If you want to break a habit, the most commonly suggested first step is to get a baseline of just how often,and during what circumstances,you’re actually engaging in that habitual behavior. The purpose is to get a better idea of what internal or external things might be perpetuating that habit. Well in my case, this “habit” is really more of a non-habit. I actually want a habit. I’d like my habit to be writing, but as it turns out, my actual habit is to NOT write. Most of the time. Ouch. But what am I doing during all of those instances where writing could, and should, be occurring? When I asked myself this question on the fly, I didn’t really know the answer, other than maybe the overly general, “Stuff gets in the way.” I needed to know specifics.
Realistically I’m aware that I do not have an overabundance of free time in my life right now to just uselessly squander. I’m trying to balance being a part-time professional and a part-time ‘stay at home mom’ to my two actual kids and my two fur-kids. Yes, I count the dogs. Mostly our year and a half old Golden Retriever, because she insists on having my attention at least as much as our human children do. (That is a separate post for another time) But plenty of successful authors that I
stalk follow on social media also seem to have busy lives, yet somehow have managed to write and publish their novels. So, if they can do it, I’m certain I can also…I just needed to know where I was going wrong that was ending up derailing my good writing intentions.
So, in the spirit of self-awareness, I decided to write down what I was doing in those moments- those somewhat scarce, usually in the evening after the kids are in bed moments- when I knew I could actually be writing, but I wasn’t. So, since this blog is about accountability and honesty in my process/struggles, I’m going to share some of my findings. These are real accounts. This list is not exhaustive.
*Watching a shockingly cheesy “Valentines Special” Hallmark movie. (I’m an hour into it…because I left the remote in the kitchen when I accidentally took it in there with me to get a snack. I’m too lazy to get up.)
* Google searching ‘how to get my dog’s anal gland to stop clogging?’ (This is a legitimately important question that requires an immediate answer. Like now.)
*Fell in an Instagram hole and can’t get out. (No, really. I decided to scroll through my feed for some “writing inspiration” and two hours later I was perusing Author X’s vacation pictures from 2012.)
*Playing the ‘Shopkins Memory Game’ with my kids. (I am okay with this excuse, because parenting. I am, however, not okay with this excuse because they both beat me. As in actually beat me, not I let them beat me. I literally had the least amount of matched cards. They are three and five. I am 34.)
*Laundry. (Nothing extra here. Kids are still too little to legally recruit as deck-hands. Haven’t reached ‘do laundry’ yet in dog obedience training classes.)
*Cleaning out my email folders and inbox. (The number of messages in my ‘spam’, ‘trash’ and ‘drafts’ folders is astounding. How am I so unorganized at email? Why do I apparently start so many emails that I don’t end up finishing? Now I’m going to just delete them all so it says “0”, because seeing “0” instead of “1326” makes me feel like i’m adulting more successfully.)
*Watching YouTube videos of “Rock of Ages” on Broadway. Then videos of “Rent” on Broadway. Then looking up the cast of these Broadway shows on Instagram out of pure curiosity. Refer back to #3. (F you, Instagram. Instatimesuck. Instablackhole. Insta…oh, look, pictures of Golden Retrievers!)
*DVR. (Damn you and your crack-shows, Shonda Rhimes. You’re a creative genius, and your shows are addicting, and I hate you. Just kidding, don’t stop. #TGIT.)
*Sleeping. (This one seems self-explanatory. But I’ve seen a lot of writers talk about how they are up until 3am writing, or wake up at 5am-a few hours before their kids-to get writing in. I don’t know if it makes me an “uncommitted” writer or not… but nope. I love sleep. I LOVE it. Always have…until I had kids and then some other human controlled when I could or could not sleep, and that I did not love. So now that they are a little older and more regulated with sleep, I physically cannot bring myself to wake up any earlier than I last-minute have to in the mornings. The change in habits is going to have to come from somewhere else, because I’m not flexing with this one. So don’t ask me to.)
*This blog. (Ah, there, I said it. I’ve thought it before myself, to be honest. “If you’re complaining about not having enough time to write your novel, then why are you spending what periods of time you DO get on writing blog posts instead?” This is a hard one for me to reconcile. I started this blog as a way to get more writing practice, and to be able to share my own journey in writing with others. I really do enjoy writing different posts, because it gives me an outlet for the various things flying around in my head. So, what is the answer to this particular ‘this or that’ conundrum? I’m not sure yet…let me spend some more time writing about it in this blog post.)
So there we have it, just a few of the things I do that aren’t writing. Yikes. Self-reflection is hard. Bad me. Moving on.
What is the next step in changing a behavior pattern that you don’t want to have anymore? This step is a little easier and more well-defined when you’re working with a specific habit like biting your nails, smoking, or watching too many cat videos on YouTube, but since I’m technically trying to create a habit here where no current “habit” exists it’s a little different. Creation vs extinction. When trying to successfully implement a new habit, it’s best to start with setting small, short-term, achievable goals. Anyone who says: “That’s it, I’m going to write my entire novel in the next week” is probably not going to achieve that goal. It’s too big; to easy to overwhelm yourself into inaction. By ‘yourself’ I mean, myself. I tend to be easily overwhelmed into inaction. So, here’s my short-term goal toward fixing this little inaction problem:
Over the next week, four of the five week-nights after the Novel Minions are asleep, I’m going to sit down and write at least 500 words. Then on either Saturday or Sunday, with minion-care help of the Novel Hubs, I’m going to write at least 1,000 words. (Yes, I said only four of the five week-nights. I’m not going to self-sabotage and overshoot realism. I obviously need Thursday nights open. There, Shonda, are you happy?)
Those are smaller and realistic goals for me, and they feel doable. If I write the 500 words and feel like I want to-and can-do more, well then I will. But if not and after the 500 I want to stop, then I’ll do that to. If I stick to this, and my novel is around 75,000 words, it means I should finish it in around six to seven months. Math says so. This is an improvement from the fact that I set out to write a novel two and a half YEARS ago. But, I’ve never attempted to set these smaller goals for myself for some reason. Most of us know that if you want different results, you have to DO something different. So for right now, this will be my different. Except for Thursdays.
What are some of you guilty of doing instead of writing? Make your achievable, short-term goals and share them in the comments! Also, check out my Instagram for some other “Sh*t I’m doing that isn’t writing” posts.