It got me thinking about something I've recently learnt: the things we believe are habits are just that - habits. And habits can (and very often should) be broken.
We say things about ourselves which sound like truths, but they may not be. Here are some things I've said about myself and which turned out not to be true when tested:
- I can't write fiction when other people are in the house. [Yes, I can if I negotiate untouchable space. I learnt this when my husband was home for six long months of "gardening" leave. We agreed that if I put a scarf on the door handle, he would never come in. That was a great way to get some secret chocolate eating done. But I did write. I had to.]
- I always write on a computer. [Not if I don't have access to one. I learnt this when I travelled to the Isle of Wight to stay in Alfred Noyes' house as the guest of his grandson and at the suggestion of his daughter; my laptop spookily stopped working on the train down there and didn't start working again until I was nearly home. Spooo-ky. Now I quite often write on paper, with a pen. It feels very wonderful. It doesn't look very wonderful but I can learn to deal with that too.]
- I can't write on trains or in hotel rooms. [I tried it and I could. Simple.]
- I couldn't write fantasy. [I just did.]
- I don't like short stories. [Until I read Tania Hershman's The White Road, published by Salt. For some reason, I can't do Amazon links any more but you can find her somehow.]
- We make excuses for ourselves for why we don't write more, more often, more easily. "I can't write on trains" is so much more valid than "I find writing really difficult and sometimes even boring and sometimes even quite impossible."
- We create perfect imagined situations for writing - little routines, mascots, mantras [such as tidy desks, or cups of coffee, special pens, silence, chocolate] and then spend far too long getting everything just right instead of getting on with the task in hand.
And so I have a challenge for you. Next time you have a time when you're meant to be writing, as in proper writing, the difficult stuff, the real important meaningful stuff, do this:
EITHER [see, I'm so kind that I'm giving you a choice]:
1. Write down all the things you normally do before you'll write; include the conditions you think are ideal, whether it's the silence, the tidiness, the coffee or whatever.
2. Refuse to allow yourself any of them. Create for yourself the opposite, if possible - the noise, the untidiness, the tea instead of coffee [yuck]. And then write - and don't stop until you've written 1000 words. Doesn't matter what the words are like, just write them.
3. Eat chocolate
1. Go and write somewhere you've never written before. Anywhere: a café, another room, the park, a station, the kitchen, lying on your stomach on the floor, in the bath. Write 1000 words.
2. Eat chocolate.
That [chocolate-eating] is the only habit you should never break. After all, you couldn't write without chocolate, could you?
This is a picture of me actually in Alfred N's house, reading The Highwayman. What you can't see is that in the background I am also listening to his voice read the poem on an ancient cassette lent to me by his grandson.
PS - if you're interested in my personally epiphanal experience of that trip, here you are. Something else for the weekend.