When All Else Fails, Rely On Breaking and Forming Habits

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

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.

Five Habits of Influential Writers


This week, Darren Rowse over on the Problogger podcast (if you don’t already, take a listen, it’s worth it) talked about the 7 habits of lucky entrepreneurs—how they respond to problems, how they create and develop instead of reacting, and more.

This inspired a post with a similar theme: habits of writers, particularly influential ones. If your mission as a writer is to make a difference in the world—awesome. Have you formed any of these habits yet?

 1.They know a lot about the people they’re trying to reach

It’s not enough just to know who your audience is. Influential writers know not only who they want to get messages across to, but also what that audience wants, needs and is generally interested in.

You can write as many articles geared toward parents as you want, but if you don’t do your research and figure out what questions parents are asking and the credible answers to give, those articles are just going to sit there, unread.

 2. They find balance between quality and quantity 

When it comes to writing for a specific purpose (other than “to get published” or “to be a famous writer”), there needs to be a healthy balance between the quality of the work you put out and the quantity you publish every week.

It isn’t about how good you are or how often you’re posting articles. It’s a combination of those two things. Influential writers are willing to put in the time and effort to publish quality writing, which often takes a lot of research and brainstorming, as often as they see fit, preferably on a regular basis.

 3. They promote their accomplishments for the benefit of others

There’s nothing wrong with “shameless” self-promotion, but when it becomes more about you and less about the messages you’re trying to spread, it’s not shameless as much as it is selfish.

Focus your self-promotion on the work you’ve done and who it’s targeted toward, instead of “Hey guys, look what I wrote for this publication, how awesome am I?” Influential writers are in it for the cause they’re trying to support through their writing, not the praise they may or may not get from it.

 4. They treat writing as work, whether they get paid to write or not

Writing is an enjoyable experience most of the time (that’s why we do it!), but when you’ve set out to make a difference using your words, it’s not always going to feel that way.

Influential writers take their writing seriously whether or not it seems “worth it” every time they sit down to do it. With your end goal in mind, even if at times it seems like you’re writing too much without making any progress, you can learn to push through it until it pays off, literally, figuratively or both.

 5. They view free time as an opportunity to learn something new

The same way a teacher never stops learning about the subject he teaches or a doctor stays up-to-date on new research and techniques in her specialty, an influential writer considers continuous learning, across many fields, a necessity.

It’s important to take time to de-stress and spend time with friends, family and yourself, but it’s also important to take as many opportunities as possible to learn more about the people and organizations you’ve dedicated your life to influencing. Learning best practices in writing, marketing and social media isn’t a bad idea, either, if you want your ideas to spread for the right reasons. 

Adopting these habits will enhance your credibility as a writer and change the way your ideas reach your intended audience. What you have to say is important. Words are powerful tools: use them wisely.

Are we missing any habits you think influential writers should adopt? Share them in a comment! 

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.