I named my weekly letter The Habit as a reminder to my readers and to myself that good writing is a matter of habit. True, writing often involves such things as inspiration and brilliance and raw talent–mysteries over which we have no real control. But there are factors that we can control. As you commit to the slow work of habit, you create places where the mysteries can find purchase.

When I speak of writerly habits, by the way, I mean more than the habits by which we organize our time and orient our efforts. I’m also talking about habits at every level:

  • the habit of ignoring the inner critic during the first draft;

  • the habit of re-engaging that same inner critic for the second and third drafts;

  • the habit of writing those second and third drafts;

  • the habit of keeping verbs close to subjects and modifiers close to the words they modify;

  • the habit of paying attention, of seeing the stories and images that unfold around us all day, every day;

  • the habit of staying in the chair and turning off the devices, not finding something easier to do when faced with the hard work of putting words on the page.

Now that we’re past Christmas and approaching New Year’s, we almost inevitably start thinking and talking about what we hope to accomplish in the coming year. But when it comes to writing (and to many other things), end results depend on mysteries that none of us have a handle on. My unsolicited advice is this: think in terms of habits, not goals. Process, not results. Or to borrow from T.S. Eliot,

I say to you: Make perfect your will.
I say: take no thought of the harvest,
But only of proper sowing.

What writerly habits do you want to develop in 2019? What habits do you hope to break?

I’d love to hear from you on this subject. One of my hopes (I almost said goals!) for 2019 is to generate more conversation through The Habit. And since people seem to be accustomed to friendly conversation on Instagram, I’ve made an Instagram account for The Habit–@TheHabit.co. Pop over there, and let’s talk about the habits you hope to cultivate next year.


P.S. You may have already identified the biggest challenge facing The Habit‘s Instagram feed: what on earth shall I post pictures of every week? The last thing Instagram needs is more pictures of coffee and open notebooks. And, trust me, you don’t want to see any pictures of my desk in its natural state. I’m going to need your help on this one. So on @TheHabit.co‘s feed you will also see a post in which I solicit suggestions for what Habit-appropriate imagery might look like.

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