Wednesday, 22 July 2020

New Normal, New Writing Habits? - Heather Dyer

green leafed plant near table
 Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Those of us who teach might be hoping to find more time to write now that school's out for summer. However, the ‘old normal’ seems to have gone for good, so the habits we established before the pandemic might not be working so well for us now. (I know I miss writing and reading in cafés, and I'm sick of my own four walls.) So, if you're looking to establish some new habits, here’s some sage advice from the writing coaches at Prolifiko:

Finding Time
Are you a Daily Doer, a Time Boxer or a Deep Worker? Daily Doers have a regular habit, writing in the same time and place.

If this is no longer working for you, try changing the time, or the place – or perhaps you need to become a Time Boxer, instead. Time Boxers schedule a block of time a week or so ahead, and ‘avoid feelings of overwhelm by following a ready-made schedule’.

Or maybe you’re a Deep Worker, who binge writes for a sustained amount of time every month or so. If you’re this sort of writer maybe you need to go on retreat.                       

Spontaneous Writers, on the other hand, grab the odd moment anytime and anywhere. But, ‘rather than being impulsive or inspiration-driven, successful spontaneous writers are incredibly prepared. They have writing to hand, find their focus fast, and don’t get distracted’.

Procrastination and Motivation
The thing here is to ask yourself whether you’re really not ready to write because you need to do more research, or because you’re forcing things down the wrong path. If you’re just putting it off out of a resistance borne of fear, try setting small goals, freewriting, writing ‘outside’ of the main document so you feel you have room to breathe, or setting timers and rewards. Arranging to write at the same time as a writing buddy – face to face or online – can help some writers. Make it more ‘fun’ by going somewhere new, treating yourself to a nice coffee, or planning a reward for afterwards.

Give Yourself a Break
But the most motivating advice of all (I thought) comes from Oliver Burkeman in his Guardian column – who recommends being kinder to ourselves, and says that habits stick when we stop trying so hard:

The only way positive habits and routines really do come about, in my experience, is like this: you try every trick in the book, attempting to force change, before giving up in frustration. Then, once there’s no longer a drill sergeant barking commands inside your mind, you hear the quieter voice suggesting that it might feel good, just for today, to do the right thing. And not to do it “every day at 8am”, or “every day for the rest of your life”, but just today. Then, if you’re lucky, you do it the next day, too. And if you’re really lucky, you suddenly realise, three weeks later, that you’ve been doing it pretty much every day. The habit has stuck. But not through “habit change”. All you did – to borrow a piece of advice with roots in Alcoholics Anonymous, which might benefit us all – was to “do the next right thing.”

The Buddhist teacher Susan Piver explores the art of ‘getting stuff done by not being mean to yourself’ at her website

Heather Dyer teaches Writing for Children for the Open College of the Arts, and provides writing and publishing advice through The Literary Consultancy, The Writers' Advice Centre for Children's Books, and privately. If you’re ready for feedback on your work-in-progress contact Heather at 

For further information, see Heather's blog at Writing for Children: Creative Inspiration for Children's Authors.

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