I’d be the first to say to any aspiring writer that what writers need the most is a firm writing habit. The kind of habit that everything else is organised around, that is such a fixture of your life, that it feels like you’ve lost something when you don’t do it.
(Image From Vinegar and Brown Paper)
However, one of the big struggles of the past few years for me has been, well, a concrete everyday writing habit. It doesn’t matter if it is just 500 words scribbled hastily on a journey to work or on your lunch break or a more considered habit like going to a café and writing in your notebook. The point is to actually commit to doing it each day. Whether that is a page of writing a day or if it is 2,000 words where you don’t look up until you’ve finished, the most important thing is that you do it.
Somewhere along the line in my apprenticeship as a writer, I stopped writing every day. Much of this has a lot to do with how I have been coping with life changes and periods of depression, but it is also because, more simply, I have not pushed myself to commit to a habit. I started well – I committed to writing each day, especially when I was doing my Creative Writing course in 2011.
I have filled 9 notebooks since. I occasionally write in my writer’s notebook, the tenth volume. Yet I find myself dissatisfied – not because I’m a perfectionist (though I do have a problematic perfectionist streak) – but because it isn’t anywhere near the volume of writing I want to be doing.
So I’ve turned once again to 750words.com, where my longest streak of writing was more than 100 days in a row. What makes it so irresistible is that as you are writing, the words are in the bottom right corner, and when you finally hit 750 words, the word counter goes green. It is small rewards like this that keep you going. However, when I joined the site, it was free, and now new members have to pay whilst older members, like myself, have been given lifetime accounts. I find this a little sad, although I understand that running such a large website is costly and they need plenty of space on their servers.
It made me think about what it is that makes the site so effective for me. It is the presence of ‘rewards’ even if they are not physical rewards. For each milestone, you gain a ‘badge’ (for example, currently my streak is 25 days and my badge is a Flamingo which changes to an Albatross at 30 days then a Phoenix at 100 days), and you also have the opportunity to keep track of how many words you have written over your lifetime of being on the site. I’m well on my way to achieving 250,ooo words, and last month I managed 30,000 plus. Keeping track of my words, and the ‘rewards’ keep me accountable and make me feel as if I am accomplishing something.
(Image from Vinegar and Brown Paper)
But it isn’t the number of words that matter so much to me. It is the consistency. For some time, I have been stuck in a rut, unable to see my way out. I have been at war with myself, and my writing has suffered as a result. It is all too easy to think that what you see of a person is what you get: when the truth is that people have a whole lot going on inside them. The thing that people often don’t vocalise is that they are struggling, and they don’t always know how to move past that.
For me, writing is my way of both expressing myself and working out what is going on inside my head. Once things are out of my head, and I achieve that state of ‘flow’ – of being immersed in the writing moment – I feel a state of catharsis. And because I have been at war with myself, I somehow forgot what a relief it is to just write for the sake of writing. Not because I have to write for someone or I have a deadline. Simply just to write.
With this comes the feeling of needing to be accountable to myself and others. It isn’t for everyone, but I have started to announce the number of words I’ve written on Twitter. Twitter is my favourite social media platform because there is a bigger sense of a writing community: I feel that writers frequent Twitter more than Facebook. It is a way to be accountable to other writers and myself, to make sure that even if I only manage the 750 words each day, I put that positivity out there into the world.
My hope is to encourage people, to buoy people who are having a difficult writing day. Making new habits isn’t easy and anyone who says it is easy haven’t struggled to keep a habit going when you’re ill or having a bad day. I found that even when I had a cold in the middle of the month, I forced myself to write, and though I missed two days, I made up the word count the following day.
I’ve already started for this month, and since it is also National Poetry Writing Month, I’m also going to attempt writing a poem a day, a new practice to add to my 750 plus words each day. What I’ve also learnt through last month is to stop being so hard on myself. It doesn’t matter if what I write doesn’t follow a set pattern, or if I’m repetitive. What matters the most is sticking to it – not because I have to, but because I want to.
‘The best kind of happiness is a habit you’re passionate about.’ – Shannon L. Alder.