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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Seven Reasons Writers Need Habits More Than Discipline

number_seven_249x249.pngForget about discipline and will power. What writers really need are habits. Here’s why.

  1. All the really cool writers have habits: Maya Angelou, E.B. White, Ernest Hemingway, Steven King, the Bronte sisters, Charles Dickens, JK Rowling.  (We can only guess what habits EL James employs… no wait, I’d rather not.)
  2. Habits get stronger every time you use them. Will power gets weaker every time you use it.
  3. Habits reflect who you are. When you have a writing habit, you show up because that’s just who you are and what you do. Dscipline, on the other hand, reveals who you think you should be, but aren’t, and doubt you ever will be.
  4. Habits are easy. Seriously, how hard was it to brush your teeth this morning? Exactly. Discipline is hard. (Drill sergeants don’t yell for nothing.)
  5. Habits soothe your limbic system, which means your creative cortex gets to play. Discipline, even the thought of discipline, is likely to trigger your limbic system, thus inhibiting your creativity.
  6. When you have a habit, you can devote all your attention to what you’re writing. When you rely on discipline, you have to focus on making sure you doing it and doing it at the right time in the right way, which means you have less attention to bring to the writing itself.
  7. Habits will sustain your even the work is challenging. Will power will fail you just when you need it most. There’s a reason the cool writers rely on habits.

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3 Comments on “Seven Reasons Writers Need Habits More Than Discipline”

  1. dkelly0826@comcast.net September 1, 2013 at 11:37 am #

    Good afternoon Rosanne,

    I recently purchased your book “Around the Writer’s Block” and am finding it to be vey helpful! Thank you for writing it.

    I graduated from Metropolitan State University in 2012 with a Creative Writing degree. After graduating, I lost both my writing group and my accountability. I then became very involved and very busy with the local elections and so lost my momentum too. Consequently, I haven’t been writing much. Coming across you book has helped.

    Last week I joined The Loft in an effort to regain a writing community and my commitment to my writing. I am excited to see you are teaching a class, “The Writing Habit” that is exactly what I need right now. Unfortunately, the first class meets on Monday, Sept 16 and I have my 40th Class Reunion committee coming to my house to work on name badges and finish up final details for our reunion.

    Is there any way that we can work it out so I can still take the class? I can make it for the remaining five classes. I am willing to do any reading or work necessary and submit whatever is necessary online. Please also know, that if it can’t be worked out, though I will be disappointed, I will still write. I will still read your book and follow your excellent advise. And I will keep my eyes open for a future class offering.

    Sincerely, Debra Kelly


  2. Theresa August 31, 2013 at 4:53 pm #

    A suggestion for a habit to make – print out what you’re working on, often. Do this along with electronic backup.

    My latest experience is an example. My main computer died a month or so ago; still not sure if it’s ressurectible or what’s going on. Spare computer needs at least one visit to computer guy. Bought a third one at a friend’s estate sale, and found out this morning that it doesn’t work either.

    I do have a printed copy of 3 stories, thankfully. So I can work on forming my habits and not procrastinating. But I’d be up a creek if I hadn’t !


    • rosannebane September 6, 2013 at 5:15 pm #

      Excellent point Theresa! Not only are paper copies a lifesaver if your hard drive crashes, but the sight of all those pages can be very motivating.


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