What Are Your Worst And Best Habits As A Writer?

Richard Castle

There are patterns in our behavior and our beliefs, which shape our daily life and our future. Some of them are closer to the surface, some are nested deep within us, and typically go undiscovered for most of our lives—if we were normal people, that is. But we’re writers, and in the turbulent world of writerhood bad habits and fears have a tendency to jump right up in our faces, all the time.

Time we got in their faces for a change. Don’t you think?

Prosperity comes from control, and all control comes from understanding (pretty philosophical, ha). First step is to find out what our worst habits and patterns are, the ones that wreck our productivity and should be replaced, and which ones are great and beneficial, and should be amplified and put to proper use. While I’m gonna start with my own, I’m really much more interested in your worst and best. What is it that presses your guilt button time and again, and what helps you deliver and just feel good about yourself every single time?

Surprisingly, my Achilles’ heel is not procrastination. I’m the kind of person who grabs a to-do list and starts with the most annoying, terrifying or tedious thing on that list, working her way up to the pleasant and easy ones. It’s not dicking around on the internet either. Every time I go online, I learn something—either from writers, bloggers, scientists, newsbots, and even youtubers. Surfing, tweeting and posting funny pictures on Facebook only takes 10~20% of my day, so it’s really not such a big deal in the 21st century.

*takes deep breath*

My worst and most annoying defect is perfectionism. If you’re not afflicted, you’re a lucky bastard and I envy you to the bone. If you do have it, then you know what a pain in the ass it can be. The effects? I always find flaws in everything I do (especially what I write), and feel an irresistible urge—practically Tourette’s, it’s that level of irresistible—to correct them, to fiddle and tweak and polish, and then rework the whole thing after a couple of days, where I’ve changed my strategy and made “improvements” to the concept to stop feeling like I’m the world’s biggest idiot. It’s driving me insane! Not to mention everything always needs at least a couple of versions, because otherwise how could I sleep at night? Even my spreadsheets have drafts. And my notes. My freaking notes—the ones no one else will ever read! Argh!!

Does it have any advantages? I probably get better quality than if I were lazy and self-content. And also… uhm… nope, that’s it. The rest is agony. Self-deprecating, anxious agony. It’s not a recommendable way to do things, especially if you want to go into retirement with all your neurons intact.

I guess my best habit, or attitude, is that I’m an incurable optimist (otherwise I’d dig myself a hole and never get out of it again). I don’t think the universe is a good place despite the troll-plague, corruption, disease and global warming, supernovas killing civilizations and black holes swallowing all reason. I think the universe is a good place because it doesn’t give a shit about all that, it’s not bothered, it just keeps existing and evolving nonchalantly like a badass. All truly powerful things are powerful not despite adversity, but because of it, because they tear through it with their teeth, digest it and metabolize it as they go on being powerful and ever-changing. That’s my goal. That’s what helps me pull myself out of that perfectionist cycle of self-correcting madness.

I honestly believe that the problems and setbacks I will undoubtedly face as I pursue my goals and race toward the sunset of my life, are nothing but building blocks, puzzle pieces, equally important and just as necessary as the good things, to make me stronger and more complete. How can I possibly expect all pieces of my life to be margins or corners? What kind of an warped picture would that be?

Yes there are bad things in the world, and yes there is evil and injustice and ignorance. The media never lets us forget that. But there is also a lot of good in the world, a lot of beauty and kindness. Whether we admit it or not, our lives are influenced by that which preoccupies us, and we, in turn, can influence others by bringing out the good, being kind and honest, instead of aggressive, accusing and inflexible.

Damn, I’m philosophic today, ha. Gotta lay off the Earl Gray.

Now to you — if you’re really honest, what are your worst habits, attitudes, patterns that you wish you could break? What’s repeatedly holding you from realizing your true potential? And what, on the other side, has always proven helpful and productive? What habits or attitudes have kept you going and have yielded results?

I’ve set up a multiple-choice poll where you can select 3 things anonymously. I will close the poll on Wednesday night before the rooster crows, and the points that get selected most often will be discussed in a blog post next week. If you don’t find what you’re looking for in the polls (where I’ve tried to stay more general, to encompass variations), then please leave a comment and throw me the ball — I’ll pick it up, and have a serious talk with it. Or just say hi, and gimme your thoughts on the topic.

Thank you, and have fun clicking! 🙂

 


Picard Facepalm

 


success kid

15 Replies to “What Are Your Worst And Best Habits As A Writer?”

  1. There is one thing I could mention for myself that’s not on the poll (though it’s related to some of the items there), and it actually fits in both the “good” and the “bad” side. That is, the inordinate amount of pressure I place atop my own shoulders. Despite my patience and commitment to perseverance, I have a tremendous fear of failure, and that results in a little drill sergeant on my shoulder constantly berating me and pushing me to perform. “YOU COULD BE WRITING!” he says when I play video games or watch TV or do pretty much anything other than putting pen to paper, even if I’ve already met my goals for the day and reached that fuzzy point of diminishing returns. On the one hand, this is a good thing: it keeps me productive and striving to “be all that I can be,” so to speak. On the other hand, it can lead to some writerly flavors of stress that I never had when I was still treating this like a hobby, and gives me guilt for things I probably shouldn’t feel guilty for.

    Can’t wait to see the end-results of the polls! It looks interesting so far. Awesome post!

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    1. I think every serious writer fights with pressure eventually, and nothing’s more merciless than the pressure we place upon ourselves. It’s the reign of the inner editor/critic/drill sergeant that keeps us from both slacking AND relaxing. It’s a difficult balance indeed…

      The best way to keep it under control, from what I know, is to set limits for oneself. Wordcount limits, fun time limits, and a certain pressure limit beyond which emergency disconnection measures need to be taken — like going somewhere for a week without a laptop & smartphone. 😉

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  2. Good old fashioned guilt seems to be my Achilles heel. I feel guilty for spending too much time world building, I have too much fun creating characters and not enough fun writing them (because we all know that if the writer is fired up about a piece everyone else will be too…).

    Then, when I’m writing: I haven’t spent enough time world building. I don’t know what my characters usually have for breakfast. I’m such a bad writer!

    During the editing process: I can’t seem to learn how to write better. Every first draft is just as bad as first drafts I was writing 5 years ago. I’m supposed to be getting better. Why can I not get better?! I feel so ashamed that I don’t work hard enough. Woe is me, I’m a terrible writer.

    Ok, maybe there is a bit of self-pity mixed in there too. Either way I can never give myself a break. Nothing is ever good enough.

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    1. That’s a form of perfectionism too, Aubrey! It sucks to never seem to satisfy that nagging little princess that demands MORE, BETTER, RIGHT NOW!

      When I was working at my first draft, I felt terribly guilty because it was taking soooo loooong and I was afraid I would be one of those writers who never finishes anything, which would have been very unlike me and thus a horrible failure!
      But I finished it, yaaay!
      And then I read it, hated its guts, and started deaft 2 — and felt guilty that I forgot to include so much the first time around.

      Sigh.

      It’s getting better in time, though, once we recognize the good patterns in our work and start to tust our methods and work ethic more… 😉

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  3. I probably have too many things ‘on the go’ – I feel like I ought to be writing, but first I should finish ‘this’, or maybe I should write some flash fiction seeing as the lovely blog owner put the prompt up there for me, but maybe I should just get on with ‘this’ instead…then I just run out of time, and haven’t achieved very much!
    Still, every piece of flash helps my writing, and maybe I should just organise my days better!

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    1. Hm… That sounds like a priorities problem, Lisa. I bet all those little projects are great, and I’ve found that many otherwise very different creative activities can come togethter in the back of our minds to eventually create something fantastic and unique. But we can only focus on so many projects at the same time, without sacrificing quality and dedication, not to mention our nerves. 😀

      I’m sure you’ll find your own way, and figure out a way to prioritize your projects in such a way as to get to do them all — but one at a time.

      Thanks for sharing that with me! 🙂

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  4. Perfectionism…YES! Every time I go through the books and say, “Okay, this is it. Final edit,” I find something to fix. How could I have written that! What if I added just one more sense or adjective or a more interesting verb there…AARGH…Why is the comma there, and how come there are so many fricking “ing” words. What do you mean passive tense?

    I want it to be beautiful, polished…something no one can put down…DONE.
    And marketing terrifies me. I’m shy…okay stop laughing, you there. I am. am. am.
    But I love the work. And I love the world and my characters. I’m having fun…mostly, on a sane day.
    Loved the poll. Very interesting. Is it better if you’re not alone in your foibles??

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    1. Oh, marketing can be tough on us perfectionists. We’re little control freaks, and marketing is all about putting our hearts (okay, our novels, same thing) on a platter and serve them with a sweet wine — and then cease control over what happens next! *gasp of horror*

      But many writers share this urge to keep “improving” and controlling things. We just have to learn from those who manage to be crazy productive and enjoy themselves at the end of the day.

      Thanks, Sheron! 🙂

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  5. Vero, I would say that if more people shared your level of perfectionism, the interwebs might not be as awash as they are in the current sea of mindbogglingly awful fiction. I know that perfectionism feels like more of a curse than a blessing sometimes, but in the end, your work is going to shine because of it.

    I have the misfortune to be a procrastinating perfectionist–but I think the procrastination is inextricably entwined with the fear of producing something that I’ll read six months or a year or five years from now and then want to curl up and die of mortification. I agree with you, though, that we only gain control over our bad habits through attempting to understand them.

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    1. Thanks for the vote of confidence, Kern. I’m using both my best and my worst to write fiction, possibly in the same dance they usually join in real life. But it’s very hard sometimes, as I’m sure you know. 🙂

      Fear of failure or of future regret can be paralyzing, but the best thing about them is that they’re illusions. They’re figments of our tired minds, they’re not accurate predictions, not probabilities, not fate. Just stick your tongue out at them, and keep writing.

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  6. That was a fun poll.

    I’m a huge perfectionist too. That’s why Nano was so good for me. But not worrying about the quality too much, I was able to spit out a story. Need to get back to that once my life calms down a bit.

    I like your new profile pic!

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  7. A great poll, Vero.

    As to perfectionism, I’ve certainly struggled with that as well. I would note that by calling it a “defect,” you’re in a good place. For a long time I attributed any success I achieved to my perfectionism, not realizing how it actually kept me from doing more. I know many others who embrace perfectionism as a source of pride; you’re beyond that.

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    1. Thanks, Patrick! 🙂

      I’ve often seen people proudly proclaim to be perfectionists, falsely equating it to having steep expectations of quality, or being disciplined and dedicated to success. Perfectionism is none of that. At its core, it’s in fact a chronic mistrust in one’s performance, accompanied by the creation of unrealistic and inherently unattainable ideals which results in repeated disappointment. Perfectionists are never happy about their way of thinking, so when someone prides themselves with it it’s either denial, or delusion. 😉

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