On Resolutions for Writing Habits

My husband sent me a nice column by Kimberly Turner at litreactor.com titled “13 Resolutions to Make You a Better, More Productive Writer in 2013.” Although Turner is mainly talking about fiction writing, I thought some of these resolutions might be appropriate to my own project next year. I also really appreciated her proposition that rather than commit to doing these resolutions all year, we commit to stick with them for one month (the logic being that it takes about 21 days to form a habit).

So, giving Kimberly Turner thanks and credit for her 13 suggestions for realistic writing habit-building, here are the ones that a) apply to anthropological writing and b) I feel I can actually stick with:

1. I will write X minutes a day

Says Turner:

Make your goals as specific as possible. Vague ‘I’ll write more’ kind of resolutions are way too easy to fudge. ‘Uh, yeah, I wrote more today. More than that one time I wrote my initials in the snow with pee.’ That’s why giving yourself a specific number of minutes or words to hit every day is a great way to spend January. Yeah, every day. All of them. Consistency is the magic behind establishing new habits. It’s just four weeks. You’ve got this.

Says me:

Regardless of other responsibilities, I will set my timer and write for at least 40 minutes a day (following Gail Gauthier’s time management system). Like last semester, I will have some days a week where my primary activity will be devoted to writing my book. However, even on days where my primary tasks are teaching or grant-writing responsibilities, I will find 40 minutes in the day to minimize distractions and work on the book.

2. I will start writing at X o’clock every day

Says Turner:

Here’s the thing about developing a habit: While you’re trying to cement it into your life, there’s no room for flexibility or for giving yourself a break just this once. This resolution is good for that reason. After a month of writing at the same time every day, your muse will start to understand when to show up. Sometimes she’ll be out posing for art students, trying to make some extra cash, and you’ve still got to work on those days. But most of the time she’ll be there. Create a trigger to remind yourself that it’s time to put pen to paper: set an alarm, train your dog to attack your crotch, put the coffee pot on a timer, whatever it takes. Experts in habit-forming swear by triggers.

This is a tricky one for me. When I was an undergrad, I was most productive sometime between 2-4 am, somewhere between the second and fifth cups of coffee and the 3rd or 4th cigarette. As a grad student, I found that my best hours were between 9-11, again, somewhere between the second and fifth cups of coffee (I dropped the regular smoking at some point in my first year of grad school). After I got back from the field, and since having a child, though, I have found that my hours of most productivity are arbitrary, loosely correlating with 1) the LO’s sleeping schedule (ipso facto MY sleeping schedule), 2) what time of day I’m teaching in a given semester (if I teach in the am my day tends to be shot), 3) anything (seriously, last semester it took me about a month to figure out my rhythm de semester). But hey, let’s give this thing a chance. Tentatively, I will commit to start writing at 11:00 am every day.

3. I will finish a chapter

Hmm. I need to think about this one. I would love to finish a chapter of my book in the first month, but between the article I’d like to submit and the fact that I still need to figure out a number of things about the book, this is not a resolution I can stick to. But, I will at least commit to revisiting this resolution in Month 2, AND having a rough outline of the book by the end of the month.

4. I will limit my use of social media and/or non-essential internet to X minutes per day

“It’s only for 4 weeks,” Turner says. FOUR WEEKS! Yikes! But, she has a point about the time-suck that Facebook, Twitter, and Pintrest can be. So fine. For one month only, I will limit my use of social media to 90 minutes a day: 60 in the morning and 30 at night. To add to this, I am also going to limit my use of email: I will check email in the morning when I come into the office, and keep it off until the afternoon. Hopefully, this will create a quiet space that will enhance my productivity.

5. I will exercise more

I forced myself to take up swimming last semester. I like it. It helps me think. But sometimes I just don’t feel like going to the gym. So, for one month, I am going to go on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, no exceptions.

These are all things I think I am capable starting January 2nd (the day I am officially back at work). As the year begins and the month goes on, I will keep track of how I do in sticking to these resolutions.

Wish me luck….

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