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S2/E9: Lifelong Writing Habit by Chris Fox

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Chris Fox is the author of over twenty SciFi and Fantasy novels, as well as a very successful line of writing books under the Write Faster, Write Smarter series title. Primarily aimed at indie authors, the Write Faster, Write Smarter books focus on both writing habit/mindset, as well as the craft and business of writing. Today I’ll be sharing three things (and a hack!) that I pulled from the second book in the series, Lifelong Writing Habit: The Secret to Writing Every Day.

For most of the period in which Chris wrote his five series (totaling almost thirty books), he was also working full time. Recently, he’s reached a point with his writing to enable him to quit and write full time. For more on that journey, check out his YouTube series.

This book is short, just over a hundred pages and includes exercises for every chapter to help you apply the practices to your own habits. It’s primarily a book about mindset and productivity, obviously, so chapter titles are around topics like “What is a Habit?”, “Getting Organized,” “Goal Setting,” and “The Power of Your Peers.” As usual, there are lots of things I won’t be able to cover, since I’m only touching on…

Three Things

1 Mornings Are Everything. He’s another morning person, who can’t say enough about the life-changing properties of getting up early. He is a wildly different person than he was when he started adopting this one habit and tackling one project at a time during that extra time. Deciding that he was tired of being “the epitome of the stoned, slacker, a guy in his early thirties who had exactly nothing he could point to as an accomplishment,” he started getting up 45 minutes earlier to go to the gym. He liked the effect that had on his life so much that he started getting up earlier and earlier to give himself another hour (and some change) beyond that. In the two extra hours(ish) that he gained each day, he wrote most of his books before heading out the door to go to work for the day. Now. Let’s be clear about something. For the vast majority of the decade that he’s been doing this, he was a single guy — with no spouse to factor in and no kids to get ready for school. And he made peace with the fact that he needed to adjust his bedtime to allow for this habit to flourish. He calls it a day at 9 p.m. most days. He expands a bit about why he believes this is so effective and it comes back to brain function. It’s today’s quote:

The saying, ‘early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.’ This saying exists for a reason, and it turns out that neuroscience backs it up. During the night your body is healing. Muscle is rebuilding. Damage is repaired. For your brain, something interesting happens. Most conscious thought happens in your pre-frontal cortex, the area right behind your forehead. During the day it swells, and as this happens, you develop something called pre-frontal dysfunction…Anything creative becomes more difficult…If you get a good night’s sleep, this process is reversed. The swelling goes down and the neurological pathways are repaired. You wake up fresh, with a full bar of willpower. This is the absolute perfect time to write… I begin the day by working on my body, then I work on my mind by writing. After that, I expand it further by listening to podcasts, audiobooks, and interviews…By the time I arrive at the office around 8:15 a.m., I’ve done more than most people will all day. I get to walk around knowing that my big goals were accomplished, and it feels amazing.” Chris Fox, Lifelong Writing Habit: The Secret to Writing Every Day

2 Get to know the anatomy of a habit. Whether you have bad habits you’re trying to jettison or good habits you’re trying to build into your days, knowing the three parts of a habit are key. The Trigger is the thing that lets your brain know that you’re about to do something or that makes your brain want to do something. The Routine is the habit itself – again, good or bad. And the Reward is how you’re benefitting (or “benefitting”). Many times you don’t have to replace all three pieces of the habit to get vastly different results. He uses his morning routine as an example. In the past, he’d always slept until 7 a.m. when the alarm woke him up, then he’d get ready and swing by Starbucks on his way to work. The Trigger (the alarm) was fine, as was the Reward (arriving caffeinated and ready for the workday). But his routine itself was expanding his waistline and wasn’t giving him the time and energy he needed to write his books. So he flipped that routine (waking up earlier, working out, writing), while making only small tweaks to the trigger (the alarm clock) and the reward. He still stopped by Starbucks every day, but he switched to a smaller coffee (still decked out with cream and sugar) and a smaller pastry, effectively cutting his calories in half. He urges you to make a list of all your habits throughout the day. Remember to include the ones that are helping you achieve your goals and the ones that aren’t. Then pick one to flip and break it into parts. It may also be helpful to look at a habit that is working for you and figure out why you’re able to maintain it. Look at all the parts. Ask yourself about your motivations around it. Once you’ve effectively flipped one habit, go back to your list and pick out another one to flip.

3 Help! I Need Somebody! A habit takes about three weeks to start gel into your daily routine. Those weeks will often suck, and it will be so easy to slide back into your old routines. Those grooves are there just waiting for you to come back! But remember, even the most introverted among us are still social animals. We’re affected by the people we surround ourselves with. If you want to take up a serious writing habit, find ways to surround yourself with serious writers — even if it’s just on social media boards. Connect with as many as you can. The habits you want to develop will be reinforced by those interactions. If you’re finding yourself encountering “serious” writers who always have a ready excuse for why they can’t get things finished and/or don’t have time to write, be aware of the effect that is likely having on your own habits! As Chris Fox says about his own transformation a decade ago, “This can mean that you have to make some very difficult decisions. In my case, it meant ruthlessly culling my circle of friends. I stopped spending time with the most negative people because I started to see the toll it was taking on my mindset. They were toxic, and time with them was damaging my desire. So I stopped spending time with them… Few decisions have impacted my quality of life as much as dumping toxic relationships… This happens because we are a tribal species. [Our] standards will rise or fall to match the people [we] associate with.”

*Hack: If you put your computer to sleep at the end of the day, leave up the thing you want to start working on in the morning up on the screen. If you don’t have to run the gauntlet past all of the other windows clamoring for your attention first, and you can start on the most important work first, you’ll be amazed at how much quality work you get done!

Check out some of the other books in the Write Faster, Write Smarter series:

I hope this was helpful to you! Next week I’ll be applying this same approach to my little Rookie Book Report to Let’s Get Digital (3rd Ed.) (2018) by David Gaughran.

Until then. . .

Happy writing, people!

#WriteFasterWriteSmarter

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