The Lazy Daydreamer’s Guide to a Supercharged Writing Routine
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So you wanna be a writer/serious blogger?
- Publish a book, a few articles on popular sites.
- Share your knowledge and help others.
- Live off your writing. Do what you really love in life.
You know you need a writing routine.
And you may have even read Steve’s awesome book Writing Habit Mastery and tried setting up your own daily writing habit.
But implementing habits is hard. Most habit building strategies require a lot of motivation and willpower to succeed. It's hard to keep going when your motivation runs low, you're tired, or don't have enough willpower to stop procrastinating, avoid distractions or keep your wandering mind on track.
I get it.
I'm lazy by nature, with a low threshold for boredom. I love daydreaming and prefer planning and ‘visualisation of success' to the actual hard work. I struggle with the need for instant gratification and have poor willpower. Creating a daily writing habit, or any habit, had always been a Sisyphean task - constant starting and stopping, and starting again, with even more guilt and sense of failure. Never achieving the goal of having a regular writing habit, publishing a book and becoming a full-time writer.
Never until recently.
A few years ago, I discovered a different approach to habit formation. Since then, I've used it successfully to create a writing routine, regular exercise schedule, healthy diet, 'extreme focus' habit and many other good habits. As a result, in the last 18 months, I've published 2 non-fiction books, wrote about 50 posts and as of the 9th of December 2016, I'm a full-time writer. All that while having a full-time job, a side business and a family.
Whatever your level of willpower and ability to stick to your plans, there is a way of developing a writing habit to improve your chances of finishing that bl**y book and getting it published.
The Power of Weaknesses Most People Ignore
Self-improvement experts tell you to either work on your weaknesses to improve them, or forget about them and focus on your strengths instead.
My approach is different. I use my weaknesses to prop my progress towards my goals.
We are as strong as our weakness link, right?
So if you can create a routine that relies on your weaknesses for you to stick to it, how likely are you to carry it out?
Pretty likely, don't you think?
It's definitely the case for me.
My laziness and poor memory do a great job in limiting my procrastination by Net surfing. I only have eight sites in my favourites, most of them quick to check and too boring to spend time browsing. I'm logged out of all the tempting websites and the login details are kept in a secret place, definitively not within the reach. If I feel like browsing, I need to get up and get them. That's a lot of hassle - I'd think twice before doing it.
I have a writing friend who is so self-conscious she would never leave the house, even to go to the garden, without her hair being freshly washed. So on days she wants to write, she deliberately leaves her hair unwashed. Of course, she still can procrastinate in the house, but at least she doesn’t go out.
Find a weakness to drive your writing routine. Look at your little quirks, obsessions, current habits, and see how you can use them to reinforce your writing habit. Use it as a cue - to remind yourself what you are to do (e.g. unwashed hair for my friend), to keep you on track with your writing (e.g. my logins), or to reward your behaviour, and your ability to comply with your writing routine will soar.
Little Pleasures Can Fuel Your Motivation, Too
This may come as a shock, but habit creation doesn't have to be a string of deprivations and self-discipline acts.
Yes, I really mean it.
I love sweets, sadly. And my favourite procrastination escape is a certain mobile game. I've managed to cut down on both over the last few months and now employ them to reinforce my writing habit.
How does it work?
These are things I enjoy and therefore perfect as rewards. Instead of fighting them, I use them to reward myself for achieving certain milestones in my writing. It's called temptation bundling, and it's been found effective in improving adherence to exercise programs, and now also in reinforcing my writing routine!
But there are other ways, in which little pleasures can help you build that writing routine.
My writing routine has evolved from my study routine, which I established 20 years ago. I get up every morning, these days it’s 5am, or even earlier. I am a morning person, but 5 am is early even for me.
Yet, I get up with a smile, even if I went to bed late, or slept badly.
I have a couple of little pleasures I look forward to every morning: a cup of my favourite coffee, nice breakfast and some peace and quiet. Moreover, I dedicate the first 45 minutes of my day to just enjoying it, without feeling guilty about it (guilt-free aspect is important!).
As long as you don't overindulge, little pleasures can ease the sense of deprivation and smooth the process of habit formation. Not only as a way of rewarding yourself, but also to break up the monotony and keep you interested, (e.g. during breaks). Don't deprive yourself of them. Find out what little things you enjoy and use them smartly to keep your writing routine going.
The Most Effective, Yet Underestimated Way Of Dealing With Temptations
Habit forming takes time and the road to the change is full of obstacles. Just as Steve writes: there will be days when time constraints, weather, pain, costs, space and other things will try to derail you from your path to becoming a successful writer. TV, social media, Internet, chats with friends, and even cleaning your flat!
Temptations are everywhere - hard to ignore and resist.
It's even harder if you already have problems sticking to your long-term goals, like me.
I believe that the most effective way of dealing with temptations is to eliminate as many as you can before you even start.
Before I sit to write, I eliminate all physical distractions from my workspace only allowing a limited number of items to be within my reach: my laptop, the necessary notes, a couple of pens, scrap paper and a hot drink. I sit with my back to the window. And because my biggest difficulty is my low threshold for boredom, I have designed a system that keeps me put behind the table.
I call my strategy 'chain yourself to the desk'. Of course, I don't literally chain myself, but the principle is the same. I set up my writing space to make getting up and walking away more time- and effort-consuming than usually. So before I can abandon my writing, I have to wriggle my way from behind a big oak table, move a clumsy chair and pull away a fiddly curtain. This creates four decision points - extra barriers to walking away and short pauses to reconsider my actions. As the result, more often than not, I’m back in the writing chair.
For temptation-free writing routine - don't fight them, eliminate them! Look at your writing space. Try to minimise the impact of temptations on your behaviour. Rearrange your writing space to make your environment keep you in your writing chair. Experiment with various set-ups until you find one that works best for you.
The Secret But Effective Strategy of Putting Your Routine on Autopilot
Wouldn't it be great if you could just push that ‘Start’ button and get on with your writing? What if you could just sit down at your desk/worktop, open your laptop and type away until you have written your 2000 words for the day, finished your chapter, or achieved some other milestone?
Not possible without a powerful motivation, iron willpower and a lot of hard work, right?
Nah. I'll tell you a secret - there is a way of achieving the autopilot state without all that. And I can tell you how to do it.
What's my secret?
Creating a situation where writing is the default action you carry out without thinking, much effort and automatically is the easiest way to achieve the goal of a successful writing routine on autopilot.
When I sit down to write, I make writing the default option by eliminating temptations (as described above) and by ‘embracing the line of least resistance’.
I write in the early morning, from 6am till 7am. You need to know that I'm not at the peak of my intellectual or creative powers at this time of day, but I'm fresh, and my willpower is at its strongest, so I'm least likely to succumb to temptations. Early morning is also the time when I'm least likely to be interrupted by others and I have control over potential distractions. So it's easy to get on with writing.
If other ways of setting up a writing routine have not worked for you - try the line of least resistance approach. Don't go for 'the best' or 'ideal' solution. Look for the easiest option, something you will be least likely to resist. After all, it's getting you to write regularly that counts.
The shocking truth about behavioural change
People don't change easily. Of course, faced with life-threatening choices, many people are able to break bad habits. But sometimes, for some of us even the best motivation in the world, is not enough to change unhealthy diets, lack of exercise, or unproductive work routines.
The more change to your lifestyle you need to make in order to implement a new habit, the harder it will be to implement.
Yes, you can try to get up earlier to write, but if you’ve been an evening person all your life, it'll be hard.
Or if you’re trying to write during your lunch break but you never take lunch breaks, that's too much of a change at once.
Or if you, like me, don't have a dedicated room (office/study) to write but have to find a quiet space whenever you can, there is too much uncertainty to rely on it.
Creating a writing routine that depends on a significant change in your lifestyle is hard. Sometimes it's so hard, we just give up.
So my lazy approach is to make the change as small as possible, and make the new routine fit in with your lifestyle. Find the easiest, most failproof way of writing and just do it.
You know why you want to develop a writing routine. You know this is the best way to achieve your dreams of being a published author, or a full-time writer, the freedom of doing what you love doing, and the independence of working for yourself.
And even if your willpower is poor and your motivation fluctuates, it is possible to create an effective writing routine.
Just like me, you can overcome your problems and achieve your goals if you set up your environment and your lifestyle the right way. You’ll need to invest some time and effort in up front, but once you’ve set it up it’ll run like a dream.
So don't delay it. Act now. Look at your environment and your lifestyle as think how you can tweak it so it makes you write regularly.
Don't be afraid to go against the established ways of developing habits. Try the lazy daydreamer’s approach to establishing a reliable writing routine and you’ll turn your dream of being a successful writer into reality.
About the Author
Joanna Jast helps career changers, entrepreneurs and freelancers accelerate their learning and personal change so they can adapt faster to the new environment. If you want to learn more about her approach to creating new habits, check her new book Hack Your Habits and start improving your habits today.
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