When my friends at CreativeLive asked me to write about how to start a new writing habit, I said, “Are you sure? I’m kind of, like, the un-habits guy.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m certainly not anti-habit. And I know that habit-making has plenty of benefits. I’m just not so sure that habit-making around creative aspirations and self-expressive practices does as much good as we expect it to.
Over the last five years, I’ve worked closely with more than 300 writers from a dozen countries for whom habit-making has done more harm than good. Most of my writing clients — students of my writing course, Unavoidable Writing, and members of my now-defunct online writers’ group, The Literati Writers — found me after feeling particularly isolated by the usual writing advice that we tend to find online nowadays, which tends to encourage fight more than flow. Tragically, most so-called advice you’ll find on how to write more or write better typically reduces all of the nuance, beauty, and experience of the creative process down to a mechanical, over-industrialized, oftentimes over-masculinized practice.
Look no further than arch nemesis “writer’s block” (a Boogeyman that no one can seem to clearly explain, nor solve for, but everyone agrees is totally a thing), and do-or-die writing apps that literally blitz your eyes with flashing threats if your fingers momentarily stop typing.
When did forceful habits and imaginary monsters become the status quo for creative self-expression?
If you’re looking to start a new writing habit, don’t. Habits aren’t as simple as mathematic pathways into expertise. Even executing upon a habit doesn’t equate to certain progress. After all, there are plenty of subconscious habits that we engage in all the time that our brains use to expedite decision-making more than to improve upon the quality of our lives, work or well-being.
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So if you’re ready for a writing practice beyond 100-day challenges, “do or die” pressures, and untenable goal-setting, read on.
I have 3 unconventional approaches to help you get deeper into a lasting writing practice, minus habit-making.
You may start calling yourself an un-habits type of person, yourself 🙂
1. Say no to word-count goals and timers.
How do you get started writing? And how do you know if you’re making any progress?
Typical writing advice will tell you that you have to rely on word-count goals and writing timers. And we wonder why so many budding writers begin to subconsciously associate their writing as a source of anxiety: while metrics and measures sound appealing for tracking progress, they actually introduce an instinctive sense of fear-based decision-making, or the fight-flight-freeze response in the brain.
Thus, writing feels like a perceived threat, not a cathartic release or source of inspiration.
Instead of counting minutes or words, aim to write yourself into a state of emotional being: writing until you “achieve” your desire feeling-state.
The feeling you try to “write yourself” into can remain a constant, like a word or feeling or value that you find particularly juicy. Better yet? Your feeling state can change. Maybe on the heels of a few stressful weeks, you want to write until you feel grounded and secure. Maybe on the precipice of a big presentation at work, you want to write yourself into a state of oozing self-confidence.
Try to write yourself into feeling. Assess the quality of each your writing session based upon your emotional experience, more than an otherwise meaningless word-count goal or anxiety-inducing countdown timer.
2. Before writing for them, write for you.
Traditional writing advice tells you to find, fixate, and constantly focus your writing upon your audience, even when you’re just getting started or aren’t sure if you even really want to write for others right now. The unspoken implication is that your writing is worthless if it’s not intended for others.
That’s a travesty, because there is so much to be gained from writing for yourself.
If writing for others feels like an unnecessary burden that’s getting in the way of your writing practice, be an audience unto yourself. Use the blank space of the page as an opportunity to come into deeper, more attuned relationship to you.
Begin by writing out the stories you’ve heard yourself say — those you speak out loud to others, and even those you say quietly in your own head.
The stories we tell become the realities we live, and there’s no better place than the privacy of your writing to intimately examine your beliefs, goals, perspectives, ideals, desires, or even self-limiting beliefs that may be holding you back.
Empower yourself with heightened awareness — examine your stories first, so you can begin to tell the stories you really want to be sharing later.
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3. Take your writing offline.
Doing anything “slowly” in the age of Twitter and instant-everything is, like, very unsexy. I know. And yet, my final tip may be the most important if you really want to establish a new writing practice that feels nurturing, supportive, and like it’s built to last more than a few days:
Take your writing off the computer, and offline entirely, and into a good old fashioned journal.
When you think about it, writing itself is slow. Especially good writing. Writing really finds its power and effectiveness in its slowness: think of some of the best novels in literature that artfully articulate everything down to freckles and smudges.
Stories that enrich, illuminate and resonate are full of depth, detail and seeming minutiae that usher the reader into a human, emotional experience.
Our world needs more of this, and not “easily scannable blog posts.”
Get yourself a quality journal. Carry it with you like it’s your own trusted friend, confidant, and life coach rolled into one. Consider upping your creative game even further with an old school fountain pen. Play with different colored inks, too!
Express yourself indulgently. Really feel each and every letter.
Slowing your writing down is drawing a line in the sand against hurried writing habits, word-count goals, and the false notion that the only thing worth writing is for others.
These are the best three pieces of advice I can give you to kick off your writing practice, dear reader. Return to the art of the experience. Remember that writing is slowing down, honoring, feeling, and seeing – seeing yourself, seeing one another, seeing our world, and seeing the potential of what could be. Write that.
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