Habit-forming

Yesterday I had drinks with a coworker.  She is an intelligent, funny, talented, lovely person, and I was glad we were going to spend the evening together — first drinks and then off to BAM to see the Cuban National Ballet — but I was a little nervous, too.  It can be awkward to make that step from working together to hanging out.

But the first few minutes of our subway ride downtown put my worries to rest.  We started talking about her music and my writing and I realized that yes, of course, there are these whole other truths about who we are that give us much more to talk about and much more in common than “just” working together.  So we had a great time, and the ballet was beautiful and fun.

On my way home and then this morning I found myself going back again and again to one piece of our conversation.  At one point early in the evening, she asked me about my creative process, and I had to admit that I have no process, that I am a complete slacker as a writer.  It was hard to say that out loud, but what would have been the point of lying — to her or to myself?

I have no process.  That hasn’t always been true.  There have been times when I have made time to write every day.  Every day.  And I’ve been a better writer when I’ve done that, given myself that.  My brain is more supple, my words are more my own.  I know that.  And yet I don’t sustain the discipline.  And yes, I have a busy job and a lot going on … but that’s just an excuse.  What I have always told students is just as true for me: even if I only write for 15 minutes a day, that’s going to move me further forward than not writing at all.  And heaven knows I could carve more than 15 minutes out of the precious time I squander on Facebook and Twitter every day.

But not making time for my writing has more to do with self-esteem than with scheduling.  Writing daily makes my writing better, but it also makes me better.  I’m always happier, more confident, more comfortable with myself when I’m working on something.  Not giving myself that gift is a way of withholding pleasure, satisfaction, contentment.  It’s a way of telling myself I’m not worthy of feeling happy, confident and comfortable.

And then today I was reminded of this:

First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice.

That’s a little cosmic nudge from Octavia Butler.  A gentle slap-in-the-face reminder of what I already know, of what I’ve seen in practice again and again in my writing life.  More than the question of whether or not I have published anything, the fact that I spend so little time writing makes me feel like a liar when I say, “I’m a writer.”

In a week, I’ll be at VONA, where all that power and pleasure will reach inside and revive me.  But before then, I have two fiction deadlines that must be met.  So I’m writing.  I’m writing today, I’m going to write tomorrow and then each day following and each day following that, beyond VONA and back into my day-to-day … because I have to, because I need to, because it’s the only way I’ll make it to either deadline with my head high, because it’s the only way my stories will find their way onto the page.  And because I’m worth it.

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8 thoughts on “Habit-forming

    1. Thanks, Sonia. Maybe we can keep nudging each other … maybe we can even add 15 minutes of writing in when we meet with the group! I remember we used to do that when we met at BJ’s house.

  1. Just found your blog after following the link from Lisa’s satsumaart blog, and I’m very glad I took the time to stop by. In reading this post I found myself saying, ‘so that’s why I don’t write every day like I should!’ The words hit just a little bit too close, especially those about how much better I feel, and write, when I make the promise to touch words every day. I think I need to carve out fifteen minutes tonight…

    1. Hi, Lisa (and Lisa) — thanks so much for coming over from Satsumaart!

      I’ve been thinking about this since I wrote it, thinking about the why and how of not/giving myself the time to settle the jumble in my brain by writing. For a while, I was using 750 Words every day. I still get the daily email reminder from Buster, but I haven’t gone to the site in months. That’s literally a 15-minute brain dump for me. When I was working on a story, the 750 words was a way for me to explore some back-story, to just ramble about how my character had gotten to whatever point they’d gotten to. But when I wasn’t working on something, it was just random, here’s-what-I-did-today journal writing, which doesn’t give me the same writing lift. One of my writer friends has started a list of prompts on FB, and I keep saying I should try them … well, maybe I should actually try them and see what happens!

      Good luck in your process!

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