Ways to Break Those Habits That Keep You From Writing

We all have bad or counterproductive habits, and sometimes we make excuses for them. “I just can’t stop ___” (Fill in the blank with your standby excuse). Well, if some of your habits are getting in the way of being a super-productive writer, then maybe you will have to do away with them.

And the easiest way to do so is to replace them with some new habits.

We’ve been looking at the ABCs to becoming super productive in our writing so we can crank out books. Not just any books but great books. And the way to do that is to “know thyself.” It’s a threefold analysis that gets us looking at our attitudes, biology, and choices.

Though we touched on attitude at the start of the year, we’ll be wrapping up with a key obstacle to productivity: self-sabotage. But before we can go there, we need to look further into the “C” of those ABCs: choices. And while we may feel that habits aren’t about choices (because we either can’t help doing those repeated things that prevent us from being productive or we’re not aware we do them), the sooner we own our pesky habits and set about changing them, the sooner we’ll be cranking out books.

Have trouble getting into writing? Is it your habit to sit and stare at your computer screen even when you’ve done your homework and have your scene plotted out?

Take a Half Hour to Journal

Think about starting your day or preparing your launch into writing by journaling.

While you’re sitting having that cup of green tea (instead of that coffee?), think about doing a little writing by hand in a blank journal. Or a journal that has writing prompts. You could write about anything that comes into your head, whether it has to do with you or not.

According to a study done by the Harvard Business School, journaling is one of the best ways to improve professional performance. Occasionally writing by hand improves both memory and creativity, so consider journaling the old-fashioned way: with pen and paper.

Elizabeth George, my favorite mystery writer, speaks about this in her terrific book Write Away. She shares excerpts of her daily musings in her chapters.

Writing like this is akin to turning on a faucet to an unused water source. Rusty water comes sputtering out for a while, but soon the water runs smooth and clear.

Sometimes we need this kind of jump-starting to get our creative juices flowing.

If you have something pressing on your mind, maybe some personal issues you’re dealing with, and you feel they might invade your writing time, take a half hour and journal about them. This is another of those hacks to help you get past yourself to be productive.

If the habit of trying to psyche yourself into writing doesn’t work, change the habit. Unplug, get away from the Internet and those pop-up notifications, and sit somewhere quiet and peaceful. Gush out all those things on your mind, lock them in your pages, then close the book and head to your computer to get the day’s writing done.

Let Your Characters Run Amok

If you want to align yourself with your day’s project, you can come up with a fun prompt the ties in with your novel. Try freewriting in your POV character’s voice. Put her in the setting of your upcoming scene. Throw in some other characters or even some crazy aardvark that talks with a bad English accent. Let yourself go with the creativity.

This is a great way to give room for your brain to explore your characters and let them come to life. You may discover intriguing aspects of their personality or secrets they reveal to you that stun you. Details you can use in a big way in your novel.

I truly believe once you create characters and give them the space to come to life, they do and they will. Many authors will tell you how their characters have run amok and taken over the stage, going off script. While that can be a bad thing for your plot (you do have to remember who’s in charge here!), giving them license to come alive helps you create highly memorable characters.

So, think about spending a half hour before you dig into your scene writing and noodle on the page. You may want to do this on your computer, but I’d like to encourage you to first try pen and paper. First off, for most people, having to write by hand makes them slow down. And because it’s a very different body experience than typing (and you can do this sitting outside or while taking a bath or in positions you might not easily manage when seated at a computer), it engages your brain in a fresh way.

Try Psyching Yourself Out by Working in Another Document 

When I’m worried about a scene I’m preparing to write (because it’s challenging, even daunting), I’ll open up a new Word doc and dive into writing the scene there. It’s a mental hack that works for me and gets the roadblock out of the way.

I tell myself this is a throwaway document. I don’t want to “contaminate” my novel’s “keeper” manuscript with something experimental or that might suck in a big way.

What happens when I write a lone scene in a blank document is I unburden myself of the pressure to “perform.”

Seriously, this works amazingly. Just knowing I can toss out this document (yes, I know I could also just cut out the scene from the main manuscript as well, but it feels more like failure when I do that) frees me up. In fact, I’ve written my best “keeper” scenes this way. And when I copy and paste the finished scene into my novel, I feel super productive!

If your manuscript is staring at you in challenge, and you feel like you’ve lost before you’ve even written the first line of a scene, try this hack and see if it works for you.

How to Gain Control over Your Writing

Let’s say you’ve gotten into your scene you’re writing and you’re suddenly feeling stressed. Pressures are building because those little issues you’ve been struggling with in your life are sneaking into your brain. Maybe, because of this, your scene is starting to suck.

Don’t panic or give up for the day. Maybe that’s been your habit. An easy out. Procrastination. “I’ll do better tomorrow, once I take care of X, Y, and Z.” While that’s sometimes the truth, too many writers put off for tomorrow day after day, and we all know there is no tomorrow. There is only today.

So when your writing time turns sour, step away from your computer. Get up and take a walk, clear your head. Play ball with your dog. Bake some cookies. But give yourself just a half hour (set an alarm), then go sit back down.

If you just can’t get into that scene, set it aside. Work on a different scene. Plot another section of your novel. Read through some earlier chapters to hear how they sound. Write your back cover copy that you’ll need when it’s time to publish. All of this is part of being productive.

Some days I’m just a crappy writer. I can’t come up with fresh words or delightful turns of phrases. I’m just writing junk. That’s when I switch to these other tasks as part of my writing time.

Don’t let that negative, condemning thinking slip in. Don’t be hard on yourself if you can’t write that great scene and you end up throwing out the last two hours’ worth of work. Know this is all part of the wonderful life of an author. Enjoy the ride.

That positive attitude we talked about at the outset is essential. If it’s your habit to talk down at yourself, change that habit. Replace the negative with the positive, as I showed you how to do.

So anytime you are writing and you hit a wall, get up, move around, do something else for a half hour, then sit down and try again. If it’s just not happening, choose some other related tasks to complete so you have a productive day.

Some days all I do is research. Since I write historical novels set in the West in the 1870s, I have to do a ton of homework. I have dozens of books I study and highlight, and I have a notebook of more than a hundred pages of terms, sayings, descriptions of clothing and vehicles and guns, and historical events details. When I can’t get far along in my writing, I study and take notes. And usually that sparks great plot and scene ideas. Which gets my juices flowing again so that my fingers often jump back onto my laptop keyboard and start writing away. That’s one way I hack into productivity.

What are some habits you have that distract you from writing? What have you done to break them?

Regardless of whether you write fiction or nonfiction, if you want to get established as an author, you need to be productive. Highly productive.

You can’t just write one terrific book and call it good, expecting that singular work to carry you atop the wave of success for years to come.
Studies show readers want 3-4 books a year from their favorite authors. And to build traction and a growing audience, authors need to deliver.

The key to being highly productive is centered on knowing yourself. First you need to identify your distractions, excuses, and attitudes that are keeping you from being the productive writer you want to be. Then you need to assess your unique biology, to determine the best times to write and to optimize your sleep and eating habits. It’s all here in Crank It Out!

Get your ebook or print copy HERE.

Turn your life and career around by learning the surefire way to be the super-productive author you long to be!

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One Comment

  1. If your bad habit is overeating, I’ve gotten great results by reminding myself that hunger isn’t an emergency. It takes that panicky edge off of the hunger, and allows me to go back to whatever I was doing before.

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