The desire to write has always been in my head, but a willingness to sit in the chair and do the work hasn’t. Starting, it seems, has been the largest part of my struggle so far.
I tend to focus on tasks with immediate deadlines and procrastinate over the non-essential. It’s a fault I want to fix. Over the past few months, I’ve experimented with different approaches to the habit of writing to make sure doing the work becomes less of a problem and my goals are given the sense of urgency they deserve. By addressing where I’ve been going wrong and learning new ways to make things happen, I’m trying to get better at moving forward bit-by-bit-by-bit.
I started by going all in, cold turkey, from the word go and getting up at 5am, daily, to write. This didn’t last long; less than a month. I’d set an early alarm, get dressed and go straight to my desk in the summer house at the bottom of my garden, flask of bulletproof coffee in hand, before meditating for ten minutes and doing an hour of writing. After that, I’d head back in to start my day.
The problem with this approach was it relied on me physically getting up at a set time. Bad move.
It sometimes happened. But, when life interfered (busy with day job work, alcoholic drinks the night before, cold mornings), getting up at 5am was incredibly hard. The shame is, when I was actually up and working, I loved it. Being up before the rest of the world was uniquely satisfying, calming and rewarding. This permeated throughout my day thereafter.
A massive issue is the fact I had to leave to get to my day job by a certain time. If I overslept, even slightly, it threw everything off. As someone trying to develop their writing habit and with other daily responsibilities on top of this, I simply couldn’t leave it to chance that I’d wake up that early every day, get the writing done and get to the office on time. It’ll happen sometimes, but not always. I sometimes can, sometimes can’t, but I wasn’t being fair to myself or my writing by expecting those can’t days not to happen.
Instead, recently, I’ve been going to a café at around 6pm and writing or editing for at least an hour, topping up in ad hoc breaks during the day. So far, it’s going well. I never thought I’d be the type of person who can write in public but needs must and I’m definitely getting better at focusing.
It’s working because I currently must go to the office every weekday. Unlike waking up at 5am, I’m not relying on willpower to fulfil an optional obligation. I’m already there. I’m not leaving it to chance. Going to a café just feels like a continuation of my working day. If I leave it until I get home, psychologically I’m usually already winding down and I’m again re-introducing chance to the equation.
I’ve found something that works, at least for now. Tomorrow, next month, next year might be different but getting my writing done today is what counts.
Even though it’s early days, I’ve learned loads. These are the main lessons so far:
- Don’t overburden myself. Taking on lots of new habits in one go is a no-no. Relying on myself to wake up super early means leaving it to chance and willpower that I’ll be able to do it every day. That’s too large a risk if early mornings are the only time I plan to write.
- Limit the scope for failure. The routine of going to a café works well because it helps me to maintain the habit of writing. I have to go to the office so going to a café nearby afterwards is just a continuation of my working day.
- An established routine guarantees progress. I’m able to edit and work on ideas ad hoc but knowing I have a set time to write means I’m moving forward regardless of what else is going on. My equipment is definitely helping, in a big way, and I’ll write more about that in the future.
- Different routines might serve different purposes. Writing in public works with non-fiction. Fiction might be another story (pun very much intended).
- Be flexible with my on-going approach. Early mornings are my preference for doing the work in the long term because, no matter what else the day brings, I will already have written. I’m going to keep experimenting with it; I’m just not going to rely on it, yet. I need to get better at waking up early all the time and don’t want my writing habit to suffer in the meantime.
Being a writer means actually writing words. Not just thinking about them.
The good news, for me, is I’ve started doing this more often. And I’m getting a bit better at the process because I’m getting a feel for what works for me and what doesn’t.
Maybe one day, in the not too distant future, I’ll have this whole writing process locked down properly. For now, though, baby steps and progress is just what I need.
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