To take the stress out of writing, develop a good writing habit: part 2

Developing a real writing habit is essential for success.  Otherwise, you either:

1) Leave everything until the last minute, and then in a desperate, panicked effort throw together something subpar; or

2) You just don’t do the writing at all, instead postponing it and telling yourself you’ll get to it “as soon as I have time” (which is just about never).

Either way, you’re going to get suboptimal results!

Many of us know that we should “get started early this time” and spend time each day moving towards completion.

But knowing and doing are two completely different things.  Good intentions are quickly swept aside or trampled by the flood of emails, the people knocking on the door, and by our own procrastination (isn’t it more important to be reading the NY Times website right now, than working on this *&#( grant proposal??).

In order to really make headway, it is vital to make this the most important habit you do each and every work day.

Finding the time to write

Writing is not easy, even for people who enjoy it. It requires focus, clarity and energy. I think this is why it is so often put aside and procrastinated into oblivion.  Those 20 little emails and to-do’s on the list require far less focus and clarity than does the writing.  They are easier to get going on, and hence they are often the first to get done.  But they’re almost never the most important thing to get done, whereas, the writing is!

Setting aside an hour or two every day to focus only on writing helps you ignore those other things and to make some headway towards your goal.  But, it’s so hard to do.  Myself, and many of the people I help, regularly have the issue of putting off the writing, and struggling with the writing.  (Doesn’t it “make sense” that you’d put off something that you struggle with?  It is a negative self-reinforcing cycle.  Got to break it.)

Here are some ideas for how to start getting into a better writing cycle/habit:

1. Do your focussed writing in the morning, when you’re fresh, rather than waiting until the afternoon when hundreds of things have already taken your energy for the day.

2. DO NOT check email and rush into the fires that are waiting for you before you start your writing session. This is a hard habit to break, but rest assured, the fires will still be there in an hour when you resurface. However, you will be one hour ahead on your important work. If you can resist the temptation to check email first thing in the morning, and train others that you don’t do so, you will be light years ahead of everyone else.

3. When you start a writing session, find a comfortable, relaxed setting. Perhaps it is a different location than the rest of your work – a coffee shop or library. If you use your office, close your door and turn off your distractions. This means close your email program and silence your phone. You might even put a note on the closed door saying “Do not disturb until x time” (or perhaps “Dragon sleeping inside – anyone knocking will be eaten”).  Remember, all those phone calls, emails, and people needing assistance will be there later. There are very few things that can’t wait one hour.

4.  Strive for consistency and habit. Even if your first few sessions are not very productive, keep at it. With practice, your ability to focus for longer periods will increase. And making consistent progress each day will give positive feedback.

5. Stop when your designated writing time is up, even if you have more to write! You may be tempted to spend the whole day writing.  But making a little progress each day is better than in fits and starts. Keeping an “open loop” in your mind makes it easier to get started the next day.  And, if you put off all those little fires, then the next day they’ll become more urgent, and eventually you’ll feel like you have to deal with them.

6. Turn off the inner critic. You know the one. It’s stronger in some of us than others. Let the words flow onto the page and limit editing. Go back an edit a section after you’ve written the whole thing. Once you get into the flow, you might find it’s better than you thought.

And lastly, remember that a habit (any habit) takes about 3-4 weeks to settle in. The first few days are the easiest. The next 10 days are really hard. It gets easier after that. Keep this in mind after one week when things might seem to be falling apart. If you keep at it, it will get easier.

So, stick with it, even if it is very difficult.  Sooner than you know, you’ll bust through the difficulty!

And, go here if you want more grant writing stuff.






    1 Response to "The Writing Habit (or how to take the stress out of writing): Part 2"

    • dave

      I am trying to embed the habit of writing the first thing in the day, but I am running into problems of being consistent now that I am a week into the new plan. I set my alarm 30 mins earlier for 5:30 and arrive at my University office at about 6 AM. I spend awhilegetting myself comfortable and getting my space ready. By 6:15-6:30 I start at the word processor on my writing project. It went great for the first week, but now I find I am running into obstacles, like my car won’t start (it’s a ’64 Bug in the cold), I don’t hear my alarm and don’t wake up until 6:15, etc. I wonder if my sub-conscous brain is trying to pull me backwards. Short of “keep trying” or “get a car”, do you have any tricks of the trade to suggest? I really want to succeed in my writing and I am convinced that your suggestion of at least one hour of dedicated writing is a crucial step for me to take.

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