Motivation vs. Habit

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Motivation vs. Habit

Writing Class, 2-23, at a computer small

On the door at my gym, someone hung a sign that says, “Motivation is what gets you started. Habit keeps you going.”

I began working out regularly about 20 years ago. Since then, I’ve dropped about 75 pounds, and I've run or walked something in neighborhood of 22,000 miles. I can’t even imagine how much I’ve lifted in weights. But think about it, if someone had said to me, “Hey, Dave, why don’t you go run 22,000 miles?” it would take an awful lot of motivation to get me going.

However, it only took a tiny bit of habit.

Writing is much the same way. A lot of us try hard to get motivated to write a novel. We try to get ourselves excited about it. But writing a novel is a lengthy process. Being motivated doesn’t help much, but developing good writing habits helps a lot.

I learned long ago that exercise is hard when you’re starting out. If you run three days, you’ll want to quit at the end of them. That’s when muscle aches and fatigue are the strongest. But if you run for a week, you’ll begin to notice that you feel better on the days that you’ve run. Soon, the day won’t feel complete without some exercise.

Writing is much the same. Jumping into a project is hard. Writing on a novel for one day doesn’t really get you very far into it. But if you try making it a habit—if you bundle all of that motivation up and say to yourself, “I’m going to write for one hour a day this week,” you’ll find at the end of that time that you just don’t really feel that your day is complete if you haven’t spent some time engaged in creative recreation.

In my writing workshops, I generally hold them for a week. I try to motivate my students to write daily during that time, if only for a couple of hours. The goal in part is teach the writers and get them to develop new skills, but just as importantly, I’m trying to get them into the habit of writing.

Quite often it works. I’ve gotten several letters from writers in the past few months where the writer has said, “Hey, Dave, I got into the habit of writing at your workshop last year, and I’ve just finished my first/second/third/fourth novel!” Whenever I see that, I always feel as if the mission has been accomplished.

So here’s the key to become a writer: use your motivation to create a writing habit. Long after you’re run out of motivation, you’ll still be writing.


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