Welcome to the blog of science fiction author Eileen Rhoadarmer--where science fiction and Mommyhood collide!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Habits, Writing and Otherwise

Take a look at that counter.  500 days.  That's 500 days of solid writing and/or editing.  Half of 1,000.  I feel pretty good about that.

I read an article recently about habits, both forming them and breaking them.  Actually, it was primarily about retailers trying to manipulate our shopping habits, but it had a lot of the psychology and science behind habits in general.  It's a huge article, but an interesting read.

Clearly, I've created a good daily writing habit, but the way I go about doing it is still a matter of flux.  My preferred time to write is during naptime.  I get an hour, maybe an hour and a half, of solid no-kids time when Kal'El's second nap coincides with Zaxxon's nap/quiet time.  This can be my best time, as I'm awake and generally feeling productive.  However, I seldom use it all for writing.

I usually lose some of it to household chores that I couldn't get done with the boys underfoot.  Then once I feel the house is under control, I face the dilemma of the internet.  I usually feel like I need to have email and blogs under control before I can truly focus on my writing.  This can be problematic.  As everyone knows, checking email/browsing the blogs you follow can be quick, if there's little new info, but most of the time it's very time consuming.  Therefore, I often have only 20-30 minutes remaining when I really knuckle down and start writing.  The result?  I don't get much done.

On these days, and especially on days when naptime gets completely swallowed by a non-writing-related activity, my only remaining option is to write after the boys--and usually hubby too--are in bed.  This is also problematic as I'm usually pretty darn tired by then so I'm slow.  The result?  I don't get much done.

Do you see the pattern here?

I started noticing this about a month ago, and began trying to ignore my email until after I'd written.  That didn't work, however, because part of my mind kept nagging at me, wondering what was in my email or who had posted what today.  Generally I gave up, figuring that I wouldn't be able to concentrate until I'd gotten my mind organized.  I also started to realize that this had the shape of an addiction or habit, so this article reached me at the right time.

According to the article, habits form a three-step loop in our brains:  cue, routine, reward.  When we experience the cue, we go automatically into the routine, or at least we crave the routine, in expectation of the reward.  Our brains work less during this process as it becomes habitual.  For me it was cue:  go into office during naptime; routine:  check email and blogs, then write; reward:  sense of being connected/up-to-date/accomplishment.  Except I wasn't accomplishing as much as I wanted with my writing, and that was nagging at me too.  It was time to change my habit, but as the article said, that's no easy thing to do.  When you experience the cue, it's natural to crave the rest.

I also recently noticed, while using the hour-long drive to my parents' house to write while hubby drove, that I was extremely productive on my netbook.  There was no wi-fi in the car, so no distractions to check the internet.  I'm similarly productive when I have my netbook with me and the boys are busy at a class or something.  So taking these bits of information, I decided to attempt to forge a new habit.

Since my netbook doesn't cue distractions, I've set it up at the kitchen table at the beginning of naptime for the past two days, and I definitely got more writing done.  I didn't have the desire to hop online and find out what was going on in the world.  Two days is hardly enough to say it will always work, but it's a good start.  There were downfalls, of course, most notably that I was closer to the boys' rooms so I could hear Kal'El crying as he settled himself for his nap, and I discovered that Zaxxon opens and closes his door every few minutes during quiet time, presumably to see if anything interesting is going on.  Normally I'm downstairs and miss all that.  BUT...it's a good start.  And if I can keep from browsing the internet on my netbook, I can hopefully create the habit of cue:  open netbook; routine:  write a lot without distraction; reward:  sense of fun and accomplishment.

(I am aware that there are programs that will lock down the internet for you, but the cue of being in my office wouldn't go away, so I'm happy with this experiment for now.)

How about you?  What tactics do you use to avoid distraction, or what writing habits do you wish you could rewrite?


Anonymous said...

I use TimeStamp as my mental-button that says "it's time to write now". It's a program that tracks time spent on a project, for freelance billing purposes. I treat my writing as if it were freelance, rather than a hobby.

I used to tell myself "an hour a day", but that got to be too big of a stresser/expectation since there were too many days where that was impossible with my health. Now I just tell myself "something every day", even if it's five words or five minutes. Still, I get out the TimeStamp program as my mental cue to get me into the proper mode.

Perhaps you could do what Jessica Day George did? Her husband would watch the kids for an hour or so on Saturdays and she'd take her laptop out of the house to write distraction-free. Perhaps that could work for you if you haven't already tried it?

Charlie Holmberg said...

Hope the new methods work out for you! I'm pretty good about keeping up writing habits, though I admit weekends always throw me off, even if I have an entire day full of free time. The lack of structure makes it hard to get down to business.

I hope I can keep up good word counts when I have kids! I'll just whine at you and you'll solve all my problems when the time comes, right? ;)

Eileen Rhoadarmer said...

Laura - thanks for stopping by! There certainly are times when my "something every day" is pretty small. I usually don't let myself quit before 15 minutes and at least two paragraphs (more if it's dialogue.) It's the days when I do an impressive amount that make me wish I could do more every day. Most of the time though, it's somewhere in between. Thanks for your thoughts!

Bwa ha ha, Charlie! When the first kid comes around you'll wish you hadn't squandered all your pre-kid time (which you aren't doing, but it'll feel that way.) Then you'll find a routine, and then when the second one comes you'll think you squandered all the free time you must've had when you only had one kid. As for solving your problems... you could always move to Colorado and then we can swap babysitting services! :)

Anonymous said...

I give myself the 10 minutes to check email and blogs, then log into a writer's chatroom on FMwriters.com and say hello, and dive into my writing. It's a good envrionment most of the time, but the writers who frequent it are human and sometimes we delve off topic. But it helps.