Down in the Weeds: My Dirty Writing Habits

Happy Friday, folks. I don’t know about you, but I find shortened work weeks to be a mixed blessing; confusing at best and frustrating at worst. Oh, I enjoy the extra day off, don’t get me wrong, but…well, I deal in something that’s quantitative just as much as qualitative. I have a word count goal no matter how many “work days” we have in a given week. I know it would seem that a day off from work would give me more time to chew through that word count, but I’m also human. I’d like to enjoy that occasional day off, and that can throw a real wrench in the works. Guilt and/or frustration can build up and before you know it, I’m beating myself up for just wanting to take a break. It’s an unhealthy habit.

Which brings me to today’s topic. You see, I have some bad writing habits. I admit it. I’m a Bad Writer. I do things that probably shouldn’t work. For example, I don’t keep a set time to write, as is suggested in most writing manuals. I find that doing this transforms writing from something fun to an ongoing chore. So I grab writing time where I can. Sometimes it’s at my desk, with a cup of tea or a Mountain Dew, my mind locked into some story. Sometimes I write on the elevator, when a particularly good conversational exchange has popped into my head. I’ve written on trains, when a particularly vivid image grabbed me, and I’ve written during walks. I manage to get a good amount of writing done even with this strange schedule, for I believe in making writing itself a part of your daily routine, something that you don’t just visit once in awhile, like a country, but part of a lifestyle.

I don’t have an action plan. Oh, sure, I have a rough schedule in my head, and I know which books fit into my writing future in roughly which order, but I don’t have a plan that specifically states “you will start on Friday February 22nd and write 2,000 words a day. This manuscript will be 60,000 words and thus you will be finished by X date.” I know, that’s supposed to be a Good Writing Habit. I’ve tried it. It actually made me write less because, again, the whole thing became a mechanic, another function, rather than a living breathing thing.

My writing space is a mess. People say your surroundings are a reflection of your inner world and…well, yeah. I have to admit that’s accurate in my case. I’m not talking hoarder levels of mess or anything, but for a number of reasons I do tend to spread out and my organizational skills could certainly use some work. The damn thing is that that’s how my brain works. That’s where I find things like the random image of someone clutching their chest in a dramatic turn of events – my mind is filled with clutter, and every so often I turn it over and find something incredibly useful. Sometimes it feels like I’m one of those junk artists who pulls all that crap together to make something more valuable. I’ve been told that this is a common state of mind for us ADHD sufferers, and the trick is to learn how to live with it and be productive rather than letting it destroy things.

For a long time, I thought that these bad habits made me deficient somehow, that I couldn’t do what other writers did and therefore would find limited productivity and success. I realize that’s crap now. My number one lesson is learning that writing, for me, is a spiritual exercise. Creativity is about communion with something greater than oneself, whether you consider it the collective subconscious, upper or lowercase god, or simply unrealized self. When you think of it that way, doesn’t this make a whole lot more sense? For some folks, the best path to spirituality is through organized, rigorous practice – and I think that’s just fine. For other folks, like me, spirituality is best found through the vicissitudes and messiness of ordinary life, a series of events that slowly accumulate into a whole much greater than the sum of those rough-and-tumble parts.

To put it simply, my creative and spiritual processes, for whatever reason, defy categorization and standardization. That troubled me for quite some time, but I think that I’ve come to terms with it. No, better, embraced it, and I can now be proud of being a “Bad Writer”.

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  1. I’m a Bad Writer also. I know everyone says you should write every day, but honestly that doesn’t work for me. I try to think more along the lines of weekly writing goals. I’m bad at keeping to my own goals/deadlines, though. No one to answer to except myself. I want to say it happens in its own time. Sometimes the lack of progress is frustrating. I need to find a way to be more disciplined and get that next book written!

    • I agree with the weekly goals. Mostly because my life doesn’t allow me to write every day, much as I’d love to. It’s truly catch-as-catch-can (which I know we’ve talked about Jonathan). And Cindy, for me, I have yet to hit what I thought was going to be a reasonable weekly goal that I set myself back in December (for time actually writing, as opposed to word count), but I’ve found at least having a goal gives me something to work toward. As soon as I start hitting it regularly, that’s just an indicator that I can raise the bar again.

      Just tweeted this quote from Philip Pullman. He doesn’t pull many punches, but it makes us examine what our ultimate intent is with this whole writing thing. In an interesting conversation I had with a poet cousin of mine, she said the most relieving thing for her was when she came to the conclusion that writing would never be her main source of income.

      • Paul, hi! I just wanted to say I agree with your poet cousin! If I thought that writing had to be my primary source of income, my anxiety would poison my creativity. I need to hop over and read the link you shared….

        Nice to see you! 🙂


  2. I don’t really believe in orthodox writing habits for the sheer fact that every single one of the writers I admire don’t follow the “correct” writing habits. Some write by candlelight for a few months and then take a few months vacation, while others write a little bit each day. Some write by day, while others wait until night. I suppose it’s all about what’s comfortable and works for you.

    Although there is a lot of sound advice in how-to-write-fiction books, there’s also a lot of rules that I look back on and laugh at (such as some books stressing that you should try to stick to genre conventions or Stephen King’s ethnic cleansing of all adverbs).

    But I get it. To me, a good deal of writing advice, especially writing habits, are training wheels for complete beginners. They exist to help hopeful authors to get into the habit of writing often, as well as ensuring that they don’t go way off the deep end with experimentation that only work when you know what the hell you’re doing.

    Still, I don’t think you have to worry about writing habits, as long as you keep on writing and improving. You’re way past the point of needing any training wheels.

  3. I think you’re going to find that the majority of us are just like you..the real questions are, have we been successful? and what exactly measures success? I believe in the spiritual aspect of it as well, but find myself sometimes impatient to get all of my stories out of me…bottom line for me is, enjoy the moments and we will never get it all done, so stop trying and start living.

  4. I’ve found that what I’m writing dictates when and where I will write. My first novel wanted to be written in the early morning, the current one wants to be written right before bed. I am trying to coax it into a return to morning writing, though, because night writing too often gets skipped because work was challenging/brain-draining.

    I have to wholeheartedly agree with Andrew’s final statement. Writing habits only matter as long as the ones you have aren’t stopping you from improving. If you are writing, and if you feel good about what you are doing, it doesn’t matter how organized your desk is or if you write in the elevator. In fact, those are the quirky things that make what you write distinctly yours – even if those things never directly make it onto the page. When you find what makes writing feel like living and loving, rather than a chore, you’ve found what makes you a Good Writer.

    This is a beautiful sentence: “For other folks, like me, spirituality is best found through the vicissitudes and messiness of ordinary life, a series of events that slowly accumulate into a whole much greater than the sum of those rough-and-tumble parts.” I am with you on this, too, even though I had never formulated it with such poetic concision. It took me years of painful struggle against the natural ‘messiness of ordinary life’ before I finally could let go enough to accomplish anything. I’m happier now. I may not write as much, but I feel that what I write comes from a spiritual necessity, rather than a line item to be completed in my day planner. May our writing continue to be fun and freeing, rather than mechanical and constrained by someone else’s rules!


  5. I could list my own “Bad Habits” too, but I think it’s less important how and when you write, and more important to be inspired and engaged when you write. If inspiration and love of the craft are flowing, that’s what creates great work that people actually want to read. Keep up the writing, no matter how you go about it. And definitely take a break occasionally!

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