Secrets of a Writing Habit, Pt. 1: How to Avoid Habit Guilt at All Costs

Hey, you! Yeah, you. The one that’s crap at starting habits, and who wantonly gets distracted and can’t follow through on anything. Yeah, I’m talking to you. Are you a writer or not?

So you want to build a writing habit. Good for you! This is the first in a three-part series sharing the only things I know about building habits that stick around for longer than just a few minutes. Enjoy!


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The trouble with habits is that the ones you want to form all start with good intentions. The highest of hopes. Lots and lots of hope.

This means that when you inevitable slip, forget, fall back on, or neglect them, they holler back at you. Loud. Like you just shot and field-dressed a deer on a PETA camping trip.

But, you’re thinking, I can’t start a habit without good intentions. Now I feel hopeless. I hate you. 

Well, there IS a way to form a habit without (almost) any guilt when you slip up. Here’s how.

This design, in fact.  I like glitter, okay? Don't judge me.
This design, in fact.
I like glitter, okay? Don’t judge me.

Honesty Is Such a Lonely Word

I’m an inveterate nail-biter. I learned this yucky habit as a young musician in orchestra rehearsal. You couldn’t stop the performance to say, “Excuse me, Mr. Conductor, I need to file my nails all ladylike and stuff. Be back in 5 minutes.” You just went at them with your teeth and jumped right back in to your rehearsal.

These days, I don’t play the viola so much anymore, and there’s no real need for my nails to be as blunt and spatulate as they are. Last November, I decided to quit nail-biting cold turkey. I gave myself a manicure, and went full-on Pinterest in my pursuit of a nail design I’d feel too guilty to chomp into oblivion.

Well, one day while I was sitting at my desk, stressing out about an assignment on a deadline, I mindlessly nibbled on my thumbnail. My beautiful, teal ombre thumbnail. The one I’d spent all morning the previous Saturday getting just right.

The end result was predictable: In a fit of annoyance at my carelessness, I spitefully bit them all off, and I was right back to where I started.

Honesty is: Biting my nails is a stress reliever. I am, at some point, going to mindlessly ruin at least one of them. Not throwing hours and hours into a design I knew I was going to ruin would’ve been better.

Now? I paint on white French tips when I’m trying to break my nail-biting habit. If I mess up, I can simply paint the white nail polish on a little lower before I feel the need to gnaw off ALL my hard work.

That’s a Great Story and All, But What About Writing?

You get the idea. Set it up simply, with a low word count goal at first, so that when you drop the ball, and you will, you won’t feel guilty. You’ll just carve out 20 minutes somewhere else and catch up. Easy!

Don’t Get Over-Ambitious

Setting up a goal that’s a little too easy to hit might, at first, seem like you’re setting yourself up to spin your wheels. Why do I even care about this goal? I don’t think I’m making any progress here.

The point isn’t to make progress; it’s to make a habit. And you make a habit by doing the same thing over and over and over again, until you don’t have to think about it any more. Put off that “making progress” thing until your habit’s firmly entrenched.

That way, when you inevitably slip up, you haven’t let your whole project down, you’ve just turned your making-a-habit project back by a day or so. No big deal = no guilt!

Is slacking writer’s guilt a problem for you? How do you avoid letting habit-forming get you down? Share in the comments!