Bad habits. We all have some. Leaving our muddy shoes on when we walk across a carpet. Letting dishes pile up before washing them. Picking scabs, or picking noses. We have good habits, too, but they always seem to fade into the background while bad habits persist, even when we’re not fully aware of executing them.
We learned these behaviors, through. Nobody emerges from the womb sticking a finger up their nose. Believe it or not, we practiced our bad behaviors even if it was due to sitting around bored in the first grade. What this means, ultimately, is that we need to practice our good habits as well, provided we want to keep them.
There’s a reason I blog every day. Even if I wake up in the morning with no idea as to what is going to be up in this space around lunchtime, I know I’m going to blog. Other than trying to drum up interest in my writing and demonstrate what meager skills I’ve acquired for telling stories, as well as pointing out how others are doing it at least once a week, I maintain this schedule for the simple reason I told myself I should.
The fact of the matter is that everybody burns out from time to time. Everybody gets smacked upside the head with the notion that too much has been done lately. The gas tank runs dry, the batteries lose their charge, you’ve given away your last spoon – pick your metaphor. Eventually the energy will return but in the meantime, the temptation is to avoid doing that which drove you to lethargy in the first place.
For a writer, that means avoiding writing. I know a few writers who sometimes would definitely rather not write. They get tired of struggling with their plot points, the blood of their darlings is clogging the drains and as much as rejections show they’re working their asses off to get somewhere with naught but a pen and a dream, rejection still sucks. Video games, movies, walks in the park, hookers and blow – none of these things require the burning of lean tissue chunks or 100% commitment.
Yet that commitment still exists. Or at least it should, in my opinion. Even in small ways, a writer should always be writing. Musicians practice day in and day out to get better. Professional fighters beat the crap out of inanimate objects, hopefully in a gym setting. Programmers lift the hood on their favorite games and websites to uncover new techniques and practice those things themselves. Writing’s no different.
You have to commit to making it a habit.
If you can get into a habit of writing, even if it’s just a pithy blog post like this one, you’re staying in the practice of writing. The skills you’ve built aren’t getting worn down by time and neglect. Then, when the tides of inspiration wash back in or you get that surge of energy you need to push through whatever obstacle was keeping you from finishing that paragraph, that chapter, that scene, that story, your skills are right there, more of an unconscious intellectual muscle memory than a conscious procedural chore. You can let the words flow. You can put letters onto the page. Even if, upon reflection, they aren’t the best words for the situation, they’re there, you put them there, and they’re fewer words you have to conquer to get where you want to go.
Moreover, the more you edit your work, rearranging words for better structure, trimming fat and streamlining flow, the more future writing will fit the sort of mold that editors and audiences are looking for. The more you reach for Strunk & White, the more their lessons will stick in your head. It’ll be conscious, at first, but the more one practices a behavior, the more instinctual it becomes, even if it’s a bad one.
Practice your good habits. Commit to making them unconscious. And let the words flow. Even if it’s just into a blog.
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