Once a month Orna Ross’s Go Creative! Show focuses on Creative Writing, and this week Orna and Dan Blank talked about Setting Good Creative Habits.
It's all well and good thinking about creative writing and knowing you'll feel better if you sit down and do it, but sometimes you need a little push in the right direction to form good creative habits. The tips discussed in the following Go Creative! broadcast are simple to follow and easy to master.
The Go Creative! Show Podcast
In the previous Creative Writing broadcast, Orna and Dan discussed creative intentions. They covered setting your intentions, setting goals, and deciding how you meet them. You may recall that after listening to that podcast I set myself a weekly goal of reaching out to three thought-leaders a day within my writing genre, to agree to feature in an author interview on my indie press blog
Has this approach been successful? You bet! I've already published 4 guest posts, I have another 4 lined up, and I'm in discussions with another 5, and I have another 7 people I'm in discussion with.
I started with a huge list of prospects, and it was the size of this list that was overwhelming to me.
But by setting myself a goal of only reaching out to three a week, it made it a manageable goal, and I've even started to get people approaching me instead. So it's fair to say I am on a bit of a creative high after the success of the first Creative Writing broadcast and was hoping that this episode would help me continue to achieve my goals.
Setting Good Creative Habits
Dan started by giving us three activities we can all do, which will help us set our creative habits and achieve our writing goals.
Can-Do, Number 1
You may be full of good intentions There will always something more urgent, or someone who wants to monopolise your time, or there is even something more appealing. But most of the time it's because we want to the conditions to be perfect for writing. A nice quiet office, our favourite beverage, (and a broken internet connection so we aren't tempted to check our Facebook feed).
But instead of waiting for this perfect storm of conditions, Dan suggested we follow the same simple concept he suggested in his last session, namely, to break the activity down into manageable chunks.
When we think about this with writing, what is the tiniest increment you can write? Is it a sentence, a word, is it finding twenty seconds? You want to break it down to something so minute that it would be impossible not do it. Breaking it down to its smallest possible increment will build the habit and build the confidence that you can even consider working writing into your life on a daily basis.
If you’re a little more advanced, you can just up a notch, maybe you’re writing a hundred words or a thousand words. This is the kind of thing that scales at any level of wherever you are with your career.
Orna talked about how she fits her writing into the cracks in her daily commitments and steals time away from other activities to get it done. She always has a notebook in her back pocket, to capture the thoughts that roll around her head.
You know what I thought when I heard that? Welcome to my life. And I'm sure there are many other writers out there doing just that. I never leave the house without my trusty book and pen, I'm always scribbling story ideas, bits of poetry, ideas for blog posts, content marketing idea, and I even use it for quick sketches. I scribble at bus stops; when I'm lining up for coffee; in the bank; at the beach … basically anywhere when I can optimise my time to create.
And even though we're living in the digital age, I know I'm not the only writer who has an unhealthy obsession with fresh-smelling, shiny new notebooks.
Dan encourages us to break the illusion that to be a writer you have to have the optimal writing conditions, instead, fit your writing into the cracks of opportunity that open up to you each and every day.
At the end of the day, don't make excuses about why you can't write … take your lead from Dan (and Nike), and Just do it.
Can-Do, Number 2
Dan's second tip for setting good creative habits involves getting an accountability partner. He brought someone onto his team whose only job is to bug him about his writing. If you don't an accountability partner already, is there a good friend who can fill the role? Or maybe someone in your writing group?
There’s something where we want to live up to other people’s expectations and we want to please those people. We want to look good in their eyes, that can be a very negative thing in some situations, we want to make it positive in this situation. So, get an accountability partner.
This is something I haven't done yet, and the only accountability framework I've committed to is when I put in my initial word count for NaNoWriMo each November. Three years on the trot, and I've failed miserably each time. So maybe it's time to take the leap of faith and get some human accountability.
If you have one already, let us know where you found your accountability partner. What makes this partnership work for you?
Can-Do, Number 3
I love the third creative habit on the list (not just because he says I can have coffee and scones while I do it), but because it's easy to achieve.
Dan recommends scheduling a short touch base with yourself to assess “what did I do this week”?
The key thing here is to get a bit of a macro-view. What you want to do, and this is so critical, is be mindful of what you have accomplished.
How many of us beat ourselves up for all of those writing tasks we set ourselves that we didn't achieve? It's time to stop that practice and forgive ourselves for what we didn't write, and heap some positive praise on ourselves for what we did.
Dan shared some tips about what he does with the good feedback from other people. He doesn't just read it and brush it aside, he takes a screenshot and stores and tags it in EverNote. The when he needs a positive reminder, he opens up those tagged files to get some positive reinforcement.
How long does it take to build a good creative habit?
Dan takes his usual small increment approach to this question, with the following:
I love this idea of going daily. I feel like even if you get through a week of it and you said, “I did it”, twenty seconds every day, for a week, then you can start saying, “can I maintain that for another week or can I double that to forty seconds”? Again, pathetically easy but you start realizing before you know it, it’s just habit, you don’t question it. I think that what we’re trying to do is keep that consistency.
Common wisdom (or internet folklore) says that it takes 21-days to form a new habit, and here's why:
Back in the sixties a man called Maxwell Melts published a book called Cycle Cybernetics. He was a plastic surgeon and he noticed that it took twenty-one days for his patients to actually see themselves, see the new face in place, see the new thing that he had created. He came to the conclusion that 21 days was the minimum for the brain to establish a new habit and, unfortunately, that got translated into “it only takes 21 days”.
To help us see ourselves anew, Orna has created a 21-day mapping chart, which is available to download on Orna's website. This new practice log will help us keep accountable for whatever we're trying to create in our lives.
I don't know about you, but I have an overwhelming need to go out and buy myself some gold stars.
If you miss a day on your new regime, don't beat yourself up and throw in the towel, just pick yourself up and start again. If you've set yourself a writing goal that is too large to achieve, make it smaller until you form your writing habit, and then expand your commitment.
If you're having trouble cultivating new habits, Orna recommends a book by Twyla Tharp, called The Creative Habit.
Are you ready to adopt this 3 step approach to set good creative habits?
- Set yourself a daily writing goal and track how well you do for 21 days (then rinse and repeat)
- Get an accountability partner, and make some writing commitments
- Celebrate your achievements
Let's meet back here in a month, at our next Creative Writing broadcast blog post, and see how well we did. I'm holding myself accountable to you, and I'm counting on you too …