“My eyes sting, my hands are shaking, and the coffee is never strong enough. Welcome to my freelance writing reality.” That used to be the bio on my Twitter profile until about a year ago. When I decided to add my titles of Professional Editor and Literary Agent, however, that last sentence had to be sacrificed for the sake of character availability.
Before I got started with editing, I freelanced writing blog posts, web content, feature articles, etc. Lots and lots of little things, with the occasional longer work sprinkled throughout. My eyes would sting from the research I did before writing on new topics each morning, I would pour through journals, books, and sometimes even op-eds to round out my understanding. Would a Google search have made things easier? Absolutely, but when you write about topics you’re not an expert in (to at least some degree), sources are extremely important, because you have to cite them. If I wouldn’t cite the source in an essay for a professor, I don’t consider it reliable enough to cite for a client, either. I’m about to go off on a tangent here, though, so maybe I should save that topic for another day.
The point is, this was an every day, every morning occurrence. So much so that I felt it defined me. Thus, the use of it as a Twitter profile bio. Looking back, I don’t think about the tired mornings that had become such a routine that I rarely had paint on the letters of my keyboard; nor do I think about the fact that part of this time took place while I was in college, working a split shift, and suffering from fatal stupidity syndrome… er, I mean, a lack of sleep. What I remember is what solid habits I had in place.
Writing is a verb. Without the gerund, it’s a command. If you want to be a writer, you have to view that verb as a command: Write! Not later. Not tomorrow. Not some unspecified point in the future. Now, at a certain time, and then make it such a strong habit that it defines part of your day.
Habits aren’t easy to break if they’re a true habit. If it’s a hobby, then it’s easy to skip-to-my-Lou right on past the moment you should be writing; if it’s a habit, it should begin to turn into something you almost don’t notice until people point it out to you. Dolly Parton once said to “find out who you are and then do it with purpose,” or something to that extent. If you’re a writer, then decide to write, and do it on purpose.
Ever since my daughter was probably sixth months old, anytime she’d begin to misbehave, I’d say, “The easiest habit to break is the one you don’t make.” I know she was too little to understand, but for some reason, that’s the explanation that always came to mind (I strongly believe parents should explain to their kids what they’re doing wrong, not just scold them to stop whatever the behavior is). I’ve used that line so much now, I’m considering getting it copyrighted and painted on the side of her first car. Haha! Not really, but I have used it so much that when I say, “This isn’t a good habit to get into,” she’ll often finish the line with me: “And the easiest habit to break is the one you don’t make.” Go mommy for being consistent!
The point is, habits go both ways. If you develop a bad habit, it’s hard to break. If you develop a good habit, it should be hard to break–and if not hard to break, it should at least get under your skin a bit that you’re breaking it. Likewise, if you haven’t made it a point to make writing a habit, then don’t be surprised when you aren’t writing. Why? Well, if you don’t know by now, ask my daughter. I’m sure she can tell you.