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Do you usually struggle with your annual self-improvement plans? Here’s a better way to view New Year’s resolutions for writers….
- Be realistic and start small: Many people are overly ambitious when they try to set their writing goals. Most commonly, they’ll want to start with a pretty big chunk of time — usually an hour. As soon as I hear a proposal like this, I always try to talk the potential writer down off the ledge. Did you know that 15 minutes is a great way to start? It’s small and defensible and won’t take up a huge part of your day. Even if you’re really busy, you should still be able to squeeze in 15 minutes. (And if 15 minutes traumatize you, understand it’s perfectly reasonable to start with just five. Your first goal is to build a habit — not to change the world.)
- Write down the habit you want to develop and include the reason why: Even though the majority of people don’t write down their goals or resolutions, you will increase your own chances of success if you do. Be sure to articulate your desire for this habit and to vividly describe all the benefits you will gain when you’re able to establish it. Remind yourself why it’s important to you. Make the statement as colourful and meaningful as possible.
- Tie the habit to something else you’re already doing: When I’m working on a book, I go up to my office at 6 am and spend the first 30 minutes of my day writing, before I do anything else (especially before I check email!) Arriving at my desk reminds me of my habit. But you don’t need to be a morning lark to write. For example, you could eat your lunch and use that trigger as the reminder to go spend 15 minutes on your writing. Ditto for dinner (although, be aware that dinner time is often more variable and therefore harder to self-enforce.)
- Vigorously protect your new habit: Be aware of all the ways in which you might be derailed and make plans, in advance, for how to handle those situations. For example, I occasionally have very early morning meetings (e.g.: a 7:30 am breakfast downtown). On days like that, I know I’m going to be unable to write in the morning, so I’ll pick another time of day to do the job. Be extra careful about “after dinner” writing times. What will happen if you want to go to a movie? What will happen if you’re going out for dinner? Make your plans in advance so you know what to do and you aren’t surprised. Finally, be sure to remind yourself that your writing is important — and you should do what’s important BEFORE you do anything that is ‘merely’ urgent.
- Be accountable to someone: If there is no consequence to you for failing to maintain your habit, you may have a hard time forming it. Find a supportive but stern-minded friend who can help you during your early days of habit development. You might want to give them a largish cheque for a political campaign that you particularly abhor. Then you can instruct them to mail it in if you fail to maintain your habit. Or, if that seems too radical to you, consider my Get It Done program.
How do you protect your writing habit? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section, below. And congratulations to Elaine Ness, the winner of this month’s book prize, for a Dec. 11/19 comment on my blog. (Elaine, please email me with your address!) Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Jan. 31/20 will be put in a draw for a copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To leave your own comment, please, scroll down to the section, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!