A lot of writers (including me) believe creating a writing habit is key to writing more. But recently it hit me that, in a way, that advice puts the cart before the horse.
Because different things motivate different people.
Which means that creating a habit (or trying any other strategy) may work great for one person but make it harder for another to write.
Here's what I mean.
Before You Create A Writing Habit
In the book The Four Tendencies, author Gretchen Rubin writes about research showing people tend to find ways to meet goals in four main ways. Understanding your main way can make it much easier to do what you want to do.
These tendencies explain why using a word count chart helps me finish a first draft on time, causes another writer to say, “Why would I ever do that?” and leaves another less likely to write and more likely to feel guilty about not writing.
Here's a thumbnail of the tendencies Rubin talks about. (Any errors are mine. You can visit her website or read the book for more information if you like.)
If you fit this tendency you meet your own goals and other people's expectations. It's probably easy to form habits, including a writing habit, and you usually get the things done that you want to do whether or not anyone else pushes you to do them.
One downside, though (which I've experienced), is you may be so driven that you meet everyone's expectations plus your own, leaving little time to relax.
And you may forget to ask whether the goals you set for yourself six months ago still make sense.
If this is your tendency, you do everything you promised anyone else you would do. Friends, family, and coworkers all know they can rely on you.
But you may find it hard to get done what you want to do if no one else asks or requires you to do it. For example, if you and a friend agree to go to the gym at seven a.m. each day, you'll be there to meet your friend even if you have to drag yourself out of bed.
But if you decide on a solo early morning exercise plan, you may very well skip it after the first day. And then feel upset about what you see as a lack of follow through.
Questioners want to know why they should do things.
If you tend this way, you will do something if your questions are answered and you feel satisfied the reasons for doing it are solid. This is true whether it's a personal goal or one someone else expects you to take on.
On the upside, once you're convinced, you follow through. Also, you're unlikely to take on too many projects without thinking it through. But the downside is you might spend a lot of time on questions about why, what's the best way, and where to start, which can hinder getting your projects off the ground.
If you have Rebel tendencies, you may resist all expectations – your own and anyone else's. If someone tells you to do something, you immediately don't want to do it.
You may find a lot of motivation, however, if someone tells you that you can't do something.
For example, if an English teacher told you you'll never be a writer, you might work very hard and take great delight in proving him wrong.
On the upside, you're unlikely to be defined by others' expectations. On the downside, you may find it hard to meet even a goal you chose yourself, or to set a goal in the first place, as it feels too confining.
All four tendencies can overlap according to Rubin, but she believes everyone tends toward one more than the others.
Writing Habits And The Tendencies
You're probably already thinking about how these tendencies apply to writing. It's the first thing that occurred to me, too, when I read the book.
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Upholders And Inner Goals
Because Upholders feel best when they meet their own inner goals, setting clear ones is key. To Do lists, charts, and tracking how much you write are probably great motivators. (I love to check off boxes!)
It's also important to take time regularly to reassess your goals – and your obligations to others – to be sure they still make sense.
If you set a goal of writing 3 romance novels, for example, but after you finish the first one you realize you don't like writing romance, it's okay to reconsider the goal. You may still go ahead with it, or not, but you'll have made a choice.
Obligors And Accountability
Obligors need outside accountability.
Rather than giving yourself a hard time if you don't finish that writing project on your To Do list, enlist someone else who can help you stay on track.
You might find a writing buddy and agree to meet for dinner every two weeks. If you don't get your pages written, your friend will have to buy you dinner. While at first look it sounds like it should be the other way around, you're probably more motivated if your lack of follow through inconveniences your friend, not you. (You don't want your friend to have to spend more money because you didn't write your pages, right?)
Do You Question Needing A Writing Habit?
Given that Questioners need reasons, if that's your tendency, take some time to ask yourself why you want to write your novel (or screenplay or story).
Write down as many answers as you can. Do you want to become famous? Make money? Feel the satisfaction of saying you're done? Share it with an audience? Enjoy the process?
Review your answers down the road if your motivation flags. You also may want to plan times when you revisit your questions. Asking new ones may bring out new reasons and enhance your motivation.
Rebellion And Creativity
If you have Rebel tendencies, freedom and creativity likely motivate and excite you far more than schedules, deadlines, and To Do Lists.
So if a set schedule makes your blood run cold, or if it makes writing feel too much like work, you don't need one.
Perhaps instead you can see writing as your private time, set aside for just you and no one else. Time no one else is entitled to claim.
On a long writing project, you may want to jump around, writing the scenes that interest you most during any particular writing session rather than writing straight through in order. Or you may want to have various projects in the works so you can always choose the one that appeals to you rather than feeling like you're sitting down to do your homework.
I hope these thoughts are helpful.
P.S. Have you created a writing habit? Let me know in the comments!