Thursday, September 17, 2020

Don’t Fall Prey to The Dark Side of Good Writing Habits

By Shanna Swendson, @ShannaSwendson

Part of The Writer’s Life Series 

JH: Building good writing habits is a great idea, but be wary of changes that negatively affect other aspects of your life. Shanna Swendson discusses the dark side of even good habits. 

Shanna Swendson earned a journalism degree from the University of Texas but decided it was more fun to make up the people she wrote about and became a novelist. She’s written a number of fantasy novels for teens and adults, including the Enchanted, Inc. series and the Rebel Mechanics series. She devotes her spare time to reading, knitting, and music. Her next release will be the paranormal mystery Interview with a Dead Editor, coming October 1. 

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Take it away Shanna…

Many of my posts here at Fiction University have been about forming new habits that will help you meet your writing goals, but there can be a dark side to good new habits. Change doesn’t take place in a vacuum, and everything you change will affect some other aspect of your life. I recently became aware of that in several areas. 

Lately, I’ve been struggling to keep up with blogging. I had no idea what to write, and my posts had become dry and dull. I blamed the pandemic, since I wasn’t doing much other than writing, which didn’t leave me a lot to write about. But then I realized that it might have something to do with a habit change.

I learned a few years ago that I get so much more writing done when that’s the first thing I do when I start work each day, before I check e-mail or social media or write a blog post. My writing productivity has soared since I made that change in my routine. 

I used to ease into my day by reading social media and blogs, which would give me ideas for a blog post. I’d write the post as a way of warming up for my writing day. 

Now, though, I do all that stuff as a break after I’ve done some writing, and it was too big a mental gear shift. My brain was still in the book I was working on, and it was hard to think of blog ideas when I was thinking about my book.

It was a good reminder that when you change one part of your routine, it will affect other parts of your routine. 

Now I take time every week or so to plan blog posts, and I write them in the afternoon, after I’ve finished my writing for the day, to post the next morning. I no longer have trouble thinking of things to write and I get even more writing done when I don’t stop to write a blog post. 

(Here's more on Time to Evaluate Your Planning Process: Change Can Be Good)

The other problem I’ve discovered is that I’m terrible about doing administrative and promotional tasks. 

A couple of weeks ago, I made myself spend a day updating links on my website, and I ended up feeling like I’d wasted the day. That was when I realized that a change I made to increase the amount of time I spent writing had backfired.

A number of years ago, I decided to prioritize writing. I was spending way too much time on other tasks that looked like work but that didn’t lead to a book being written. 

If you put “write” on a to-do list, it looks like one small part of the day, even if it’s the most important.

I used to work at a public relations firm where we had to keep time sheets showing which accounts we were working on, so I tried applying that to my writing work. It got unwieldy keeping track of all the kinds of tasks I needed to fit into my work day, so I decided to focus on the writing as my most important task and set a daily quota for time spent writing.

That’s worked really well and has meant that I’ve kept up with my writing. But the dark side is that I didn’t have a way to track or reward other kinds of work, and that meant that it felt like I wasn’t doing anything if I spent a day on those necessary tasks. 

I tried making a quota for promotional work, but so much of it comes in tiny spurts that it’s hard to keep track of time, and it varies depending on what needs to be done. 

My solution was to make a daily to-do list of the marketing and administrative tasks I need to do each day, and I keep a log of the major tasks I’ve accomplished in the same notebook where I track how much time I’ve spent writing. The mere act of writing it down makes me feel like I’m getting credit for my work, which means I’m getting more of these tasks done. 

We tend to keep doing the tasks we feel rewarded for, so we need to remember to reward ourselves for all the things we need to do, even if that reward is nothing more than the satisfaction of ticking off a to-do item. 

(Here's more on Bouncing Back When Your Writing Routine Gets Disrupted)

Another dark side to good habits is the tendency to slide into thinking of these habits as some kind of formula for success, so that if you don’t follow that routine, everything will fall apart. 

There’s nothing magical about the changes I’ve made. They simply happen to work better than my old routine, but I can still have a good, productive day if something gets in the way of following the new habits to the letter. 

Yes, my new routine seems to be the best for me, but it’s not the only way to succeed. I remind myself of that when I get a phone call or have an appointment during my usual writing time.

Just about any good habit can have a dark side, so when you make a change in your routine, be sure to think about what other parts of your life may be affected. 

Take a look at your whole routine and imagine what will need to be reshuffled. That way, you won’t be like me and realize years later that you’ve thrown something out of whack!

Worst Job Interview Ever!

Alexa “Lucky Lexie” Lincoln has always had a nose for news and a knack for being first on the scene whenever there’s a big story. Now her luck seems to have run out. First, she loses her reporting job. Then she gets an interview for a job at a small-town paper, only to find the editor dead on the newsroom floor. That makes her a suspect in the eyes of local policeman Wes Mosby.

To make matters worse, someone sabotages her alibi, and a freak ice storm strands her in town. That’s when she learns that this idyllic little town right out of a movie set is full of secrets, including people with uncanny abilities and the ghost who really runs the newspaper.

To clear her name (and get the job), Lexie will have to find the real killer—a killer who seems to think she knows a lot more than she does. If she’s not careful, she could be the next victim.

1 comment:

  1. I saw myself, both good and bad, in so much of what you said. Thank you for the post.