Weekend Writing Inspiration: Reboot Your Writing Habit
February 14, 2020
Habit building and maintaining is a continuing journey, one which requires refinement and up-leveling over time. As Charles Duhigg wrote in The Power of Habit, “...once you understand that habits can change, you have the freedom—and the responsibility—to remake them. Once you understand that habits can be rebuilt, the power of habit becomes easier to grasp, and the only option left is to get to work.”
We have seven tips to help you reboot your writing habit and get back on track with what you were put here to do. (Write!)
Go back to the beginning
Just as Inigo Montoya was guided to do by Vizzini, when something goes wrong go back to the beginning. If you’ve gotten off track with your writing, start by reminding yourself of what you’re writing for and why. This can be script-specific, such as: What do you love about this script? What inspired you to write it in the first place? How are you going to feel when it’s done?
In other words, what’s your “big why” for the project.
Or if you prefer, you can go broad and review your yearlong or lifetime writing goals. If you need help with the broader visioning work, check out my recent article about crafting your 2020 writing vision.
Connect with your identity as a writer
Connecting with your identity as a writer can include how you introduce yourself to others and what you write about yourself on your social media profiles. Most importantly, it has to do with what you say to yourself in the privacy of your own mind. If you’re telling yourself, “I’m not a real writer” (a common mental loop among the blocked or self-doubting), you get a very different result than when you say, “I’m a screenwriter.”
As James Clear wrote in his book Atomic Habits, “The most effective way to change your habits is to focus not on what you want to achieve, but on who you wish to become.”
Here’s why: When you’re clear on your identity, you’re much more likely to take action in alignment with the sense you have of yourself. A screenwriter writes screenplays. A screenwriter studies the craft of screenwriting. A screenwriter learns from produced features and teleplays. What actions do you take and do you want to take as a screenwriter?
Create a memorable mantra
Give yourself a catchy, short mantra you can use to remind yourself what you’re doing and why. My mantra for this year is “fiction first.” It’s alliterative, which makes it memorable, and it reminds me which action to take, where my priorities are, and what my big vision is (fiction, fiction, fiction) every time I sit down at my desk to work.
Make your goal small enough to act on easily
If you’re not meeting your writing goals, odds are you’ve set expectations too high. Most writers fantasize about having big blocks of time to write, but when confronted with that reality — if they become so lucky — they usually find themselves struggling to write. The issue is that suddenly having large amounts of writing time is actually quite intimidating and triggers resistance and fear.
Instead of aiming for the fantasy ideal, start with a small doable chunk of writing and repeat until you can’t help but continue. First build the habit of showing up and starting. Then once you have that under your belt, ratchet it up bit by bit over time. And if ever you find yourself not meeting your target, aim lower again. (Hint: time goals are often a good way in this door. I encourage writers in dry spells to start with five to 15 minutes to get themselves jump-started.)
Visualize your specific writing actions
The evening before, decide when and where you’ll write the next day. Get a picture in your mind of what it will look like. You’ll be much more likely to see your plan through when you know exactly how you’re going to be going about it. James Clear recommends completing the sentence, “I will [behavior] at [time] in [location].”
For example, you might decide that you’ll work on your script for 15 minutes immediately upon waking in the morning at 6 a.m., sitting at your writing desk. Or you might commit to writing after getting home from work at 6 p.m., snuggling in bed with your laptop. Or you might write at lunchtime in your car while you’re on a break from your day job. Flesh out the details in your mind to make it even more clear.
Having the visual, visceral sense of what, when and where makes it much easier to do.
Starting friction can be a real pain for writers. I’ve always loved what Steven Pressfield wrote in The War of Art; “There's a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don't, and the secret is this: It's not the writing part that's hard. What's hard is sitting down to write.”
Your job is to reduce the friction that gets in the way of starting. Writing every day helps, because you don’t have to “warm up” to write. Your story stays alive inside your mind when you’re engaged with it regularly.
You can also find ways to reduce the day-to-day friction. For example, you might keep your screenplay open on your computer and the cursor right where you left off the day before. You also might leave your screenwriting software open on top of all your other apps when you stop working for the day, so you see it first when you turn on your computer or log in for the day. The big idea is to make it easier and easier to start each day.
Create accountability to help you stay motivated
Accountability can be a powerful tool to help yourself stay motivated and in action. Create as much as you need, but not so much that you become overwhelmed or want to rebel. Every writer has their own sweet spot when it comes to accountability.
Some writers are internally motivated and never want any kind of external reporting structure. Others (like me) find that a combination of being part of a writing community; joining writing sprints, working with a mentor, participating in classes, or aiming for deadlines help us stay on track. What’s the right amount of accountability for you?
Your weekend writer’s assignment
If you’re off track with your writing habit, take a quick inventory. What’s your “why” for this script in the first place? How are you thinking of yourself and your identity as a writer? Are your goals right-sized and doable? How can you reduce friction and make it easier to write? When and where do you see yourself writing each day? What kind of accountability and memorable mantra could you put in place to help you stay in action? A few small adjustments will help you get back on track with your call to write.
And if you need more help, reach out! I offer a free writing plan session for writers who want help figure out a specific approach to their unique situation.
Written by: Jenna AveryJenna Avery is a screenwriter, columnist, and blogger who redesigned her life and career to support her calling to write. She specializes in sci-fi action and space fantasy, and her most recent project is a post-apocalyptic coming-of-age story for a Canadian producer. Jenna is also a writing coach and the founder of Called to Write, where she has helped hundreds of writers overcome procrastination, perfectionism, and resistance so they can get their writing onto the page and into the world where it belongs. Jenna writes about writing, creativity, and calling at calledtowrite.com, for ScriptMag, for Final Draft, and teaches for Screenwriter’s University. Download Jenna’s free guidebooks for writers when you join her mailing list at https://www.calledtowrite.com/mailing-list