Tag Archives: Habit

The Routine Revolution

Somewhere in my mind there is a hole. Actually, that’s probably understating the situation, but for today lets just focus on the one. You probably have this hole in your mind too. The hole works like this. When you’re growing up your mom says to you, “Honey, it’s a bad idea to poke yourself directly in the eye with a soldering iron,” and you’re all like, “Sure mom, whatever,” and go back to playing video games. But then the day comes when you actually poke yourself in the eye with soldering iron and you say to yourself, “Gee willikers, that was a really bad idea.”

Okay, so maybe the soldering iron example was a bit silly; but I’m trying to make a point. Sometimes you hear something over and over. It’s advice and it’s good advice. You hear it from lots of people who you know and trust, people who know what they’re talking about, people who have lived through the heartbreak that a soldering iron to the eye can bring. But you don’t really listen. Until one day you experience the usefulness of their advice for yourself, very narrowly avoiding the loss of your depth perception. And you make their wisdom your own. You internalize it. And after that you start to live it.

This happened to me recently. See, I had heard the advice, “Try to commit the same block of time to writing every day,” for a long time. I understood the advice. The advice made sense to me. But I didn’t follow it.

Why? Well, a number of reasons. For one thing, my work schedule is nowhere close to regular. I dearly envy those of you who work eight to five, Monday through Friday without fail. As for me, things are a bit different. This very day I will clock in to work at one o’clock and work till ten. I’ll come home and hit the sack as fast as possible because I’ll have to be back up again in time to be at work at seven in the morning. I say this, not so you’ll feel sorry for me, but so you can understand that it wouldn’t make sense for me to say, “I will write every day from seven until eight.”

So for a long time I had no schedule. I wrote when I could and where I could. If I worked in the afternoon, then I tried to write in the morning. If I worked in the morning, then I tried to find some writing time in the evening. The problem with that was, it was often difficult to write every day. Some days got filled up with other things, and I would feel guilty because I hadn’t put in my daily allotment of words. I let myself get stressed out about not writing, to the point that sometimes when I was out spending time with my wife, I’d feel guilty that I wasn’t at home working on some story or other.

And trust me when I say that, while writing every day is a good practice, when writing starts to feel like more like a duty than an oportunity, there’s a problem.

But in the last couple of months I’ve finally found an anchor, a constant place in my day that I can schedule myself time to write in.

See, working for Walmart may not be the greatest job in the world, but one thing I can say for them is that they give you a lot of time to eat. If you work eight hours a day then your mid-shift lunch break is an entire hour. And I don’t know about you folks, but it does not take me an entire hour to eat a sandwich, some chips and a cup of yogurt. Of course for the last seven years that time has been there, and often-times I would do some writing once I was done eating. But I never made it my habit. Some days I would write, some days I would read a book, some days I would wander around the store aimlessly listening to music.

But when I started writing Sons of the Damned, I started dedicating my lunch breaks to writing that story, and after a while something clicked in my head. I had never realized how liberating it could be to say to myself, “This is the time I’m setting apart to write, and whatever I get done in that time is what I’m going to get done for the day.” No longer did I have to feel guilty that I was wasting time while watching a movie with my wife or reading a book. I knew when I was going to write, and possibly more importantly, I knew when I was going to stop.

That doesn’t mean I completely restrict myself to writing during that time and nowhere else. Last night I was taking the dog out for his constitutional at four in the morning, and a fragment of a short story came to me that I felt I had to write down then and there. This very blog post is being written in the morning hours I have before I have to go to work. But the only time I have to write is on my lunch break.

If you don’t have a writing routine, I encourage you to try and find one. Maybe your day is chaotic like mine, but I’d be willing to bet that most of you can find a time you can commit to every day. Try this: make a contract with yourself. Say, “Self, you will write from time x to time y every day. You may not write very much. What you write may not be very good. But you WILL work on this project for the time allotted.”

Don’t let the hole in your brain stop you. Experience for yourself the benefits of making writing a habit. You’ll be surprised what a difference it makes.

Doing Battle with the Green-Eyed Monster of Wordcount Envy

Oh, Twitter. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

Let’s see…carry the one…adjust for inflation…taking the Kentucky windage into account…um…seventeen. No wait! Eighteen.

Twitter is a great thing for writers. And I’m not just talking about the whole, “build your platform and get your name out there” kind of thing (though that’s on the list). Twitter is host to a whole community of writers. And I’m not just talking about the big names here. I talking regular people like me and you, people who are still struggling to be published. Maybe they’re even still working on their first book.

When you’re feeling down, they’re there to encourage you. When you feel like no one in the world understands what you’re going through as a writer, chances are someone in your Twitter stream does.

But sometimes Twitter is a double-edged sword. At least it can be for me.

Lately I’ve been struggling a bit with my novel. Actually struggling is probably too strong a word. I know where I want to go with the story, but because of the fact that I’m doing research as I go, added on to the fact that I’m writing a slightly different voice than normal, things just haven’t been moving as fast as I’d like them to.

And then I log on to Twitter and I see Chuck Wendig and Adam Christopher and Kristen Lamb talking about the thousands of words they’re writing each day, and I start to get a little discouraged about my measly 700 words.

Maybe you’ve been there too. But I’m here to tell you not to worry about it.

Why? Because no two writers and no two stories are the same. It may be you just don’t have time to churn out daily word counts in the thousands. Or maybe you’re like me and the story you’re writing requires you to be more painstaking than usual.

The details don’t matter. What matters is you. If you let wordcount envy get you down, the next thing you know you’ll be saying to yourself, “Well, if I can’t write as much as those guys maybe I don’t have any business writing at all.”

Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, WRONG.

Wow. That word looks weird when you repeat like that. Kind of like when you say a word over and over again and it starts to sound like…no wait. I was going somewhere. Yeah okay. You can only write as much as you can write.

Profound huh? But it’s true.

Terry Pratchett only wrote four or five hundred words at a time when he first started. Chuck Palahnuik wrote Fight Club in fifteen minute increments on his breaks at work.

It’s less important that you write a lot, and more important that you write consistently.

If you can only manage a couple of hundred words a day then commit yourself to those couple hundred words. No, you won’t be finished in a month. You may not be finished in a year.

Possibly the most important key to your success as a writer is that you make writing your habit. It should be something you do day in and day out, rain or shine, muse or no muse.

And I think you’ll find that if you keep going you’ll find yourself stretching the limits of what you’re capable of further and further. You’ll look back at those early days of writing and say, “I can remember when I thought a thousand words was a really good day. What was I thinking?”

That’s what we call growth my friend. And growth is what it’s all about.


I haven’t done this in a while, but I’ve got a reading assignment for you all today.

First up is a fantastic post by Jody Hedlund about why it’s so hard to be objective about your own work.

Second, go check out Chuck Wendig’s post about the closing of Border’s. It’s powerful stuff.

Repetitiously Repeated Repetition or: the Perpetual Drill Sergeant

Ugh. I’m just gonna level with ya’ll. I don’t feel like writing today. I’m not sure what is is. I got plenty of sleep, I’m not feeling down or anything like that, I just feel…lazy. All I want to do is sit in my big red chair and watch old Nostalgia Critic videos all day.

I don’t think I’m the only one feeling like that either. Because I see these, “Get your butt in gear and get writing you worthless slimebag!” posts all the time on various blogs. I mean how many times can you post the same, “I don’t care what you’re feeling like, screw the muse and get writing anyway,” stuff?

Apparently the answer is, a lot. Because we need to be motivated. Like all the time. Left to ourselves I wonder if any of us would get much of anything done. I mean sure you read some great motivational book or blog post or maybe you have am uplifting conversation with a fellow writer and you think, “Yup, I’m good to go. All those I-don’t-feel-like-writing blues have done flown away.”

And then tomorrow happens. And all that positivity is gone again.

Maybe someone should start a blog which consists of nothing but drill-sergeant, in-your-face, don’t-you-dare-tell-me-you-don’t-feel-like-writing-today-soldier rants. There’s got to be  market for that.


“But Albert,” you say, “Wouldn’t that get repetitive?”

Well, yeah. That’s kind of the point. I know I’ve said this on this blog before, but screw originality. There’s only about six different things we writers need to hear so if the cheerleaders among us end up repeating themselves or sounding eerily similar it’s because we really need to hear this stuff over and over and over again.

Because that, “I can take on the world and kick this wordcount’s butt” feeling is just that…a feeling. It’s  series of chemical interactions in your brain and it ain’t gonna last any more than that, “I’m on top of the world and delirious with happiness” feeling you had last week lasted.

But that’s okay. Because feelings don’t make you a writer. Yes, you’ve heard it before, and you’re going to hear it again. Sit down. Shut everything else on your computer off. Now write.

That’s what makes you a writer. Habit. Repetition.

Rinse. Lather. Repeat.

Does it work? It does for me. At the beginning of this post I truly didn’t want to write this morning. But at the beginning of the year I made a commitment to myself to blog every day (barring Sundays), and believe it or not that commitment has taught me something important about writing which is this: if you treat writing as something you have to do, rather than something you something want to do you’ll accomplish more than you could dream.

Take it from me. I know it works. Ignore your doubts and your fears and tell your laziness to take a hike. I think you’ll find the old joy of writing is there waiting for you just like it always was.