Habits can be good and healthy. Some habits can hold us back. People tend to cling to what they believe works. This is why athletes and actors (and others, of course) can sometimes generate elaborate rituals before a game or performance. It’s based on the idea that duplicating a set of circumstances will duplicate the outcome.
Healthy habits include writing consistently, perhaps keeping a journal, and maintaining commitment to writing. Unhealthy habits can become rituals or fetishes that hold us back. For example, requiring a specific pair of slippers or environment to write is a constraint, not an element of process. What if you lose the slippers? What if you’re on deadline and the preferred environment isn’t available?
Experimenting with different elements of process and periodically examining our habits is a good thing. What worked for me five years ago may not work for me now. What works now might not work next year. Habits that serve my writing today may hold me back if circumstances change even just a little bit tomorrow.
Have I lost you yet? No? Good.
Anything that gets between you and words on the page is probably habit. Here are a few examples of ritual or fetish:
- Requiring a particular pen
- Requiring a specific time of day
- Completing specific steps before moving into prose.
- A special notebook or keyboard
Writing itself does not depend on these things. If you let them get between you and words, their lack becomes an excuse, right?
I’m all for habits that indicate to my mind that it is time to write because sometimes they are helpful. On the other hand, if I catch myself saying “I can’t write right now because . . .” then the habit has become a problem.
The key to all of this is awareness. Stripping things down to the basics, eliminating everything that stands between you and words on the page, can help you identify what you truly need as part of your process, and what just gets in the way.
- Try letting go of that special notebook in favor of note cards stuffed into your back pocket.
- Try writing in different environments to decrease dependence on your favored atmosphere.
- Try writing at all hours of the day to prove to yourself you can do it, no matter when you’re creative peak may be.
- Experiment with outlining, clustering, starting with characters, starting with setting, Change things up even if it makes you uncomfortable.
Do all of this, and then use what works for now with the understanding that it may not work later. Keep your process streamlined and free of ritual. It’s giving yourself the gift of freedom, really.
Work on healthy habits by all means. Work to eliminate the rituals that don’t serve you. Keep things simple so there is nothing between you and those words.