If you’ve taken time to do each of the previous steps, congratulate yourself. It’s been time well spent. But if you’ve done the work, you want it to last.
That brings us to Stage 4 for making changes in your writing life, where you learn techniques for maintaining long-term success. (First read The Dynamics of Change, Stage 1: Making Up Your Mind, Stage 2: Committing to Change, and Stage 3: Taking Action)
You’ve probably begun several new good writing habits to support your future writing career. This is great!
You don’t want to be a quick flash that’s here today and gone tomorrow though. You want the changes to last. You want to continue to grow as a writer and build your career. But…you know yourself. The good writing habits never seem to last.
Change and Maintain
In order to keep going and growing as a writer, you need to do two things:
- Learn to recover from setbacks
- Get mentally tough for the long haul
First let’s talk about setbacks. They come in all shapes and sizes for writers. They can be mechanical (computer gets fried), emotional (a scathing review of your new book), or mental (burn-out from an accident, divorce, or unexpected big expense). Setbacks do just what they sound like: set you back.
However, too often (without a plan), we allow a simple setback to become a permanent writer’s block or stall. Setbacks are simply lapses in our upward spiral, or small break in our new successful routine, a momentary interruption on the way to our writing goal.
Warning: without tools in place to move beyond the setbacks, they can settle in permanently instead. Use setbacks as a signal that you need to get back to basics. Setbacks–or lapses–sometimes occur for no other reason than we’ve dropped our new routines. (We stopped writing before getting online, we stopped taking reward breaks and pushed on to exhaustion, we stopped sending new queries each week…)
Count each day of progress, and don’t be so hard on yourself. I used to make myself “start over” when trying to form a new habit, and it was more discouraging than helpful. For example, if my goal was to journal every morning, I’d count the days. Maybe I managed it five days in a row. Five! I felt successful! But if I missed Day 6 for any reason, I had to start over the next day at Day #1.
Maintaining: A Better Way
I don’t do that anymore. It doesn’t help. Now, if my goal is to develop a new habit, I still keep track, but I keep going after a lapse or setback instead of starting over. So if I were trying to develop a journaling habit, and journaled five days and then missed a day or two, I would begin again on Day #6.
I would count all successful days in a month, which motivates me to try to reach an even higher total number the next month. This works with words and pages written and other new writing habits you want to start.
In order to recover from setbacks, think ahead. Ask yourself what types of things might cause you to go off course or lapse in your goal efforts. Prepare ways to cope ahead of time and have your plans in place. (Sometimes that’s as simple as always traveling with a “writing bag” of paper, pens, a chapter to work on, a craft book to read, etc. so that you can always work, no matter what the delays.)
Coping plans have this basic structure:
“When __________ [potential distraction] occurs, I will say ______________ [inner dialogue] and I will do _______________ [corrective action].”
When my best friend calls to talk during my writing time, I will say to myself, I’m working and need to call her back at lunch time and I will let the answering machine pick up.
When company comes for a week, I will say to myself, It’s fine for me to take one hour each day to write, and I will close the door to my office (or bedroom) and write before breakfast for one hour.
Retrain Your Brain
Mental toughness–grit to persevere–is the other ingredient you’ll need if you want to maintain the changes you’ve made in your writing habits. Scientific studies have clearly shown that repeated affirmations and mental rehearsals create new neural pathways in the brain making success easier and eventually permanent.
Speaking daily affirmations aloud has been proven to help you “retrain your brain” into healthier lines of thinking. Make the affirmations to deal specifically with your own writing issues. For example:
- I am equal to any writing challenge.
- I love to write, and I never miss a day of writing!
- I get started with ease and keep going smoothly and fluidly.
- I use visualizations of successful writing times to help build new habits and patterns.
- I love to study and then apply what I learn to developing my writing gift.
- I don’t need to be like any other writer.
- I never give up on my dreams.
I encourage you to make your own list of positive affirmations pertaining to any area of your life where you’d like to see change. Use the affirmations to help you make changes–and then cement those changes in place.
It’s time to stop yo-yoing up and down and create stable, permanent writing habits.