Have you got a bad writer’s habit?

writer's habitWriters are a curious breed. We all know that…even if we don’t openly admit it. Here are a few writer’s habits I picked up off the web.

Dan Brown keeps an hourglass on his desk when he writes and, on the hour, puts aside his manuscript to perform push-ups, sit-ups, and stretches – I think this says a lot about Dan the Da Vinci man.

Blanche D’Alpuget uses a computer, prints out a first draft, takes a deep breath and deletes the original file from the computer, then she makes herself type the whole thing again from the printouts. Personally, I quite like this one – there was a another writer who used to write his first draft and then throw it away and start again, a bit like doing a practice run through. It appeals to me because it’s brave and quite logical.

Forest McDonald apparently writes history on his rural Alabama porch – naked. Leave me out of this one, I don’t have a porch and live on the 15th floor, without a balcony.

Philip Roth works standing up, pacing around as he thinks. He claims to walk half a mile for every page he writes. Well, at least he’s fit.

All joking aside, habits are important to writers.

Some people write at a certain time of day. Some write a set number of words a day. Some need to have their desks laid out just right, others need to hammer a nail into their feet and work through the pain.

Trueman Capote used to write in bed, Hemmingway wrote 500 words a day when he was sober, while James Joyce was happy if he got two or three sentences down. P D James used to get up at 5am and write long hand for an hour before getting on with her busy life. George Simenon set his target to write one chapter a day, no matter what, and if he missed a day through illness he’d throw the novel away.

Writers need some kind of habit. And for us mere mortals, here are some you might want to adopt: Write every day. Pick a time, a target and write every day. If you’re ultra busy with other things in your life, start early or late, but choose a time when you can just concentrate and go with it. Even if you don’t know what to write, make sure you sit down and write something.

Choose the right way to write. I can touch type 50wpm but I still prefer to write first drafts in long hand. I prefer the feel of a pen in my hand I guess – it feels like I’m a writer. The point is, you should use the medium that feels most natural to you.

Visualise your writing day. Visualise yourself putting down those words. Visualise the end result of the finished novel. Visualise the publisher offering you a contract. Visualise and hear the applause as you go up to accept that book award as best newcomer. Good visualisation feeds your ego and gets you excited. Do it often and you’ll begin to believe – it will feed your writing soul and make you believe.

Read and reread the novels you wished you’d written. Pull them to pieces and hold them up to the light and examine why they are so damn great. But don’t stop there, read the bad stuff too and figure out why it’s so damn poor. Develop a critical faculty that will inform your own writing.

The more you write, the better you will become, if: YOU CAN STAND BACK AND LOOK AT YOUR OWN WRITING CRITICALLY. Be gentle with yourself, but be constructive. Take some old stuff you’ve written and look at it in a new light. Don’t be afraid. No one writes the greatest novel ever without first doling out a few failures. The point is, if you want to develop your writing you need to be honest with yourself.

Follow your own path: Every writer is different and you should celebrate that difference. We all follow a different path and come to our writing lives in different ways. Don’t try to be someone else, be you and revel in that unique writers talent.

Don’t sweat the rejections. Okay, you finish a book, send it out to twenty agents and, one by one, they trickle back with that pre-printed rejection. So what? Every writer that has ever lived has had to deal with rejection. It doesn’t mean you’re not any good. It’s just part of the process.

Discover your true writing self. Get a big sheet of paper up onto the wall and map out what sort of writer you want to be. Scribble down all those little habits that make you a writer and start living them. Don’t be afraid. Embrace the writer within – it’s nothing to be embarrassed about and you’re in good company.

Keep a lookout for good story ideas – things that will stretch and evolve your writing talent – either in the street outside, in the newspaper, online. There’s plenty out there you can write about. As Orson Scott Card says: “Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them.”

Above all, write, write, write…and then write some more.


7 thoughts on “Have you got a bad writer’s habit?

  1. Nothing bizarre here – During workdays, I try to get up an hour early and write. Same rule when I get home. It doesn’t always produce good results, but I’ve trained myself to produce. On days off – I surround myself with things that put my mind in the mood I want. Also frequent walks with the dog in between has been helpful.

  2. Why do you think “Writers need some kind of habit.” I’ll agree that writers are humans (usually) and human beings are prone to developing habits. Best is to deliberately develop helpful habits concerning writing. Make them yours and no one else’s.Trying out various techniques until you find one that fits your style is fine, but adopting one just because it is a famous author’s only slows your progress.Sorry, I never developed bizarre writing habits. My methods of procrastination, however, are and have been legion through the decades. Perhaps some of them are/were strange to others. Who sharpens pencils or hangs around the USPS mail box anymore?Compulsively checking the email and Twitter, now that’s an irresistible habit for some of us!

  3. Take a shower. Stuck on a part of the plot. Take a shower. or nap. Either works for me.

  4. Coffee, coffee, coffee. Music to invoke the muse. Each story has its own playlist which makes starting a story almost as simple as selecting an album to listen to. I write several stories at a time so I have choices when I’m in the mood to write: action, humor, serious historical, and even horror.If I’m stuck, I change computers or location if I’m on the portable. If I’m still stuck, it’s time to go out of the house and watch real life for inspiration.*Turning off chats and TWITTER. [snicker] Evil thing it is.

  5. I need to be wearing my authentic Japanese Vendor’s Hapi (short-sleeved open coat made of thick denim-like cotton). It keeps my back from seizing up, ’cause the room will have to be ice cold.And I will need a thermos of hot FRESH coffee, a bottle of stout and my 3 alloted biscuits for the day, (but not chocolate biscuits because then my keyboard gets grotty). I prefer to write at night after the kiddos are in bed.

  6. I used to write my first draft in long hand. it’s particularly good when self-editing slows me down too. But at the moment I sit on the couch with the laptop and write 1000 words min a day.great post 🙂

  7. Don’t think I have a bizarre writing habit, but I do have certain routines. Like a lot of procrastination when it’s a tricky scene. Or not even noticing the phone ringing if I’m really into a scene (always a sign that it’s going well, though not a good thing for my house if the oven’s on).I just discovered this blog, and I think this is a fantastic post! Well researched and so interesting!

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