A workshop is a wonderful thing–it’s the writing equivalent of the yoga class or even the yoga retreat. It’s a magnificent way to reinvigorate your commitment to the craft and to learn new skills. But you know, I find that when I’m in class, I don’t experience my deepest yogic moments. I’m too busy absorbing all the new information to tap into full relaxation and to integrate my new skills with older wisdom, which is what actually takes a practitioner to the next level. Personal practice with lots of repetition and self-reflection is what I need for real improvement.
Your personal practice as a writer sets the course of your journey in the craft. And it’s important to be very conscious of the way you’re practicing, observing if you’re stretching your skills or if you’re letting yourself become bogged down in a rut. It’s important to try new things and new styles. It’s also important to encourage healthful habits as you practice. Look at the way you get ready to write every day–do you grab a fatty snack or alcohol? Do you sit at a desk that’s physically unhealthy, with bad ergonomics? Or if you sit down all day, is your body complaining about sitting more? Remember that if you let it, writing will stay with you your entire life. It’s critical to create habits that are sustainable.
It’s easy to think of bad physical writing habits that we can change, but it’s just as important to examine our mental writing habits. Are there words and structures you over-use? Are there forms you’ve outgrown but resist stepping out of? It’s all-too easy to keep solving the same kinds of problems, keep creating the same kinds of characters. For example, I’m the kind of person who tends to enter a situation and stand back to take stock of it, blandly observing before I commit to a course of action. My very bad habit as a writer is to create mostly characters who are like me, observers. It’s not terrible to read a book with one character like that, but if the story’s entire world is populated by Wendy-ish watchers? Boy, is that a lame story!
Last year I made a short list of bad writing habits that I wanted to break. They included:
- Over-using one-, two-, and three-sentence paragraphs.
- Relying on reserved, observer-type characters.
- Getting feedback on stories & never doing anything with the story ever again.
I feel like I made some progress on the first goal and learned to be more comfortable extending my ideas within a piece. My writing definitely feels more fluid because I worked on that goal. But sadly, I still need to work on the last two habits. I also want to add two more goals to the list:
- Seeking feedback on every piece of writing (I just feel so guilty asking any of my very busy friends to look at my stuff!)
- Lessening my reliance on the em-dash.
What are some habits you’ve got that you’d like to break? Can you think of any? I’d love to hear if you’ve got any plans to overcome those bad mental habits!