How to change your writing habits

Reading time: About 3 minutes

Have you ever heard the expression “a change is as good as a rest?” Read on to learn how to give yourself a writing holiday at home.

I recently hitched my wagon to a Bombardier Regional Jet (followed by a rental car) and spent five days wandering Saskatchewan. I was speaking at a conference for the Canadian Public Relations Society and used the event as an excuse to explore the Canadian Prairies.

While there, I toured Canada’s largest provincial legislative buildings in Regina (impressive!), ate my first ever slice of Saskatoon berry pie (delicious!), and toured the underground tunnels of Moose Jaw where Al Copone used to hang out (eerie!)

As we wandered the Prairies, I was struck many times by how fundamentally different they are from the west coast. Not just a little dissimilar — but totally at odds. Sort of like two siblings who look nothing alike, not even in hair or eye colour.

Where I live, I gaze at the ocean and mountains from my office windows. My city is littered with hills — and it rains more or less constantly. Traffic is crazy — rush “hour” runs from 3 to 6 pm — and people, while friendly are generally pretty reserved.

Prairie life is different. The land is as flat as a DVD and so sparsely populated all the people in the entire province (251,700 sq. miles) wouldn’t be enough to fill Dallas, Tx (342 sq. miles). Rush “hour” seemed like 20 minutes in Regina, 10 minutes in Saskatoon and non-existent in Moose Jaw where the main street is wide and dusty. The weather was warm — and so were the people. Sadly, there’s since been enough rain to cause flooding and to make me wonder if I’d accidentally left behind some Vancouver bad weather germs!

My five days away soon became a meditation on how differences in various parts of the world affect us as individuals — and writers. Travelling was good for me. And I don’t think it was just about being on holiday. Living in a new environment reminded me to see things differently.

A change is as good as a rest was one of my mother’s favourite expressions. And it’s true. If you don’t have time to get away somewhere really different this summer, here are five ways in which you can boost your writing with smaller changes:

1) Change your reading. Clients and friends frequently ask me about writing and are amazed when my response is the question: “How much are you reading these days?” Reading well is the necessary precursor to writing well. And if you read only dreck (I’m thinking here of most annual reports, National Enquirer Magazine and Danielle Steel novels) well, you’ll write like that too. Furthermore, if you read only the same type of thing all the time, your mind won’t have a deep enough well from which to draw. So read well and widely. If you’re generally read only non-fiction, start throwing in the occasional novel or short story.

2) Write about different things. We all get in ruts. If you’re a professional writer who produces newsletters and magazine articles, you’re a bit like a gym rat who uses only the Stairmaster. Your legs are getting a good workout but what about the rest of your body? Remember: not all writing has to be done for pay. For example, I’m writing a children’s book right now. Do I have the time for this? Not really. Will it ever be published? Who knows. But it’s giving me valuable experience with a different genre.

3) Write in a different place. If you usually write at your desk, decamp to a nearby coffee shop for an hour. Or slip into your company’s boardroom. Or go to the library. Give yourself a change of setting and see how invigorating it can be.

4) Write with a different implement. I almost always mindmap with a pencil and paper and then write directly on the computer. But I can switch things up. There is excellent (and inexpensive) mindmapping software available and it’s wickedly easy to write with a pen. Break out!

5) Write with a new word. This may sound goofy but some writing we do for pay is plain boring. So, jazz up the job by giving yourself an interesting goal. Pick a word, any word (but the more unusual the better) and challenge yourself to work it into that piece of writing.

All of these changes are small but they may give you just the boost you need to take your writing to a higher level.