On Writing and Habits

I am a writer

I am a writer.  And maybe what a writer does with her unexpected free time (due to pregnancy insomnia), is to open up a new document and write a little about writing.

This is part of a new undertaking I am attempting.  I’ve always failed at habit making.  The usual techniques never work for me – a “chain” on my calendar make me want to break it after a little while.  The idea of doing something “forever” makes my breath shorten and has me feeling caged.  Even something as simple as getting dressed in the morning can’t be a true habit for me – I want to decide every day if I really want to.  Some days I just can’t, and spending the day in pajamas is much more appealing.  So I do.  (Clearly, I work at home.)

But the idea of making good habits still is interesting to me.  I want to be a better person, and there are things in my life that I want to accomplish which I would be able to do a lot easier if I worked on them a little every day.  Writing a book, for example.  Almost all writing advice tells you to make a habit of writing every day.

I just…can’t.  I’ve tried a hundred times, but I always fail.  I’ve also never stuck to a diet longer than a few days, never done a regular exercise program more than a week, and can’t even muster the strength to watch the same tv show every time it comes on.  I just hate routine.  I think I’ll enjoy it, and I try for a little while, but ultimately it just feels like a trap.

But this hasn’t stopped me trying.  The sheer novelty of trying new ways to create habits keeps bringing me back to the habit idea, with me trying to convince myself “this time…”.  Well.  You know.

The thing is, every habit article or book I’ve read has very clear opinions on the best way to make habits.  Most are even sure which habits one should develop, and why.  But this week I read a book that was different.  It claimed that there are actually about four different groups of people when it comes to reacting to expectations and making habits.  And as I read this, I realized something:  I am a Rebel.

Don’t laugh.  Those of you who know the (fairly mild-mannered) person I am in “real life” will likely have trouble reconciling the rock and roll mental image of a rebel with the pajama pants and ponytail me.  (Although I’d have you know I did go through a period in college with blue hair.)

But the Rebel persona in this book matches me to a tee.  Although I want to be a better person, I hate rules, even ones I make for myself.  Sometimes I resist doing something I know I need to do, just because someone else told me to do it.  Sometimes I resist even though I’m the one who told myself to do it.

Yeah.  I’m dumb like that.

There’s an example that the book gives where say, a husband might say to a Rebel wife “Hey, would you unload the dishwasher?”  And the wife’s brain goes “Well, I was going to do that anyway, but now that you’ve asked me too, I won’t.”

…I plead the fifth.

All this gives me a fairly bleak outlook when it comes to making new habits.  It takes all my willpower, every day, to do something that is supposed to be automatic.  That’s exhausting, and unsustainable.

But the book did say one more thing that resonated with me.  While Rebels may not be able to deal with rules for rule’s sake, we do have a strong sense of identity, and may hook “normal” behaviors onto that.  This is certainly true in my life already.  I am a Disney fan, so I keep up with Disney-related news every day.  (Though maybe not at the same time every day…or night.)  I am a programmer, so I write code daily, and read about new developments.  (Though I do tend to get distracted by new shiny code instead of reading about the boring thing I’ve been working on already.)

So if I want to write, I shouldn’t get up an hour early in the morning and devote that time to writing.  I shouldn’t make myself a goal of getting 500 words on paper every day, no matter what.  I shouldn’t even commit to writing on the same project all the time.  (All things I’ve tried.)

For me to write, I just need to be a writer.  I just need to do whatever I need to, every day, to feel like a writer.  Which would be only one thing really: write.

I was so excited by this idea that I wrote it on the wall behind my desk.  I am a writer.  (In pencil, so my husband – not a Rebel – wouldn’t freak out.)  I don’t need a set of rules to make me write.  This is just part of who I am.



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