(I am taking a short break from my series on mental illness to bring you this post on The Writing Habit).
Imagine being curled up in your favorite chair, reading a book that grabs you on a gut level. The story wraps its way around your heart warming every cool place. Your mind stretches with every sentence making you feel more connected and more entranced. You are no longer reading about grief and joy, you are experiencing it. Tears gather in your eyes and laughter spills out of your mouth as the plot unravels.
Unfortunately, this book is not available on Amazon or at your local bookstore because this book has not been written yet. This book exists in the imagination of an author who is not winning the battle against Resistance. This story has been silently spinning, pleading with the author to take a blank page out of its misery. Instead of writing, the “wishes-to-be writer” is listening to the voices saying,
“It’s not worth doing”
“Nobody cares about this”
“It’s not perfect enough”
“I don’t have time to write”
“Don’t put yourself out there like that”
“I don’t know what to write”
“I will someday”
“I have to do the dishes instead” or
“I gotta check Facebook.”
This year for my birthday my husband gave me a gift certificate to the Loft to take a writing class. While I was grateful for the gift, I was thinking that these classes weren’t really designed for hacks like me, who rarely took time to actually write. For this reason, I decided to take a class called “The Writing Habit” thinking I might learn how to discipline myself or kick my butt into action.
As it turns out, this line of thinking wasn’t helpful. The teacher, Rosanne Bane (author of Around the Writer’s Block) didn’t like the word “discipline” and was not all about kicking yourself. She was positive, encouraging, and taught us some effective tools to overcome resistance and create a habit without being hard on ourselves. I will share a few of the insights I learned from the class below.
Make small commitments, like “I will write for at least 15 minutes, 3X per week. It doesn’t matter what you write during that time, it’s more important to show up. Developing a sustainable habit is more important than what you produce. The logic is that if you show up to write 100 times, you are more likely to come up with a couple of gems versus if you show up once and hope to produce a masterpiece! Also, over time you learn to trust yourself that you will do what you say you will do, allowing your subconscious to do some of the work for you between writing sessions.
Reward Yourself. I used to be a behavioral therapist for kids with autism, and now I practice DBT which is a type of behavioral therapy, and yet I never thought to apply it to my writing habit. The reward doesn’t have to make logical sense because the part of your brain that likes being rewarded (the limbic system) is not the part of your brain that rationalizes (the cortex). For an example, pay yourself by putting a coin in a jar. Your brain’s reward center does not care that it’s your own money, it just likes the clinking sound of money on money. In class we had the opportunity to bet on ourselves by putting a dollar in an envelope. If we honored our commitments we got to select a prize out of a suitcase of trinkets. As it turns out, adults are just as motivated by Play Doh, Koosh balls, dollar coins and markers as the average 3rd grader!
Develop a Writing Ritual. If you do the same thing every time you sit down to write, the ritual itself will act as a cue for your brain to get into a writing zone. Dancing, lighting a scented candle or reciting a poem in the same way before you write can create an association in your brain so that the ritual alone help you get writing. My ritual, which doubles as a reward is popping a butterscotch disc into my mouth as I sit down to write. I will only eat this candy if I’m writing. If I’m craving a butterscotch disc, my mind will interpret this as a craving to write. The two will be inseparable.
Inspired by the gold dollar coins in Rosanne’s suitcase, I plan to withdraw 66 gold dollar coins from the bank. Each time I honor my commitment to myself to show up to write for 15 minutes I will deposit one coin into a special jar. If I show up less than 3 times in a week, I will empty my special jar and start the count over. I will not spend the money until all 66 coins are in the jar. Why 66? Rosanne Bane said in class that it takes 66 honored commitments in a row for a habit to develop. I always thought it was 21 consecutive days, but if Bane says 66, I’ll go for 66.
My question to you is what should I buy for $66 when I successfully transfer all of my coins? My other question to you is what will you buy for $66 to reward yourself when you create your own habit?
For more on developing a sustainable habit, flowing through stages of the creative process, commitments to process, self-care, and product time, overcoming creative blocks, and much more, read Around the Writers Block, visit the website http://baneofyourresistance.com/, or take a class by Rosanne Bane.