Ah, so tempted to write hobbits…
No, I meant to write habits. It occurs to me that I write. A lot. Yes, there are loads of writers out there who write. A lot. But I have written 19 full-length novels, a bunch of short stories, portions of other novels, poetry and a screenplay. Not to mention my blog posts. Writing has become such a normal part of my daily habit that it’s really hard for me to go a day or two without, barring extenuating circumstances.
I have other habits that I’ve developed, through necessity and desire. Things like eating gluten-free food, or unprocessed food. These things are not always easy to do, but the consequences of what would happen if I did not do them are… painful.
I’ve learned that there are some tricks to establishing habits and getting rid of old habits. They all boil down to what I like to think of as the three week rule. If you can do something consistently, for three weeks, then you are well on your way to being able to do it all the time. Going on a diet? The first three weeks are always the hardest part. Adding in exercise? Three weeks on and it becomes much easier. The hard part is what happens within those first three weeks.
First off, you have to deliberately do whatever it is you want to do, every day. Not just a casual afterthought, but deliberately. For some people, this requires setting a daily schedule or reminder. Need to start up pilates? Every day, 9am, your phone beeps with a reminder. Want to write that novel? As soon as dinner is done, you don’t sit down and watch television, you remind yourself to write.
It’s hard. Doing something that you don’t normally do, every day ruins your routine. You feel like you have no extra time and you are squeezing in this new activity. You might feel stressed. Sleep worse. Feel grumpy. Trust me, I’ve been there. But once you establish a pattern, you can adjust your schedule.
Suddenly, it’s normal that you write after dinner or do pilates in the morning. That’s just expected. Everything else gets moved around these essential tasks. The thing is, these new activities only take maybe an hour of your time. It seems like a lot when the day is already so full, but it’s not. Especially if you break up that hour over the course of the day.
Anyways, after three weeks or so, things start to feel normal. And once it starts to feel normal, you can relax a bit. (Not a huge amount, but a bit.) If you get sick and have to miss a day, that’s alright. Because it will feel weird that you did and you will get right back to writing or pilates or whatever as soon as you are well. The pattern is established and you have yourself a new habit.
Why three weeks? I have no idea. But for me, that’s the magic number. A month is not my goal. Three weeks is. Maybe for you it’s three point seven weeks, or two and a half. Maybe you can magically change your habits and start doing something on a whim without backing down. (Cheater.) But you have to figure it out.
This habit of writing that I’ve established is why I’ve written so many novels. I write every day. Even when my writing feels off and I’m not feeling the flow of the words as well, I write. The novel may turn out horribly, but most of the time, it’s just my in-the-moment emotions that make it weird. But every day, I’m writing. Writing my novel. Writing blog posts. Writing weekly murder mystery updates. Whatever it is, keep writing. Even if your project feels flat, keep writing. Maybe write a different project.
But keep writing.
And don’t forget to do other things, too. Like eating. And sleeping. You know. Stuff.