Habit Un-Forming


Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of books about forming and breaking habits. Whether this has more to do with habits I feel I’ve broken in recent times, or with patterns I’ve yet to break, I cannot say. It’s just fascinating to note our human proclivities, and how they form over time. They can be positive, like getting up early to exercise in the morning, or negative, like eating when we’re bored. Matter. Anti-Matter. As a writer, I’m especially interested in ‘anti-matter’ right now.

When I consider habits, I see an impulse – something we do without even thinking about it. Something automatic. In a creative groove, writing or painting can feel like operating on auto-pilot. In a zone. In orbit. We feel like we’re gravitating towards a ‘natural’ state. Being who we are. So what happens when gravity comes crashing down? We face the inertia of writer’s block. The anti-habit: it’s a tendency towards NOT doing anything. Disposition all out of position. Lack of impulse.

I’m not going to regale you with the ‘fix it fast’ approach to habit breaking (or anti-habit breaking, in this case). Most believable books on habits that I’ve read agree that habits, having been molded over time, do not go away overnight. They are not expunged in “7 easy steps.” But I do have a suggestion for you: think small. Training yourself in a new habit is easier if it’s a simpler task. It’s easier if you start small. By way of example, let’s turn back to writing, and writer’s block.

I won’t lie: I don’t write every day. I think every day, I paint some days, and like everyone else on the planet, I have chores and daily tasks that sometimes just wipe me out and feel like they suck me dry. As a fickle artist type, I’m not enamored with the idea of some regimented schedule. I don’t want a ‘set time’ to write, or paint, or brainstorm, or whatever. So my ‘little by little’ solution is to take notes.

I keep a notepad in my car, for those times when I’ve thought of something useful at a park, or on errands. I keep one by the bed, so that if something hits me while I’m trying (unsuccessfully) to sleep, I can use my phone as a flashlight, and write it down. Somewhat less miraculously, I am swimming in notepads as I type this at my desk. By getting myself into the habit of at least logging my ideas religiously, I make it easier on myself later, when I’m truly feeling the ‘fire’ to write. I have a bunch of notes to consult, so I don’t have to face a ‘blank canvas,’ and I also have a sense that I’ve been ‘busy’ with my writing, even when not slaving over a keyboard.

What practices do you keep in order to keep up with your writing? (Or are you not in the habit of talking about it…)

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