When All Else Fails, Rely On Breaking and Forming Habits

Your brain likes patterns. This can be really good, or really inconvenient.

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There are good habits, and there are bad habits. When it comes to writing, creativity becomes a balance of correcting what you’re not doing well and performing better than you already are – breaking bad habits, while also forming good ones.

How you accomplish both of these things depends on the kind of work you do, either for your official job or on your own time. At the moment, I write and edit for multiple clients. Sometimes, a word I might correct in a document for one client needs to be left alone in an article for another – and if it weren’t for habits, I would never be able to remember when to fix what.

Every publication generally has at least a few of their own original style preferences. A brand I work with uses “workout” as both a noun and a verb, which is something I still catch myself itching to correct every time I’m deep in an editing session. (It’s not wrong, it’s just different.)

For me, writing “I like to workout at home” goes against my natural grammar-correcting reflexes. In this case, writing “I like to work out at home” is a habit I need to break, a bad habit of sorts. The more I am exposed to having to actively ignore the urge to do it wrong, the more doing it right becomes habitual instead.

So basically, if you want to do something right, keep doing it right until it becomes automatic.

For you, this might mean writing 500 words every day, rain or shine. Avoiding those extra filler words (“that,” “very”) which oversaturate your sentences. Not staring every sentence with the exact same word three times in a row.

Whether you have “bad” writing habits you want to break or you just want to form good writing habits from scratch, the best way to do that is to immerse yourself in the kind of writing that triggers either or both kinds. Writing an article with a word limit might help you break your habit of writing too much, and committing to a daily blog posting schedule can help you get into the habit of writing more consistently.

In general, we’re not very good at breaking or forming habits because it can take a long time – and a lot of effort. You want instant gratification, so after three days when you aren’t seeing any results, you give up. I can’t make your decisions for you, but I can tell you that the key to reaching a difficult writing goal is buried within your habits, both good and bad. The more bad habits you replace with good ones, the more likely you are to meet your goals, and ideally, succeed.

So what is it? You know – your bad habit. Or that thing you want to start doing but haven’t yet. What steps are you going to take to make the bad habit stop or the good habit start? A first step isn’t enough – there are many more to come after it – but it’s a milestone. Will you reach it?


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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