I have this idea, every once in a while, that I need to improve my habits. I need to drink more water, get more fresh air, walk the dog. I don’t even have a dog.
So you can imagine what happens when I read a blog or a book or a helpful message telling me I need to get up earlier to write first thing in the morning.
This is, they assure me, the path to all that is right and good. If you just get up earlier, you can gain a whole hour in your day. I hear, and I start nodding along.
Yes! Great idea, an hour earlier. I will just get up and start writing. Never mind that my brain has not yet switched on at that hour. Never mind that I cannot find three words to string together.
The quiet, the lack of interruption, the feeling that I am absorbing the secrets of the sleeping universe will make it all worthwhile. A bucket of coffee will help.
But while “more writing” gets a big thumbs-up from me, “less sleep” does not. Less sleep is on my list of Things That Lead to Certain Doom.
My best intentions – having shiny good habits, being an early bird, getting all the worms, etc – turn into burning the candle at both ends, and that much fire will turn your life into a disaster zone real quick.
That is not the habit for me.
It always takes me a few days to remember this.
I don’t have to write at the time someone else tells me I should. I can write at my own pace, at the times and places that work best for me.
I don’t have to do what someone else does. I don’t have to write as fast as someone else does. I don’t have to write as much as someone else does. I don’t have to write as often as someone else does.
A writing habit is a gift, but it can become a burden if you’re doing it in a way that doesn’t fit you.
You don’t need to follow someone else’s plan, and you don’t need to go big when you first jump in. You can start small and make it sustainable. You can learn about yourself as you go, and you can make new plans with what you learn.
Know Your Why
The reason you write might not be the same as mine, or as anyone else’s.
Are you writing to preserve memories? To process a trauma? To connect with others? To build a creative habit?
Your why can help you decide what your writing practice should look like, and will keep you motivated as you continue.
Start With Tiny
Once you know why you’re doing this, set a goal so small that you can hardly help but meet it. Starting small makes it easier to continue, and it makes you feel successful.
So: type one new sentence. Or open your journal to a clean sheet, and title the page. Or read the last paragraph you wrote, and add the next sentence. Goal complete. (But feel free to keep going.)
If you want to get up earlier, try ten minutes instead of an hour. If you want to start writing every day, try 100 words before you commit to 500.
Small matters. Small gets you started, and small adds up!
Reclaim Your Minutes
Instead of setting up a whole new daily routine, can you find a few minutes in your day that won’t be missed? Your (non-driving) commute, lunch hour, naptime? While waiting in the car?
Is there a time to think and plan – while you wash dishes, fold laundry, drive, shower?
Repurposing the minutes you have will get you going, and help you figure out what you need to continue.
Adjust As You Go
Maybe you’ll learn that early morning is not your best writing time. (Ahem.) Maybe you’ll discover that you love journaling on a park bench while your kids swing. Maybe you’ll find that you need quiet alone time to get the words flowing.
It’s okay to make adjustments. It’s okay to try something different. It’s okay if the thing you try doesn’t work out. You can make changes, you can try again.
Your writing habit is a gift to you. It doesn’t need to measure up to someone else’s ideal.
I don’t want to get up before the sun. You don’t have to stay up until after midnight. (Although I might.) You can do what works for you.
Start small. Make adjustments. And let this gift be your own.