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Habit vs motivation

Motivation is a surprisingly small portion of successful creative activity. Motivation gets us moving, but motivation doesn’t keep us going. The science behind motivation is well established, and perhaps the best anecdotes come from the exercise industry. Every year, in the month of January, and petering into February, gyms around America are overwhelmed by new memberships. People have ridden in on the wave of new year resolutions, motivated by posters, adds, friends and low prices to join up, and change how they feel. Within a few months more than ninety percent have returned to their previous habits.

Did they lack motivation?

Did they lack desire?

Did they not want it bad enough?

Of course not. Instead, we should remember habits are incredibly hard to break. Habits are what happen when we are not thinking about what we are doing. Habits are what pop out when the brain is tired, the willpower drained and the world is confusing and we just need to make a decision. Now.

It can take over twenty deliberately engaged moments to create a new habit, and even more to break an old one. That is twenty or more trigger points, plus action, reaction and conscious thought to begin to engrain a new way of going about our world. In small things that happen many times a day, that is not a terrible number, but how many of us get time to write every day? How many of us try to?

A massive number of people want to write a novel. In fact, in repeated polls through the decades American’s have said that they believe their life is worthy of a novel, or they want to write a novel at a rate in excess of fifty percent. So where are all the books? On average less than ten percent who set out to write a full-length novel, finish.

Did they lack motivation?

Did they lack desire?

Did they not want it bad enough?

Or did they lack habit?

I don’t always feel like writing. My writing is not always the quality I want to hold myself to. However, if I only wrote when the quality stayed high, and the mood was 100 % there, I wouldn’t write as much. The reality we should endeavor to embrace is that we are all going to have good days, and bad days, amazing days and terrible days. If you have a habit of writing, in the end, you will be your own average. After all, editing is to bring those bad days up to average or better!

Motivation and desire alone will not get you to the finish line in writing a long piece, or writing consistently with small pieces. We have to build habits, and be disciplined in their execution. I have set myself a word count per week. I have set myself a certain number of sessions I have to sit down and write per week, for a fixed length of time. This is my habit. Some people set aside certain hours of the day. Some people set aside portions of their weekend. We will talk on this site about many different kinds of habits, because no one answer works for everyone, other than you have to find the habits that work for you.

Do you need silence? Do you need music? Do you write better at night or in the morning? Do you like short sessions and more of them, or longer session’s and fewer? Do you need a day between sessions to recharge or do you need a continuity to your creative process? There are no right answers to these and many other questions about how to write, but it is important as a writer you explore this space, and figure out your answers. Find something that works and play with it to see if you can make it work better, but most importantly build the habit. Don’t write when you feel like it, write because that is what you do now. Waiting for the mood will only get you so far, and it isn’t usually all the way to the end.

Remember, writers write.

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