Norman Mailer points out in The Spooky Art: Some Thoughts on Writing:
“If you tell yourself you are going to be at your desk tomorrow, you are by that declaration asking your unconscious to prepare the material…
“You have to maintain trustworthy relations. If you wake up in the morning with a hangover and cannot get to literary work, your unconscious, after a few such failures to appear, will withdraw.”
All of us who have broken promises about writing need to restore trust in ourselves.
Four Steps to Restore Trust
Step 1. Forgive yourself and let go of former failed promises. Cancel any outstanding resolutions or promises.
Step 2. Carefully select which commitments you will reinstate or create. Any new commitment you make about your writing must be honored. No excuses, no exceptions. So you’ll want to make only a few, small, do-able commitments. In other words, stop making promises you can’t or won’t keep.
Step 3. Honor the commitments you make by showing up when you say you will – No Matter What!
Step 4. Repeat until habit is formed.
As you repeatedly honor your commitment, you slowly build writing habits. But until you create a new writing habit, you have to rely on will power. Because will power is limited, you want to build the habit as quickly as possible and make it as easy as possible to honor the commitment.
Tips for Converting Commitments to Habits
- Repetition speeds habit formation. It is more effective to commit to and show up for four or five 15-minute sessions per week than to show up for one 1-hour session.
- The fewer decisions you have to make, the less you drain your will power. Eliminate the “will I or won’t I?” debate. If you said you’d show up for your writing, you show up.
- Have a specific time to honor the commitment to remove the “when will I?” decision.
- It’s easier to honor your commitment early in the day, before your decision-making capacity is depleted. Do what you say will do as soon as you can; that way, you can enjoy the satisfaction and self-respect for the rest of the day.
- In the early stages, don’t specify what you’ll do when show up. As long as what you do supports your writing in some way, as long as you’re available to your writing, it counts. Until you create the habit of showing up, what you do is far less important than the fact that you show up.
- Give yourself a small reward when you honor your commitment. At the very least, acknowledge and celebrate the fact that you are honoring the commitment.
In time, showing up becomes habit. Honoring the commitment no longer requires will power. Showing up to write is who you are and what you do.
If you’d like encouragement and support as you convert your commitments to writing habits, check out my upcoming WTF Is Going on in My Brain When I Want to Write But Can’t class on Feb 8 or my Discover Your Way Around the Writer’s Block class starting in March. Or come to the free Forget Resolutions – Use What Really Works to Write More workshop at Subtext: a Bookstore on January 15 from 7 to 8:30 pm.