Your writing life is the sum of all the writing-related choices you make.
Choosing means to make a decision each time you come to a particular crossroads.
Most decisions are not deliberate. Instead we unconsciously follow our habits, choosing what is easiest because it’s what we’ve done for years. We choose negative thoughts about our abilities, we choose negative attitudes about our progress, and we follow with choosing negative actions (like not setting goals and not writing.)
Choice or Habit?
Although many of your choices have become automatic habits, each one is still a choice you make. [IMPORTANT NOTE: See the list at the end of this post for some excellent books on creating helpful habits so that your good choices can become automatic.]
If you want to have a successful writing career (however you define “success” for yourself), you must control the process of choosing. You must begin to notice your choices, moment by moment.
Think about what you’re thinking about! Then start making consistently better daily choices. These changes can be very small, if you make them daily. Take control of your writing life by being in charge of yourself.
Writers make critical decisions in three areas every day–sometimes every hour. Train yourself to be a close observer of your choices. You come to a fork in the road hundreds of times each day, and each time you have a choice to make. [That's one reason why it's easier if you establish habits in these areas. The good choices eventually become automatic.]
Beginning today, consciously choose the direction that leads to your writing goals. And that begins with your thoughts.
If you want to make changes that last, you must change the way you think. Your mental and emotional framework needs adjusting. Focus on getting your MIND moving in the right direction. The way you think will ultimately dictate your long-term success or failure.
Certain thoughts and beliefs will derail you before you even get started. (“I’m not good enough.” “I don’t have the talent I need.” “It’s who you know in this business, and I don’t know anyone important.” “I don’t have the time/energy/family support to write.”) Take time to recognize which particular issues negatively affect your choice to write.
Perhaps your thoughts about writing contain a few myths that need exploring–and debunking. Do you think that you’ll be a happy writer if you just manage to get published? You might be–but probably only if you’re happy before you get published. Grumpy, negative, passive writers who achieve publication only become grumpy, negative, passive writers with a publishing credit. Publication itself won’t make you happy.
Do you think there is a magical short-cut to writing success? Are you on the constant lookout for the latest get-published-quick scheme? Do you think, if you just find the “key,” you’ll get published immediately? Although we’re a society of instant gratification promoters, it is still true that excellent writers don’t spring up overnight–they study, practice and grow. S-l-o-w-l-y.
Do you think it’s someone else’s fault that you aren’t published? Do you have a general mental habit of blaming your lack of success on others? While it’s a human tendency to do so, this kind of thinking will keep you stuck–and unpublished. Every career has obstacles to conquer on the way to success, and writing is no different. The obstacles only change from time to time. (Writers fifty years ago did not worry about their hard drives crashing or finding time for online social networking.) But writers of all ages have had barriers to overcome. At one time women writers had to disguise what they were doing–and even use a male pen name in order to get published!
Choosing Mental Boundaries
Mental boundaries determine what thoughts are allowed to set up housekeeping in your brain–and which ones are told to get lost! [If you need assistance in this area, I think you might find my "Boundaries for Writers" e-book helpful.]
Choosing your thoughts begins with noticing when a thought like this passes through your mind: (“When am I going to get published? I’ve been submitting for months and months! I should just quit!”) The second critical part is replacing that thought with one that is both true and positive. (“Getting published takes time for all new writers, and if I’m persistent and consistent in my efforts to improve and market well, I will probably get published eventually!”) At first, it’s reinforcing to say these new thoughts out loud.
(The next two posts will be on making choices in our “attitudes” and “actions.)
I’ve been working hard myself to improve habits in all areas of my life, including the writing. In the last year, I’ve found these books especially helpful.
- The Slight Edge: Turning Simple Disciplines into Massive Success
- The As If Principle
- The Power of Full Engagement
- Making Good Habits, Breaking Bad Habits
Hopefully this blog series will prompt you to look further into this whole matter of habits. Recent research shows how habits actually change your brain. Good habits can conserve your energy and willpower for other things (like writing or enjoying life!)