one up, you will feel like a god.
  • Pack a favorite writing utensil. I preferred mechanical pencil at first, it was less daunting than the perceived permanency of ink.
  • Think of a nice, quiet place near your domicile or your place of work that you can reliably get a seat at. (It is imperative to leave your regular environment behind until the writing habit forms, there are too many distractions otherwise). A quiet window seat in the book stacks of the main Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh was my refuge everyday at lunch, and I didn't have to buy a cup of coffee to justify a seat. (but there is something to be said about positive reinforcement, and treating yo self to a cup of coffee can actually help, but know that it does $$$ add up. Speaking from experience).
  • Make sure you have your notebook and a writing utensil before you leave home everyday.
  • Pick a realistic time you will write everyday. Don't say you're going to get up everyday at 4am and write, if you're not up at that hour to begin with. I started with my unpaid lunch hour, it was basically lost time in the middle of the work day. Maybe it is for you too. Don't work through your lunch for the man during your unpaid lunch hour, work for yourself.
  • Prepare for noise distractions. Bring headphones and play music that doesn't distract you from your task at hand.

Execution

+ Just do it!

+ The first 66 days is less about producing and is more about showing up. SHOW UP.

+ Be messy! The first thing you write in your notebook had better be the stupidest, inanest, boringest thing you can muster, okay? There is seriously NO pressure to write a perfect sentence or psych yourself out with a blank page. NONE. It's like that Black Eyed Peas song says, " Everybody, everybody, let's get into it. Get stupid. Get it started, get it started, get it started. Let's get it started (ha), let's get it started in here!"

- Do not social media.

- If you can't leave home and want to get into a writing habit, DO NOT clean the house thinking it will free up your mind from distractions. House cleaning never ever ends. Face a corner so all you see is the wall,  ignore any cobwebs.

- Do not check email.

- Do not daydream out the window.

- Do not look up the "right" word.

- Do not stalk exes.

- Do not internet, period.

- Do not write in groups. Writing is a solitary act and other people just get in the way.

- Do not erase what you've written, just write the next sentence as a better version of the sentence you wanted to erase. Just keep writing and moving the pen forward. It literally doesn't matter what you write. You are making a mind body connection, of sitting, putting pen to paper, getting your mind in the zone, rousing your inner muse, and training yourself to do all this on command.  Yes, like Pavlov.

 Cartoon by Mark Stivers

Cartoon by Mark Stivers

Repetition

  • Start with small, achievable goals. Start by writing for 10 minutes each day. Then add another five minutes each week until you get as close to an hour of writing each day as you can.
  • Keep doing it every day until you crave it, but prepare yourself for the monster you may unwittingly create within yourself. When I am in the midst of writing a rough draft, if I miss a day of writing, I get all frustrated and angsty and afraid that I'll lose the momentum and I'll never finish my book... In short, I feel like I'm going to lose my mind. see below.
 painting by Xue Jiye, Untitled, 1998.

painting by Xue Jiye, Untitled, 1998.

Conditioning

  • Do all the stuff mentioned above and by day 66, your writing habit should be well on its way to formation. The first 66 days is about creating a rift in your daily time and space continuum, training yourself to focus and make the most of that time you're so defiantly claiming from all other areas of chaos in your life. Guard it and protect it so you can get those powerful stories out of your head and into the world. Jack Nicholson doesn't mince words when protecting his writing time.
  • Continue. Eventually, you'll be able to write anywhere, even at home with a sink full of dirty dishes.

Other writers! Do you have any tips for people starting out? Think I missed something? People starting out, do you have any problems you're facing? Let me know below in the comments.

Next time we'll talk about the writer's block and summoning inspiration.

 

 

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