Building A Writing Habit
At the beginning of November I embarked once more to finish National Novel Writing Month. If you don’t know what that is, find more info about the month-long novel-writing challenge here.
This year, I’m doing NaNoWriMo more as an exercise in habit formation. I’m pursuing a 30-day attempt to meet a writing quota; that writing can be either fiction or nonfiction. By some, this qualifies me as a “rebel” but I’m not terribly concerned with whatever box I happen to fit in.
Currently, the fiction writing is going slow, and the nonfiction is nearly complete—by that I mean I’ve run out of pre-planned articles to write, and should easily meet my deadlines for the rest of the year. Still, I show up everyday, sit in the chair, and begin practicing. I have written 20,000 words at this point, which is several thousand more than my writing total for the entire month of October. If, after November, I stuck to just half of the NaNoWriMo quota, I could easily write 25,000 words a month. Would they all be words to publish? No, likely not. However, that’s not what’s become important to me. It’s the daily practice that’s important. The honing of the craft.
Here’s what I did not anticipate: running out of articles to write by day seven. For a long time now I haven’t held myself to any kind of schedule other than, “what’s due tomorrow?” which is no real way to pursue a chosen vocation. There should be more thought involved, more pushing paint around on the canvas to see what works. By focusing on only the next thing, I’ve given no time or energy to the pursuit of growth or excellence. I’ve ignored the process, the practice, in favor of quick production. Eventually my writing will show the effects of so little practice, if it hasn’t already.
The idea of practice has been on my mind a lot this year, thanks in part to one person. I’ve been consistently inspired by Crystal Moody after meeting her at Alt Summit this past January. I may or may not have gone back and read most (all?) of her writing from her 2014 year of creative habits project. The past week and a half of writing reminded me of her thoughts on writing to grow—how writing about your processes, your fears, and your work will do far more for your growth than simply going through the motions.
How much more might I grow if I always approach my craft with the clarity of the past two weeks? How much more could be accomplished if I were more purposeful? While I’ve done NaNoWriMo for years and years now, this is the first year where my focus has been on the habit of writing itself more than the material. This shifted the paradigm of how I approach November, and how I’ll start approaching my writing in the future.
The idea of a daily quota isn’t new. Plenty of writers incorporate a daily quota into their habits on a permanent or semi-permanent basis—Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, and John Steinbeck are all notable for their 2,000 word daily goals. Perhaps it’s because writers, as a breed, trend towards some desire to control their inspiration by fabricating curious habits to keep it fixed into place. Or, maybe it’s to capture that sense of forward motion, as Elizabeth Gilbert mentions in Big Magic.
“Go walk the dog, go pick up every bit of trash on the street outside your home, go walk the dog again, go bake a peach cobbler, go paint some pebbles with brightly colored nail polish and put them in a pile. You might think it’s procrastination, but—with the right intention—it isn’t; it’s motion. And any motion whatsoever beats inertia, because inspiration will always be drawn to motion.”
In November and beyond, I’m trying to focus on continuing my forward motion, in whatever form it may take. Are you approaching a practice right now with the same start-and-stop mentality? Maybe it’s time we all worked on building up a little more resistance to inertia, and see where it takes us.
Some related reading on writing habits.