I was walking to work this past Monday and I was thinking about what I would do once I got in to the office. I would get some coffee, check my Twitter feed, my Kindle Direct stats, the stats for this blog. Then, I would check the news before settling down to work.
And then suddenly it occurred to me, how natural it all was. I did the same thing every week, sometimes every day at work: Checked all the stats, just to see how the writing was going.
And I realized writing had become a habit. I can’t imagine my previous life when I just went to work, not thinking about writing. Maybe toying with an idea in my head, but never writing it down. Let alone writing first drafts, editing stuff. I looked at all the other people on the subway and I felt like I had a leg up on them, that I knew something they didn’t. A secret. I may be pretty locked into an office job, but I have a nice little side gig, where I can create and be and do as I like. A whole little world without bosses or coworkers to tell me what to do. It always makes me feel proud and a little sorry for everyone else.
Sometimes, I want to grab those people on the subway by the shoulders, shake them up. Tell them they don’t have to go the same route. That they’re free, too. They can do whatever they want, if only they had the courage and a little time. But I don’t.
So, I’ll take this opportunity to tell you. Sit down. Do it. Write it, draw it, create it. Make it happen. Don’t wait for someone else to give you permission, or time or the opportunity. Don’t stall forever, waiting for the perfect idea or the perfect day or perfect mood. Especially if you’re a writer. We can all publish now if we like. In all likelihood, the biggest thing stopping you is yourself. I know, I’ve been there.
And there is one more thing before I go, on the subject of habits. I did a little Wikipedia research (horrible, I know). But I came away with this little tidbit about habits.
In fact, habit formation is a slow process. Lally et al. (2010) found the average time for participants to reach the asymptote of automaticity [doing things automatically] was 66 days with a range of 18–254 days.
That sounds about right to me. The point is: don’t expect your writing (or artistic) routine to become habit overnight. Give it time. At least 3 months. Soon, it will be natural and you won’t even notice it.
Old habits are hard to break and new habits are hard to form because the behavioral patterns we repeat are imprinted in our neural pathways. But the good news is that it is possible to form new habits through repetition.
After awhile, your Life-before-Writing will just fade away and you will laugh when you think back on those days before you started writing. I for one, can’t imagine going back now. It’s just part of what I do every week, who I am.
Until next time.
Keep reading, keep writing,
[PS The Tetris graphic is a reference to the Tetris effect. After a time, Tetris players start seeing Tetris in their dreams, the side of their field of vision, everywhere they go. It’s quite similar to someone who starts writing. It keeps coming up everywhere.]