I’ve always liked words. When I was twelve, I used them to pen ten-pagers about angsty vampires (clearly before my time). At fifteen, I used them to build an escape hatch to New York City, where I got into a pre-college writing seminar for the summer. It beat my sleepy suburban town. Words could, apparently, get me places.
Fast forward almost two decades; words have come and gone. In that time I sunsetted two “blogs” (they had fewer links than a brochure site). One about coding; and one about my “first thought of the day,” which held on briefly by downsizing into my “first song of the day.”
If I liked words so much, why couldn’t I keep writing them?
If I like words, I love food. Particularly: perfectly cooked, molten-center, hard-boiled eggs. This is one of the few foods that I can happily eat every single day. Three other things I love: earl grey tea with bergamot in my favorite Kahlua mug. Watching the sun rise over my beautiful city of San Francisco. Salami.
It wasn’t until I cobbled these all together that the writing habit stuck. I started to wake fifteen minutes earlier, then twenty, then thirty-five, so that I could squeeze in this new morning ritual before my workday. I rolled out of bed, flipped on the tea kettle, set a 12-minute timer for the eggs, and sat down at my desk facing the sun.
I wish I could say I was so inspired to write that I jumped out of bed every morning. But I’d be lying. What did pull me out? Those fresh eggs, barely cool enough to peel. Along with the purely visceral pleasure of eating and sunrises, I started getting hits of pleasure when I wrote something I liked. After 1.5 months, I became addicted to all of it — the feeling of getting good at a craft, a healthy breakfast, the calm quiet of early mornings, and my sacred cup of earl grey.
Writing for Myself
I didn’t share my writing with anyone. The whole point was to start a blog, so admittedly I used a different voice than, say, a diary entry. But still, it was a lot easier to get going in “no edit” mode, knowing I didn’t have a deadline or existing audience. I wrote whatever I felt like, what was on my mind at that moment or the last few days.
I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t publish any of these posts until I was sure I could keep the habit up: either a continuous streak of four months, or a series of eight polished posts that I was excited to publish.
Finish what you start
I gave myself one constraint: finish what you start. A good blog post – one that I felt was “finished” would take several days. Usually about two sessions to get the idea out in its raw form, then 1-3 more sessions to edit, and often, rewrite. I would literally tap a couple Enter-bars before the paragraph in question and begin writing it anew, with the original just barely in view beneath my cursor. Sometimes I would be surprised that I rather enjoyed the phrasing in my first draft, and only have to tweak a tense here or word there.
“Done” is a relative term, and I became okay with that. If I wasn’t feeling a particular blog post after four days of writing and editing, I would allow myself to relax my standards for “done” and move on. Unfortunately this has the side effect of posts being completed but not posted. Oh well!
Fail: What derailed (almost) four months of writing
I was feeling quite chuffed, having had a solid morning writing streak of over three months. My four-month goal was so close I even let myself ogle a few WordPress themes. I had emptied enough egg cartons to pack a coop, and Tazo earl grey never tasted better. Tumblr was – privately – awash with my words.
Then I went on a week-long business trip, followed by another three-day conference. Followed by a holiday weekend. …Excuses! I know.
The reality is that my routine – my pleasure association – couldn’t keep up. My trips took me to the East Coast, where my jet-lagged days started three hours earlier. I had only been waking up early for three months; there were still days when waking up at 7am was really, really hard, let alone 4am.
Given the choice of sleep, I simply chose to give up my new writing habit.
This calculated decision spared me from too many guilty feelings, but it didn’t give me any more control over regaining the writing habit. I came back home still a bit sleep-deprived, and also a bit friend-deprived. I continued to choose sleep and even socializing, over writing. Before I knew it, the two-week hiatus turned into a four-month hiatus. I was off the wagon.
Publish this post
What kept my habit from completely dying out was the knowledge that I had found a hack that works – undoubtedly, irrefutably works for getting me into writing. It was my unique combination, that if I just did it again, I would be well on my way to:
- Writing my thoughts down in a consistent manner
- Editing them in a way that would make them “good enough” to share with others.
I was no longer stuck on “How do I do this?” I had my routine.
So I started again. I cleared a few other life distractions, but really it just came down to doing it one day. Without much fanfare, I found myself up at 7am and decided that I hadn’t had eggs in front of my window in a while. I set the timer for a 12-minute boil. I woke up my laptop. I opened Ommwriter.