The Writing Habit
As a writer, I dread writer’s block. I don’t want it to be my block. Let it be some else’s problem. I’ve had to learn over the years to write anyway (too many people were giving me odd looks when I told them that I wanted to be a writer, but I hated writing). For years, almost my entire childhood, I kept a single notebook to contain all my musings and journal writings. All of them. One notebook. Most of my childhood.
Writer’s block, my block, takes many forms. Perhaps for you, it means that you can’t put anything on paper when you sit down. For me, it means that I can’t make myself sit down. I have to convince myself that I even have a thing to say.
Well, I used to.
Several years ago, I came across an article that told me to avoid using my bed for anything other than sleep (so no flopping down to relax and do homework, no reading books under the covers). It’s a little trick you play on yourself. After a while, your brain wants to sleep when you lie down because it knows that nothing else happens here. The change occurs automatically. It’s not far from crazy, and the article even promised me once I mastered my sleeping habits in this way, I would realize there are all sorts of habits I can master.
That article is a big reason I now write every day. When I was young, I promised myself that I would compose no fewer than one journal entry every year. Usually, that meant I found myself slipping away from New Year celebrations to scribble something out in the minutes before midnight.
I knew I wanted to change this habit. So, I took the article up on its promise. I figured I could train myself to want to write whenever I sit down to a blank page, the same way I trained myself to want to sleep. I dedicated the time—every night—immediately before I jumped into bed as journal time. No matter what else I was doing, no matter where I was, I would write at least one sentence. Nothing else happens at that time, including—and this is key—my escaping sitting down.
Now my journal is stuffed to the brim with one sentence entries.
You heard that right: it’s stuffed to the brim. Sometimes the entries are just one or two words, like “Good night.” Sometimes, rather often, they are exposés both philosophical and (most likely) pointless. Something changed. After almost three years, I have developed the fabulous habit of looking at a sheet of paper and thinking first “I could put some words on that.”
Of course, the challenge with that fabulous habit is figuring out now how to direct it.