This Week’s Bit of String: Three sets of cutlery
When my son was six, I decided it was time he did a bit more around the house.
We started with laying the table. Three forks and three knives, maybe some help pouring drinks, that was all he had to do. It didn’t go over well.
‘If you EVER,’ a fork slams onto my place, ‘make me do this again,’ the knife slams onto the other side of the placemat, ‘I’m running away!’
It was a hardship, those six pieces of cutlery. But I persisted, explaining to him how much else Mummy had to do all the time, and he learned to live with it. Ten years later he still shows up, with minimal summoning and zero slamming, and he lays the table.
I also taught him to fold his own clothes then. We used to get compliments from the other mums at dance class: ‘How do you get him to fold his clothes so nicely?’
The answer to that was Top Trumps. He was enamoured with his Top Gear supercar Top Trumps cards assigning speed, coolness, and various other ratings to different cars.
Every night, he would fold his clothes, and I’d give him a rating. The more decimal places the better; he lived for numbers.
And so habits are formed, sometimes under duress, sometimes with bribery, always with a nod to the bigger picture and to one’s underlying interests.
I’ve just been doing a course from Writers HQ called 14 Days to a Solid Writing Habit. It was fun and invigorating, and also made me see that I hadn’t been doing too badly anyway.
Here’s a sum-up of how it enhances habits:
Focus on honest goals and motivations. This is where those underlying interests come in. You’re not going to stick with something if the fit isn’t right; if the goal is too far off or not worthwhile enough, or if you’re not secure in your reasons. Be honest about what you want from your writing, and cling to it.
The course creates a culture of encouragement rather than fear. If you miss a day, you haven’t thrown away your whole habit. Just keep going when you can. Slamming the silverware down is fine, as long as the table gets set in the end.
Great tips for optimising that sometimes-elusive writing time. Because of these, I could sit down to the required 15, then 20, then 30, then 35 minutes of daily writing time and churn out a fantastic number of words. In those relatively small windows of time, I was accomplishing a lot. So even when I’m busy or tired, I’ve got proof right there that investing time is worth it.
Do you have habit-forming strategies to add? How do you stay motivated?
Here’s how the course made me realise I’m pretty lucky.
I already do have very clear goals, with multiple submission deadlines, and a healthy smattering of ideas to develop.
The course suggests we put non-writing time to use thinking through plot snags and daydreaming about characters. Believe me, I’ve got that covered. I often skip hours of sleep because I’d rather be blocking scenes in my head. (Who wouldn’t?)
Also, I can usually squeeze in writing time. I get a whole hour for lunch. I don’t drive, and relying on buses has disadvantages, but it does free me to read or scribble. My son is very independent (what with his longstanding table-setting skills and all), and even my husband is somewhat independent, so I can get away with the odd at-home writing session.
Finally, I am fortunate not to suffer from imposter syndrome. I know I’m a writer; I’ve been working at it since I was three years old. I luckily had one of the first stories I ever submitted published, and I’ve had just enough good fortune to sustain me since then. No, not only to sustain my own motivation, but also to justify to those around me the time and effort I spend on this.
Maybe I was naive not to realise how many writers struggle just to recognise themselves as writers. If that’s you (and even if it isn’t), go on and write anyway, every day if you can. Prove yourself and any other naysayers wrong. Once you’ve made a habit of writing, no one can stop you even if they try. Courage! Bring forth!