Warning! Writing May Be Habit-Forming

By Jayne Bodell

I’ve passed the two-year mark for exercising every day. Feel free to applaud. I started this 21-day program two years ago, and after those days were up, I wondered how long I could continue the streak. I’ve been exercising all my life pretty consistently but never every day. After two years, I’m still going strong with no plans to quit. When I tell people what I’ve done, they are amazed. But I must admit that I’m not. It’s easy for me.

I get up every day and the first thing I do is exercise. When I hurt something, I change the type of exercise. If I am on vacation, I walk around the hotel neighborhood. I’ve learned to adapt so I can continue my streak.

So why is this easy for me and not for someone else? The answer is simple. I want to.

The more important question though, is why can’t I apply this same motivation to my writing? If I wrote every day for 21 days to create a habit, would I be able to stretch those 21 days into something longer?

I doubt it. Exercising is easier than writing. I plop in a DVD and follow along with what someone else is doing. If I walk, I head out the back door and put one foot in front of the other for 30 minutes until I find myself back home.

I don’t have to think about what I’m doing. Instead, I get to think about writing which, truthfully, is the fun part of writing. My mind can wander about topics for the next blog, explore a possible grammar post for Two Drops of Ink, plan to read more about flash fiction so I can get enough stories together for a book or figure out when to send those letters of introduction to get that writing career going. Oh, and let’s not forget about that airplane article that needs writing.

The fun part of writing is the daydreaming. We imagine ourselves in that busy cafe, sitting in the corner typing away on our laptop, oblivious to the noisy customers, or sitting on our front porch seeing the cars drive by in our peripheral vision while listening to the robin’s tweet in the nearby tree.

Sometimes when I exercise, I notice that I’m on autopilot following along with all the moves on the video, yet, I’m not hearing a thing that Autumn is saying because I’m thinking about what subject I want to write about next.

Thinking about writing is fun. Writing is not. Writing is hard work and so easy to put off until tomorrow.

We live in an instant gratification world which is not conducive to writers. To glean gratification from writing is a learned skill. When I eat mocha, caramel ice cream, or a dark chocolate truffle, or my homemade pumpkin pie with a dollop of whipped cream after Thanksgiving, I am in gratification heaven. When I slide into a hot bubble bath, or silently correct my boss’s grammar, I’m in gratification heaven.

When I write, it can take hours before the gratification wave washes over me. Am I gratified after a rough draft? Maybe. Or, do I have to wait until that final draft is accepted?

You can promise yourself you’ll write every day for 15 minutes. Let’s say you do this for a week. Will you be happy after a week? Obviously, there is no instant gratification. For me, I would not be satisfied. I’d think to myself, big deal. Fifteen minutes isn’t enough.

I say it’s time we retrain the brain. Fifteen minutes is a start, and if we do it for 21 days, we’ll be on our way to creating a habit.

Take the knee-jerk reaction out of the gratification equation (Double metaphor? Probably, but I like it.) Think it through. You have written almost two hours by the end of the week; chances are, you’ve written more because once you sit down to write, that 15 minutes easily flows into more.

Learn to pat yourself on the back and feel good about what you’ve done. I know it’s hard. I still can’t do it. But like my mother always said, “Those who can’t do, teach.”

Once you’ve plopped your sorry arse down in the chair for a week and have two hours of words on your laptop, look over what you wrote. You might feel discouraged and feel you’re no closer to gratification when you find yourself asking, what the heck is all this gobbledygook?

Again, retrain and rethink. I know for a fact that in that morass you have at least one (if not half a dozen) idea that will work. You’ve exercised your brain this week, and that’s a good thing. I’m willing to bet you have one or two great paragraphs in there that you really like. Take time to read it over, relish in that construction and admit that you can do this. Then turn out the lights and get a good night’s sleep because tomorrow you’re going to get up and do it all again.


Jayne Bodell

Jayne

Bio:

Jayne Bodell graduated from UW-Madison with an English degree many, many years ago. About two years ago, she renewed her interest in writing by starting a blog about grammar but soon realized that she wanted to expand her subject matter. She now blogs about keeping life simple, smart, and sassy at www.JayneBodell.com. In between blog posts, she’s planning to branch into the scary world of writing fiction by writing a collection of flash fiction stories.
Jayne lives in Wisconsin and fills her spare time with gardening, photography, knitting, reading, and a side of coloring. Her favorite way to vacation is to pick a general destination and drive, no time constraints and no plans.

Published posts on Two Drops of Ink:

1) Tell Me Your Why

2) Hump Day Humor: ‘Most Hated Phrases’

3) Hump Day Humor: ‘The Dark Side of Writing’


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19 comments

  1. Your article could have been written by me…not about exercise, but in the reverse! I can write more as a form of exercise, and the exercise as an exercise in futility!

  2. Hi, Jayne. Two years exercising – robust applause from this corner of the room! Sincerely!

    Any repetitious activity which is continuously accomplished with minimal forethought seems to be, as you say, a “simple” process for that person. However, one must acknowledge the fact that somewhere along that activity trail, an exclusive choice about commitment occurred. This often happens with zero conscious thought or effort – an unconscious decision made minus any input from the individual. Eventually, the person recognizes the progress and is so pleased with it that understanding when, why, or what transpired becomes unimportant. They just don’t want it to stop.

    Certainly, paddling around in the mind are seeds of desire planted by the person, possibly placed there at two years of age or, yesterday. When, why, or how the desire actually matures can’t be foreseen. But, desire is a two-sided coin of pro’s and con’s – the choices are indeed simple…yes, I will; no, I won’t.

    Take it to the bank – those two choices cover e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g! Pick one – dispense with all that extraneous, burdensome, vexatious garbage that surrounds the issue!

    Jayne, your post is enlightening, positive, a pathway for achievement. Easy reading for me so, had to have been well-written! A pleasure to see these thoughts in the light of day, an absolute plus for the rest of us. Thank you.

    By the way…I’m impressed with your choice of travel for vacation. It’s great!

    • Slug, you are so right about choices. And thank you for your kind words about being able to read my post. I pride myself on getting rid of the “extraneous” stuff.

  3. I write out of habit, passion, and for a living! I have no choice but to write daily and be very productive in my writing efforts. Although, my description or sense of productivity may be a bit off at times. Half written posts that are not work related takes away from my sense of productivity. So, it’s like I have not written at all.

  4. Thank Jayne
    As a struggling, abusively self-critical writer I love reading about the struggles of others. Not in a schadenfreude way, but in a spirit of shared resilience. Interesting about your 15 minute rule. I recently read about a Japanese precept which holds that committing 10 minutes daily to any activity can, in time, change your life. That could be something to hold onto if you ever fall a few minutes short of 15. A kind of Ten Minute Triumph:)

    Good luck! Hoping to read about your 20 minutes soon

    John. PS I’ve found an exercise theraband to be a big help when traveling, and DVD players or gyms are just a memory

    • I like that 10 minutes a day theory. I know from experience, that doing something for three weeks will create a habit. I have a hard time writing on the weekends, so maybe if I write for 10 minutes, I’ll get past my hump. Thanks for the comment.

  5. Jayne, I would have to say that, for me at least, writing is more fun than exercise (and I do exercise every day). I often find exercise helps me focus my writing, as I start to think about something I am writing and it helps me take it further that ever before, perhaps brings up something my subconscious has been thinking about and helps me write or rewrite that particular section. I am not one of those people who seek instant gratification, but I do enjoy the gratification of getting something published correctly.

    • I agree with you Peter. When I walk or jog, my mind functions better which gives birth to my ideas. I take little breaks from writing at times. I feel I create a picture in my minds eye. My hope it translates into a worthy post.

      • If I have a problem post I often review it in my mind when exercising, which causes me to come up with ideas.

    • Peter, I agree with the “getting something published.” That light at the end of the tunnel is what keeps me writing. I’m just glad that I don’t rely on my writing to eat. I’d starve.

  6. Jayne, thank you for this pep talk. I suffer from inconsistencies in my daily writing. I’m a gatherer of information, then let’s hit it and get down on paper. I do desire better writing habits. I confess, I need to work harder at it. Only thing stopping me are my own self inflicted distractions. Thank you for the encouragement and reminder.

    I’ll take this moment and applaud you for your due diligence on writing everyday.

  7. Hi, Jayne. I’m with you on this. There are things I do every day for my recovery. I realize I have to sustain these actions, or… (fill in the blanks, there’s multiple options, most of them, not good.) However, I don’t write a post daily. Oh, I jot a sentence, maybe a paragraph or two, find an image or quote to build upon, but not with the same resolve I apply to my recovery.

    I think you isolated part of this discrepancy. From your post, “We live in an instant gratification world which is not conducive to writers. To glean gratification from writing is a learned skill”, and therein lies the rub. I can get instant gratification from sharing with a client about the joys of recovery, or find peace in reflecting on my meditation for the day – writing, not always.

    Okay, I’ll take the challenge. Did you issue one? Anyway, I’ll commit to finding the same feelings of productivity or purpose and write consistently for 15-30 minutes daily. Stay tuned for an update. She smiles.

    • Marilyn, thanks so much for your input. I see you as a prolific writer and envy how much you publish, so I don’t think you need any help here. But, by all means take the challenge, and good luck.

  8. Jayne,
    This. Is. So. True. I feel myself saying “just do it” but when the time comes I don’t seem to be able to. For a while I got up early, just to write and I was so much more productive! I just need to make it a habit. Easier said than done, as you point out. So glad to know I am not the only one. 🙂

    • I find that the things I want to accomplish most need to be done the first thing in the morning. Writing comes right before I have to go to work. Thanks for the comment Michelle. Glad you could relate.

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