The secret to success is in the habits you possess. One vital thing that sets successful writers apart from the ones that never make it are their habits. Their ability to come back to their work day after day, regardless of zombie apocalypses and new episodes of Orange is the New Black.
Chris Fox correctly identifies that in his work the Lifelong Writing Habit. Fox is a developer by day and writer by night. He has managed to self-publish 28 books (22 fiction and 6 non-fiction) and a create 104 YouTube videos on the subject of writing, all the while holding down a day job. I have to admit, I find that to be an impressive feat so when I saw his book on my recommended reads on Amazon, I decided to check it out.
If you’re no stranger to self-help/development books, then most of the ideas expressed in the book will be familiar to you. The components that make up a habit, the importance and effective mechanisms of visualization, and the utilization of your future self as a powerful tool in solidifying habits all appear in the book. What I loved about it though, was the fact that he tailored the advice to a writer’s life.
It was a short book, but I ended up getting a lot of out of it. In fact, these notes were originally 6,000 words. I feel the pearls of wisdom in this book can be found in how he explained things, so cutting it down might’ve taken away some of the magic. Apologies. Needless to say, if you’re a writer-in-hiding, this is a book you should definitely try out to get its full value.
For now, the following are some of the insights it sparked in me. It might be worth noting that some items were not directly mentioned in the book. They are simply ideas that crystallized for me as a result of having read the book.
#1 – It’s a Journey
Being a writer isn’t instantaneous. You can’t write a full-fledged 150,000-word novel in one sitting. You have to research, plan, draft and edit. It’s a process that can take months or years of work. It can also be filled with obstacles and setbacks (both external and internal, just like the stuff that characters in your stories have to deal with, yay!).
In fact, there may be more years of hard work that doesn’t pay off than years of work that actually result in adulation, fame and money. (If that’s what you’re going for.) Success doesn’t usually happen instantaneously.
Therefore, make sure your reasons for being a writer are strong enough to carry you through. Ask yourself: what will make the time and effort worth it? It’s best to know the answer to that question before you embark.
#2 – Perception is Everything
Our reality is what we perceive it to be, not what it actually is. But what we perceive can influence and eventually become our reality. More precisely, our perceptions can make us behave in ways that result in their manifestation. So it’s imperative our beliefs align with what we want. They will influence whether we take action and if we go on to create the reality we want. In other words, you might want to become a successful writer, but if you secretly don’t believe you can be, you won’t do the work needed to get there.
#3 – Use Your Vision as Your ‘Reward’
Create a detailed blurb about what your ideal life would be like if you were a writer. Make it as vivid as possible. Ask yourself questions like: How many books have you sold? Where do you live? What does your writing room look like? Bonus points for including actual visuals, printing it out, and maybe even laminating it.
Use the dream blurb as a reward at the end of your writing sessions (and, if you like, at the beginning, to serve as a reminder of your target/purpose for writing). It will help renew your motivation, increase your self-belief and prime your brain to work for you (i.e., make it more likely to notice relevant resources/opportunities that will help you actualize your dream).
#4 – Set Calendar Reminders for Your Milestones
If you’re a word-count person, you might have a yearly goal of 365k words (i.e., 1k words/day). If you break that down to weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc. milestones of 7k, 30k, 90k, etc. and set calendar reminders for yourself, it becomes a fun way to see if you’re on track to completion. It also provides more flexibility in tracking your word count and still ensures you’re on track to achieving your goal. If you find yourself consistently off the mark, adjust your goals, your daily session length or your productivity per session.
#5 – Habits Have More Influence on Your Life Than You Think
If you think about it, who you are and what you’ve achieved up to this moment can be attributed to the habits you currently hold. Since habits are a set of actions you perform every day without conscious thought, it can be scary how many habits you have that you are completely unaware of but have led you up to this point in life, good or bad. But here’s the good news: now that you know, habits can be the vehicle you use to get to where you want to be. Use them wisely.
#6 – Be Deliberate When Setting Up a Habit
Willpower is finite so we use habits to play the long game. But in order to set up a new habit, you need to use a bit of willpower. This means that for the first month (or however long it takes for you to establish a habit), you need to be deliberate about what you do. You need to consciously set up your trigger and mindfully respond to it, completing the actions of your routine and finishing it off by giving yourself a reward. This purposeful approach should continue until you find yourself performing the routine unthinkingly. That’s when you know you’ve formed your habit.
It’s a bit of work at first, but worth it because once set, you will have the habit for life. Even if you fall off the bandwagon, it’ll be easier to get back on.
#7 – Finish What You Start
This is huge. In order to get anywhere in life, you need to finish what you start.
Finishing allows you to experience the entire process which leads to insights that help you improve. By going all the way to the end, you learn what matters and what doesn’t. What issues are relevant and what ends up working themselves out. You become a more efficient and effective writer for future manuscripts.
You also gain confidence in yourself. If you’re always stuck at the beginning or the midway point and never make yourself cross the finish line (even if you have to crawl to get there), then you never come to realize that you are actually capable of doing it.
And of course, the best part is that you now have a finished product to show the world. After all, if you don’t have a finished story on your hands, you have nothing that you can get published.
#8 – Create a Path of Least Resistance
It seems to be human nature to take the path of least resistance. Knowing that, it is then up to us to artificially create that path for ourselves towards the things that matter to us—writing and crafting stories.
How? By removing barriers to writing and setting up barriers to things that prevent us from writing. For example, if you’re a morning writer, the night before, make sure to keep your word processor open to your document. Before you start your session, gather all the things you need during your session and keep them close at hand (e.g., tea, snacks, water, etc.). Conversely, block off potential interruptions or distractions. Listen to music, close your room door, disconnect from the internet or even set up a timer that tells you when your time is up so you don’t have to constantly look at the clock.
#9 – Have Session Goals
Session goals remind you of what you can reasonably accomplish in one sitting. It can keep you from getting frustrated and impatient with yourself for not having written an entire novel in 1 hour. (Seriously, that happens.)
If you’re not working with word count, set a different session goal for yourself. Possible options:
- draft 1 scene
- plug 1 plot hole
- work out a few kinks
- flesh out some dialogue
- read and annotate 1 source of research
Keep a running list of things to tackle that you can break down into pieces to use as session goals. This can keep you from feeling lost when you sit down to write, make things seem more manageable and best of all, give you a clear picture of your progress. The sense of accomplishment you get from that will give you the hit you need to keep going.
#10 – Expect Trouble & Persist
Something you should come to terms with before you even start is the fact that you’re going to be faced with obstacles. Lots of them. All sorts. All throughout your journey.
For example, at the beginning you’re going to experience trouble trying to be consistent. Once you’re consistent, you’re going to have issues with the story itself. Once those are worked out, your fears are going to keep you from finishing. When you’ve finished your work and sent it out, the rejection letters will start pouring in. After 122 rejections, when you’ve finally secured a book deal, your book will hit the shelves and bomb. Not in a good way.
Sounds bleak? Life sometimes is. Granted, you might not face as many problems as that, but know that it is a possibility. Along each step of the way, you will probably run into trouble. Be aware of all potential problems and mentally prepare for them now so that you are better able to deal with them later.
And remember, if your reasons are strong enough, those setbacks won’t stop you from moving forward because you’ll know it’ll be worth it in the end. You have a dream, damnit. Now go fulfill it.
If you’ve read Fox’s book, what insights did you get from it? What struck a chord? What really hit it home for you?