The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

No writer feels like he is writing enough. We all watch too much television, spend too much time on Facebook, or waste our writing time doing other things. For beginning writers, the problem is especially acute. With no editor giving a deadline, no fans clamoring for the next installment, and no writing income, there is literally no incentive to write–at least not consistently. Beginners might write when they are “inspired,” but with so many other things pulling them away from the writing desk, how can they stick with it for the months and years it takes to carve out a writing career?

On the other hand, most professional writers write every day. Not because they are inspired more often, not because they have more free time,  and not because they are neglecting other parts of their lives. Pros write every day for one simple yet powerful reason. They’ve made it a habit.

We tend to think of habits as bad (smoking, cussing, biting your fingernails) but they can also be good (walking the dog, oatmeal for breakfast, a weekly date with your spouse). THE POWER OF HABIT shows how easily habits form. They rely on three simple things–a cue, a routine, and a reward–and don’t take long to stick. Our brains love habits. They allow us to be efficient. They help us do things like drive a car without constant self-monitoring. Once we learn where the brake pedal is and how hard to press the accelerator, we can let our habits take over, freeing the cognitive part of our minds for other things like having a conversation with our passengers or listening to the radio.

That isn’t to say that changing a habit is painless. Our brains are hard-wired to hold onto the habits we’ve formed. Duhigg gives an example of an ex-smoker put into an MRI and shown pictures of people smoking. Areas of the brain showing anticipation and craving still became active, even years after someone’s last cigarette.

That seems like bad news for writers, but THE POWER OF HABIT is an excellent guide to trading unproductive habits for creative time at the keyboard. The trick is not to form a new habit, or try to get rid of an existing one, but to change a habit that already exists. It will take some fiddling, but by closely examining the three parts of a habit–cue, routine, and reward–a creative writer will find what works. The routine is the biggest part, both the most obvious and the hardest to change. However, Duhigg recommends isolating the reward first, then looking at the cue, then changing the routine. By figuring out what the true reward is and which cue will get you there, the routine will be easier to manage.

THE POWER OF HABIT is not a how-to so much as a this-is-why. Duhigg never mentions writers. He’s simply interested in explaining the latest brain research in laymen’s terms. However, understanding the science behind habits gave me countless insights into my own schedule, and great ideas for making writing a daily habit.


rating: 5 stars


This book is best for: all writers


I recommend this book

6 thoughts on “The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

  1. This one is on my shelf. I got it after listening to an interview with the author on NPR. Guess I’ll have to bump it up on the TBR list.

  2. I’m excited to read this book. It was just added to the reading list of the 12 Books Group ( which means we will be hearing from the author himself!

  3. I’m glad you posted this review. I’ve been contemplating getting this book for a while. You touched on something that I’ve known for years but rarely talk about: professional writers make writing a habit. And, this is why I don’t believe in writer’s block. (I rarely say this to people because most writers look at me like I’m crazy when I say this.) When I was a reporter for not one but TWO newspapers AND a columnist for a magazine, I had to crank out FIVE articles a week. I didn’t have time for writer’s block; I had deadlines! I got into the habit of writing every day. I’ve applied this to my personal writing. When I started Bo’s Cafe Life, I decided to publish a new strip six days a week. And I’ve been doing this for 2 1/2 years. It’s now a habit.

    Great review!

    • It’s true, good habits matter! I am thrilled that you post your comic strip 6 days a week. It brightens my day every time.

      I hope you enjoy THE POWER OF HABIT. Even though your own habits are very good, it’s fun to learn the brain science behind them.

Your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s