11 April 2014

The Power of Habit

We moved house recently, not a totally unknown occurrence for us as we have nomadic tendencies, but we’d lived in the house for almost six years, which is pretty much a record for us.

The new place is only about 5 km and a couple of bays further up the coast, so I know the general area, and still use most of the same facilities, shopping etc. Because of this, there have been one or two occasions when I’ve got into the car and switched into autopilot mode, only to find myself taking a route back to the old house. Habits are powerful things!

Autopilot mode is useful and we use it in most aspects of our life. When we first learn to do something, like driving, we have to go through each individual movement, possibly even muttering instructions to ourselves as we do. However, once we’ve learned the sequence of movements and practiced them, dozens or possibly hundreds of times, the knowledge moves into a different area of our brain, and we don't think through each individual component or movement.

Habits of themselves aren’t good or bad, they are a part of our learning and development. When you get dressed tomorrow, look at what foot you put into your pants or socks first, and then the following day use the opposite foot first. It’s hard to break the habit because it’s something we do without thinking, but if we had to think through every movement or task we do, we’d be overwhelmed.

The writing work ethic is an interesting one. Some writers wait for the muse to attack, while others write every day.

My day job is non-fiction writing, and if I’ve learned anything it’s that waiting for the muse to attack doesn’t work. It may seem like a very ‘writerly’ thing to say, but in practise it means we’re not going to finish. The only way to finish a book is to write.

It’s certainly not the easiest thing in the world, especially when the sun is shining, but the bottom line is: writers write.

I speak from the experience of both sides. I’ve had periods when I’ve made myself sit down every day and write, and periods that, for various reasons, I haven’t been able to, or not felt like writing.

What I do know, is that when you sit down to write on a regular basis, magic happens. 

Now to practice the art of habit and follow the advice of Mary Heaton Vorse.
The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.

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