How a Book Is Born, Part 5

So I spent a lot of the last post talking about focus, and I touched a little bit on habit, how focus is connected to habit, and I thought I would be more explicit about that.

You can’t write professionally – that is to say, meeting deadlines and producing good work at reasonable intervals – if you don’t develop habits. I’m not just talking about writing habits like spending two hours a day writing or writing at least one thousand words every afternoon or whatever. I’m talking about the habits that create a universe for you to live in where there is time, space, and opportunity to write.

I’ve mentioned that I have other demands on my time, and that I can’t neglect them even when I have a big project like a novel due on December 3. So my day job gets meticulous care. So does my daughter. So does Kung Fu.

These are the things that matter to me.

Now, I like to waste time on Facebook just as much as the next person, but I know the difference between a five-minute break while I make some tea and figure out this plot problem, and “there’s five hours of my life I’ll never get back.”

It comes down to habits – and what is almost the opposite of habits, and that is awareness. If I have a daily habit of doing my creative work for two hours every morning and I’m vigilant about not scheduling anything else for that time, then I get in the habit of doing creative work every morning. When the dentist wants to schedule me during my creative work time, I say no. When the school wants to chat with me just then, I offer another time. It’s no different from any important commitment. You just get in the habit of doing it.

It is the same with doing the dishes (every night at the same time), Kung Fu (every Monday and Wednesday at the same time). Everything that’s important becomes a habit. And it becomes a habit because you schedule it, and you do it, and you don’t spend time thinking, “Kung Fu or writing or reading a book?” It’s Wednesday at four p.m.? The answer is Kung Fu.

In a previous post I mentioned letting go of things that aren’t important in order to do the things that are (vacuuming = not important). At the same time, I live in the real world, and in the real world, if you ignore an uninteresting but important chore you can create bigger problems. If I don’t do the dishes, then pretty soon I’m overrun by roaches and have no way to make dinner. So I don’t skip doing the dishes no matter how busy I am. But vacuuming and dusting don’t create this problem. If I skip vacuuming this week, it doesn’t take me twice as long to vacuum next week, and it doesn’t make it hard for me to fix dinner.

Your life is full of things you can ignore and things you can’t. You have to decide which is which. Your life is full of demands on your time. You have to decide which is important. We all have pressures – what we think we should do, what other people think we should do, what we want to do. We have to decide how we are going to live. That’s where awareness comes in – the awareness that helps you build the habits that will help you succeed as a writer.

Once you decide how you’re going to live, you can create the habits that support it. You’re going to live a writer’s life? Then what habits are you developing now to make sure it happens?


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