From two different newsletters this week (one of them James Clear’s), I came across a version of this question: What is the single habit you’ve adopted–good or bad–that has had the biggest impact on your life? For one lady, it was checking her bank balance before leaving the house every morning. For another, it was doom-scrolling social media last thing before bed. One habit helped establish order in a chaotic financial situation, the other…
My “biggest impact” habit would be sitting down at the computer to write new pages immediately after tending to pets in the morning. No social media, no email, no jig saw puzzles, just fire up the computer, open up the work in progress, and go. Once I’ve written a scene or two, then I can let the world intrude, but new pages come first.
Neurology supports making creative work a first-thing-in-the-day priority. For about 90 minutes after rising, our brains are still trailing alpha waves, and we’re switching easily between task-oriented thinking and random mental motion. Associations between distant ideas are more likely in that state, and for many writers, this how we find plot twists, great dialogue, and other fun material.
Psychology supports tending to the creative work first, because the day will intrude–is snorting and pawing right outside the mental door the instant we rise–and if as a writer I yield to lower priorities (the day job, house work, exercise, all of which try to feel urgent all the time), then at days’ end, what mattered to me most–new pages–didn’t happen. If I planned some writing time, but let life (or solitaire) lead me astray, I end my day on a downer.
So my decision, years ago, to put new pages first thing in the day–even if it was a go-to-court day, even if the house was a mess, even if I hadn’t slept all that well–turned out to be a smart move. I am not hopelessly rigid about it. A migraine, a series of sleepless nights, company, and so forth can perturb my schedule, but I still try to get in at least five writing mornings a week.
If I tend to that, the housework, socializing, errands, grocery runs, and so forth don’t feel as if they are robbing time from the activity that makes my lovely little life possible.
And as for bad habits… I bought a scale. Let’s leave it at that.
Do a few critical habits help anchor your day? Are there some honored in the breech? Some aspirational habits? Time to start building the ARC list for Lord Julian’s debut mystery, A Gentleman Fallen on Hard Times!