As a woman of a certain age, I find myself reading more and more about retirement. What comes up frequently in these articles are the bad financial habits that must be stopped in their tracks and replaced with good financial habits. Which is a bit easier said (or written about) than done since time is not exactly on the retiree’s side.
As I have a bit of experience with lots of bad habits, and more specifically bad writing habits, I thought I’d share a few now so as to help you sooner rather than later. Though unlike bad money habits, when it comes to starting good writing habits, it’s never too late. (Yay!)
Show me a writer who has never engaged in this bad habit and I’ll show you a unicorn munching four-leaf clovers in a rainbow-colored meadow. But admittedly, on that unicorn’s back will be a very successful writer.
Successful writers get in the habit of writing quotas early on in their career; they share a “no excuses” mentality when getting in their word counts, whether it’s a daily, weekly, or even yearly goal. It goes without saying that they scoff at the idea of writer’s block.
Even the writer who must dig into tons of research before writing a single word will have detailed notes and references so that when they begin the writing, it runs relatively smoothly.
Which brings me to the key word of breaking this bad habit: begin. Just begin the writing. And it’s okay to start small. Forming a new habit can take anywhere from 21 days to a year, but even a writing quota of 500 words a week will eventually get you to the finish line. The important part in derailing procrastination is making a goal you can keep and building on that. Aim too high and you’ll never begin. Set your sights on something attainable and you’ll be way more likely to succeed.
Sadly, this bad writing habit crept up on me the more I worked on novel manuscripts. I suspect it has something to do with a fear of failure, the concern that the story must be perfect in every way in order to make the all-important sell.
It’s a funny thing; read about most highly successful novelists and you will find that they submitted their work even though they felt it wasn’t quite ready or they knew it could be better. So how does one break this bad writing habit?
It’s not so much the writing as the thinking that must change, right? So if you find yourself like me, in the habit of ridiculous over-revising (should the comma go here or here?) and re-writing ad infinitum, then reach out to a trusted writing buddy, someone who will tell you the truth about your work. Someone who will nicely but firmly kick you off the perfection merry-go-round.
Submitting Too Soon
On the other end of this bad writing habit is the newbie writer who dashes off an opus and sends the masterpiece out into the world, without so much as a single other pair of eyes taking a look first.
Oh, dear. I cringe when I think of all the bad writing out there in the world with the name Cathy C. Hall on it. But I find solace in the fact that I don’t know a single published writer who has not submitted their work too soon. Most of us learn the error of our ways pretty darn quick, especially if we get into a critique group or pay for professional feedback.
But woe to those writers who either don’t listen to critique or never bother to get feedback. These are the newbies with a bad writing habit that will keep them newbies.
Still, there is always hope because the first step in breaking a bad habit—writing or whatever—is recognizing we have the habit in the first place. So do it now, be honest with yourself, or ask a trusted friend to give you the unvarnished truth. Either way, it won’t be long before you have good writing habits. (Yay!)