I listen regularly to a half-dozen podcasts. One of them recently talked about how valuable “systems” are in making life run more smoothly. The podcast host said that making something a habit is the simplest but also one of the most effective “systems” a person can install in his or her life, because it eliminates the need for decision-making. For example, he said, did you decide to brush your teeth this morning? Most people would answer, No. Why? Because there’s no deciding involved; it is a habit, so we just do it. Thus, the more constructive behaviors we can turn into habits, the fewer decisions we have to make as we go about our daily lives, and the simpler (and better, perhaps) daily life becomes.
I thought that was a brilliant and helpful insight, and I think it applies to writing. That’s why I suggest, if you aspire to write well and to be published often, you should write like you brush your teeth: every day. Maybe twice a day. Maybe after every meal. But no less than daily.
I know, I know. You’re a busy person. You have a job, and a family. There are bills to be paid, dishes to be washed, lawns to be mowed. How in the world are you supposed to write like you brush your teeth?
I don’t know. I can’t answer that for you. But I can say this: If writing becomes a habit, you will never again have to decide whether to write or not. It will become as natural as brushing your teeth. And, eventually, it will feel strange if you go a day without writing. And you’ll get better at it. And better.
Ray Bradbury, in his book, Zen in the Art of Writing, said:
You have been working, haven’t you?
Or do you plan some sort of schedule for yourself starting as soon as you put down this article?
What kind of schedule?
Something like this. One-thousand or two-thousand words every day for the next twenty years. At the start, you might shoot for one short story a week, fifty-two stories a year, for five years. You will have to write and put away or burn a lot of material before you are comfortable in this medium. You might as well start now and get the necessary work done.
For I believe that eventually quantity will make for quality… Quantity gives experience. From experience alone can quality come.
Can you imagine? If you had started a habit like that five years ago, you would have written 260 stories by now! And some of those would probably have been pretty good, right? Maybe even great.
I don’t think it matters much what you write, at least to start. You may begin a journal (I journal every evening before going to bed). You may launch a blog (I blog daily prayers at oneprayeraday.com, and weekly posts on this site, Guideposts.com, and BardandBible.com). You may do as Bradbury suggests and write a short story every week. You may start a memoir or novel. It’s up to you. The world is your oyster!
But stop deciding whether or not you will write on any given day. Make writing a habit, as natural and regular as brushing your teeth. You might as well start now and let habit—and quantity—combine to produce quality.