The Construction and Care of the Writing Habit

Yesterday was a heck of a stressfest. My husband and I are dealing with the logistical challenges of an elderly family member's care (with its incumbent extended separations and myriad phone calls) and my son's routine car maintenance turned into Automotive Armageddon. I was fried by day's end, and I hadn't written one word.

But I'd checked in on a writer friend who's dealing with her own health issues and is one of the busiest folks I know. We talked a while before she said, "I have to go and get my 100 words in before I go out this evening."

It reminded me of one of the best strategies I've ever come across for building up the writing habit. Some years ago, a group of writers chatted about research that indicated it takes 100 consecutive days to fully establish a habit. They also decided that, as helpful as things like NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) can be for some folks, it's not realistically sustainable and the giant goal of crashing out a draft in a mere month scares off many people. So these writers formed a challenge e-mail loop to encourage each other to write at least 100 words per day (that's all!) for at least 100 days straight. At the end of each day, they checked in to report their success (and weren't allowed to brag about any quantity of words they wrote over 100, so as not to make the group competitive.)

Remembering all this (and that I'd been a member of such a group for a while) I hauled my weary self to the computer and said, "If she can crank out a hundred words this afternoon, so the heck can I. Then I can hang it up, veg on the couch, and watch an episode of BREAKING BAD."

Now here's the cool part. I didn't write just 100 words. I entered the slipstream of the story and did about five times that. It was still only a measly two pages, not much to show for a professional. But it's two pages more than I would've had if I'd given into my fatigue. Plus it was a great start on a scene I'm eager to flesh out today.

One of the gifts of giving oneself such a bite-sized goal is it tricks the writer's way past psychological resistance. For many of us (raising hand here) sitting down and getting started is the toughest part of the day.

But, as Newton teaches, once we overcome inertia, it's not so difficult to keep a body (and mind) in motion after all.

If you really want to write, this is something you can manage. Consider forming your own challenge group, or do what I've done and mark out each day's number of words on a calendar. (You can brag there all you want!) What you'll see is that over time, these lovely little successes lead to loftier achievements, and the creation of a habit that you won't want to give up!


Vicky said…
That loop helped me establish regular writing habits and worked very well when I was traveling all the time. Writing everyday kept my head in the story. I really believe the 100 words a day for 100 days was instrumental in my first sale.
Kay said…
I'm still hanging in with the 100 word loop, Colleen. I wrote an entire novel on my first stretch (440 days, and then I had to type and edit it, but still . . .) and I'm on day 36 of my current run.
Glad to be of service, vdemetros!

And Vicky, I'm thrilled it's worked to wonderfully for you. I know several folks whose lives kept getting in the way until they tried this.

I'm feeling crummy with sinuses and am exhausted from waking up coughing through the night. But I can do 100 words today. I. Can.
To my mind, your success has been amazing. Considering your daunting commute and the hours you've been working, if you can do it, anybody can!

You and Jo Anne have both made amazing progress since you started! Proud of you ladies.
Jeanna said…
Colleen, after being away on a working retreat, I returned to my natural habitat this am... "dog tired and wound tight from coffee and the road." Unable to nap, I WROTE!! It felt like I had not *gotten my fill* for days! Under the gun of time, a scrap of words here and there had not been enough. Thanks for reminding us to be accountable. :)
Jo Anne said…
Our fun visit motivated me, too, Colleen. I let time get away from me and only had about a few minutes before I needed to get ready for early drinks, dinner & the theatre with my family. I knocked out 176 words in fifteen minutes, and was please with the direction the story took in that short third of a page. I've said this before, that 100 keeps me with my characters and in their story. And on good days, it turns into a scene rather than a page.

I still participate with Kay in our original 100 word loop, but I've also started another 100X100 loop as an offshoot of an excellent goal loop I'm on. We post actual word count, but the rah-rahs are as strong for getting 100 words on the page as they are for getting 1,000 (or 3k). Great group!

With those little 'health' challenges you mentioned, I wouldn't have almost half this book done had I not opened up the file every day to do my 100.

Kay's an amazing example, with a full time job and close to a 2 hr commute every day. It works for me. And I'm proud of you for kicking out your couple of pages yesterday, too.

To quote Joni, "GO!FIGHT!WIN!" :-)
This is turning out to be very inspirational! I'd better go and get down to it!

Thanks, Jo Anne, for inspiring this post!
Thanks. I needed to hear this. I've been beating myself up lately over my own inertia, and about writing all these scenes that I don't even know are going to remain in the book. I keep feeling like a failure every time I write. This helped me remember that every day I do something helps, even if in the end I have to scratch it all.
I also wanted to say that I'm part of such a group, although lately, we've all been down a bit and have been struggling to maintain our goals. The "no bragging" rule is really important in such cases, because then nobody feels like they have to compete with anyone else. I need to remember this.
Teri Thackston said…
I'm finding this idea very inspiring, too. I'm at the start of a new book and can't seem to get past my own inertia. But 100 pages a day is certainly a realistic goal. Thanks!

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