Home practice

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!


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  1. John Dewey Nakamura Remy
    09/01/2012 at 3:08 pm Permalink

    I think my mindset is to try to create good habits, rather than break bad ones. After over 30+ years of continual self-critique, I found it easier for me to, say, start a habit of eating raw trail mix rather than to stop eating candy bars. It has the same end effect of limiting the bad habits by finding good substitutes. 

    I’ve been trying to apply this same mindset to writing. My main writing goal is to  get my ass in a chair in front of my computer for set hours every day. For that period, there’s ideally no twitter, no Facebook, no email, not even research–just pure writing. 

    So I guess I have many many bad habits to break (I’m intimidated by how many), but the main one I’m attacking is not-writing.

  2. Sandra Wickham
    09/01/2012 at 4:01 pm Permalink

    One of my biggest bad habits is procrastinating my writing session. I set a start time for myself and somehow I end up answering emails, or sorting laundry or posting comments on blogs (ahem) instead of getting started. Then, after an hour or so of goofing off, I finally get into it, get on a roll and I’m out of time! I really need to get into a ritual, some sort of Pavlovian response, so when it’s time to write, *ding* I write.

    Other bad habits in my actual writing, my characters “look” and “turn” all the time. Sometimes they turn and look. *sigh* But at least I realize it and am working to fix it!!

  3. Galen Dara
    09/01/2012 at 9:09 pm Permalink

    heh, just tried to enumerate all my bad habits… only to delete them in shame. 😛

    bottom line is, yes, I have things I need to work on and this post is very inspirational, thank you wendy!

  4. John Dewey Nakamura Remy
    10/01/2012 at 7:10 am Permalink

    So, I was supposed to start my writing session a few minutes ago, and yet here I am. 😛 And I see Sandra’s comment about procrastinating writing sessions and posting comments on blogs, so I feel like I’m in great company! Headed off the internets to write now! (actually, headed to make coffee, then write)

  5. A. Merc Rustad
    10/01/2012 at 10:56 am Permalink

    Spending all my time doing other things (also known as “blame the internet syndrome”) rather than focus on writing when I intend to focus on writing. I’ve found that setting a timer and going with ‘can either write or do nothing’ sessions works quite nicely. Although setting that timer is still hard…

    Other bad mental writing habits I aim to challenge:

    – taking feedback I receive on stories and actually implementing revisions, rather than letting it all sit and mold

    – stop letting the doubtmonsters win.


  6. Clare Deming
    10/01/2012 at 2:06 pm Permalink

    I see a trend here…I also procrastinate my writing session. I tell myself that I’ll just sit down to write after I finish up a list of 5-10 other things. Then when I finish (or give up on) those tasks, I’m either too tired to write or I have to leave for work. I’m trying to be better about making my writing a larger daily priority.

  7. Simon Larter
    11/01/2012 at 4:22 am Permalink

    But…why would you want to cut down on using the em-dash–which I like to think of as God’s gift to punctuation!? 🙂

    But maybe I should make sure I log off twitter and FB before I sit down to write. That’d probably help. Yes.


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