(Re-) Establishing a Writing Habit

original photo by Andrea Picaquadio

I was once invited to speak at a “writers’ salon” in Phoenix and, only on the day of the event, did I discover that the topic of conversation was “Writer’s Block.” I panicked. Immediately, I began to worry that I would be seen by this group of aspiring writers as a pariah, a merchant of slanderous statements, or worse, because I did not (and do not) believe in Writer’s Block.

I know, I know, the horror! After all, every writer struggles with their craft. The overwhelming anxiety of that blank page. The dread of being “good enough” and the nightmare of impostor syndrome. I’ve dealt with it all. But writer’s block? That is something foreign to me because, for me, writing has always been a trade, a means to an end.

To me, writing has always been about habit. If you commit to the habit of writing, whether or not you’re producing the caliber of work you want, you’re still producing. A lot can be done in the editing and refining stages, but actually getting the ideas down on paper is often the greatest impediment to most writers.

To combat this, I cultivated strong habits early on… which is wildly ironic because I’m generally a creature of only bad habits. For years, I produced between 2k-5k words a day about five days every week. Not all of it deserved a gold star, but it allowed me to produce more than a book a year for several years while running a daily music + arts blog of some note and maintaining a professional life auxiliary to these activities.

I had set times when I preferred to work during the day &/or week, like in weeknight evenings or weekend mornings, but I would also sit down to smash out some words on my laptop if I felt inspired to do so. Writing begets more writing. Idleness, boredom, those words were concepts that existed for characters, but not in the real world.

Then two things happened to derail me. I got my first book contract and the pandemic put my latest fiction podcast production on hold indefinitely.

Now, that first part sounds inspiring, right? A book contract? The dream becomes reality? That’s certainly what it felt like for me. It was a modest proposal with a newly established publisher out of Austin, but I was overjoyed that someone selected my manuscript for publication. What came next was a bit unexpected, however. So much work goes into a novel before publication! Let my naivete wash over you because I cannot impress upon you enough how unprepared I was for this process. I have still not traversed the entire course so I don’t want to say more quite yet, but the path is long and arduous and you can never copy edit enough – NEVER!

Anyway, the work required to get my book ready to go to layout (woohoo) sucked away time I usually assigned to writing. And, because I’m never working on just one project, I also had been working on writing the second season of a fiction podcast. The first season was cast, rehearsals had begun, and we were about to go into production when the pandemic began its nefarious spread. The show had to be put on pause and, as the outlook grew ever more dire, I began to wonder when the confines of our sound studio would be possible once again. I set my script aside. I will pick it up when I can gather my rapscallion team of voice actors to cram into the studio again.

So, with no book to work on and no script to work on, I took a break. I read books. I paid attention to the people in my life… kinda. I mean, come on, as a writer I only have one foot in this world at any time anyway so you should only expect so much from me. At least, I’m upfront and honest about it.

But now the forthcoming novel is off to the layout team and it’s time to move beyond the hurt of the podcast production pause to focus on other projects until the cast can return to the studio so I need to return to my writing practice. And I’ve hit a stumbling block.

I don’t want to call it “writer’s block” because I am flush with ideas I’m eager to start fleshing out but setting aside the time, attacking the page, actually sitting my ass in the chair and typing words is presenting its own challenges. I realize that I’ve fallen out of theĀ habit of writing. The daily practice of sitting down, focusing, and putting “pen to page” has been put aside for more than six months now and I need to re-establish the routine.

I’m going to start by doing what I advise other writers to do when facing that proverbial block: start writing. Set a modest word count goal and achieve it without worrying about the quality of content you’re producing. That can come later. Once again, getting the words down is always the biggest impediment. First, one needs to make writing a habit. Only then can you begin to worry about other things, like refining the work or giving shape to larger narratives.

I like to call this shit writing. I do a lot of shit writing. I have notebooks full of it. Sketches of characters. Outlines for stories. Bits of dialogue. Sometimes entire chapters that exist out of place from any story ever written. I scribble down impressions of moments, of people, of places, of shoes. Boxes of notebooks. My home is a fire hazard unlike any other.

I’m assigning myself 5,000 words of shit writing a week. It doesn’t have to be good. It just has to get done. I can up the ante once I feel a pattern is in place. For me, it’s about setting small, attainable goals and then reaching a little further once I have a handle on the new situation. Maybe I’ll increase the word count. Or maybe I’ll hone in on one writing project. I like to remain open to the process.

The key detail for me to focus on right now is reincorporating the daily habit of creative writing into my life once again after this extended interlude. Even if you start with 200 words a day, you will be surprised at how the regular practice of writing will change your approach to the craft. The important thing is to start somewhere. If you haven’t made writing a habit, I encourage you to set a modest and attainable goal for yourself to make it a daily part of your life, even if it’s just five days a week, like me.

I’m getting started right away. Like, now.