Sunday, July 15, 2012

Hard habit to break

By: Joelle Charbonneau

I’m a writer.  Which means…drum roll please….I write.  No big surprise.  Right? I admit I haven’t been at this writing thing as long as some.  I wasn’t an English or journalism major in college.  I didn’t dream of a career that involved sitting behind a computer making stuff up.  Heck, even had I dreamed of it, I would never have thought anyone would pay me to do it. 

A little under 10 years ago I decided to try my hand at writing.  For whatever reason, when I started writing, I did the bulk of my work in the afternoon or in the late parts of the evening.  I freely admit that I am not a morning person.  Or, perhaps more important, while I am able to make beds, get breakfast on the table and fish clothes that match out of my closet, I find my brain doesn’t appreciate being asked to be creative in the A.M. 

As most of you probably know, I have a toddler in the house and I consider myself lucky that at 4 years of age, the tot still enjoys taking an afternoon nap.  This has allowed me to continue the writing pattern that began long ago.  Write in the afternoon (when the tot is napping) and continue writing in the evening (when the tot is asleep). 

Yippee!  Right?

Right!  Well…sort of.  Kind of…

See, while this writing pattern has been successful for me thus far, I didn’t have the amount of work e-mails to answer nor several books a year to copy edit, proof, tweak jacket copy and the myriad of other details that go along with a book’s production.  I also didn’t need to write several manuscripts in any given year.  I do now.  And though having this work is thrilling, I am finding that my current writing habits don’t allow enough time for me to get as much done as needs to be done in any given day. 

So, I’m working on changing my habits.  Every morning the tot has swim lessons.  When we started the summer, I brought a book to the pool and read for the 40 minutes the kid splashed and kicked.  In the last week, I have packed up the laptop and fired it up poolside.  I’ve also brought the laptop to the park and sat on the porch with it while the kid does the kiddie pool routine.

The results of this experiment have been mixed.  While I am more than willing to be productive, part of my brain is determined that the routine I have used for so many years is the way I write best.  That I can’t be as sharp or funny or…whatever…during different times of day in places where there are so many distractions.

But I am determined to persevere.  Which is where you come in.  Have you ever had to change a habit and found yourself doubting whether or not it will work for you?  Do you NEED to exercise at a certain time or day?  Do you only write well when you first wake up?  Am I the only one who feels this pull to keep doing what has been successful in the past?  And if you have changed a personal habit – how long did it take before it felt natural or before you stopped doubting it was a good choice?  Trust me – with 3 more manuscripts to write by summer of next year, I really need to know!


Linda Rodriguez said...

Joelle, I can understand your frustration. I used to be an early morning writer as a poet. Not that I've ever been a lark, but when I ran a university women's center working 80 hour-weeks, getting up extra early to write and rewrite poetry and short prose was the only way I could manage to write.

When I had to leave my job, it was because I'd developed lupus and fibromyalgia and couldn't do those long hours anymore. I can't do early mornings anymore, either. It take me a couple of hours after I get up to get my joints and muscles fully functioning now (which means any early-morning meetings require me to rise at about 4 am). I've had to learn to write later in the day.

It's supposed to take 21 days/3 weeks of uninterrupted use of the new behavior to make it a habit. I'd say give yourself a month or more. Even days that seem wasted because the work didn't flow and you feel you wrote crap are cementing that habit.

Good luck!

Cathy Shouse said...

I'm currently trying to change my writing habits as well. I want to write a lot faster. lol I'm actually in an online class where we post our numbers daily. The goal is to write a very fast first draft and then go back and edit.

Perhaps set a concrete goal stating how many minutes you want to write in addition to the ones you write at home. At first, you will not write as well, but I believe you will eventually be able to write equally well.

Actually, there's an article in the September Writer's Digest called "7 Steps to Successful Juggling" that mentions your issue. Good luck.