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
pie slices: 8 slices inspiration
This book is best for: all writers
I recommend this book