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The Value of a Good Habit

Reflections on my writing mornings, over half a year in.

July 10, 2018Filed under blog#productivity#writingMarkdown source

Since December, I’ve been working on writing every day before I start work. I am content to admit that I certainly haven’t done it every single day along the way–but I’m content with that admission in no small part because I have done it most days along the way. And it has been genuinely wonderful.

The things I have written along the way have come in many forms:

  • I’ve published around 50,000 words on this site already this year (even if ‘word count’ here is a loose metric: it includes lots of code samples and in some cases those code samples are repeated for effect)
  • I’ve put together a workshop and a couple of short talks on Ember and TypeScript.
  • I’ve written a talk on the future of our front-end development practices at Olo.
  • I’ve written and published 11 episodes of New Rustacean (totaling about 25,000 more words!).

And very little of that could have or would have happened without the time I’ve dedicated nearly every weekday morning to writing.

It’s not so much that I’m hyper-productive on any one day. To the contrary: many days along the way I struggled just to get out a few hundred words of one of the projects I was working on, and those projects (however much I love them) have sometimes ended up being something of a slog. It’s okay: that’s the point of building the habit in.

I’ve made the analogy before–as have many others, I’m sure!–of writing to running. There are many days when going for a run doesn’t actually seem all that appealing, but I go anyway, because I’ve long since developed the habit of just getting out whether I feel like it or not. Some of those days I very much do not enjoy the actual run, either: I find myself somewhere out along the way and end up feeling sick or simply having to work much harder than I could wish. But even if it’s a short and unpleasant run in the end, I come away having gone for a run.

Writing (or any other valuable habit) seems to be much the same. There are days I do not feel like doing it. There are days when the doing of it is hard, when I feel like I have to drag the words out of myself. There have been days even just in the last few weeks where I realized that words I’d written on previous days simply had to be thrown away–content for New Rustacean that ranged from ill-worded to actually-wrong, for example.

But I have been able to say, nearly every workday when I wasn’t sick or traveling, that I did in fact write something. And that’s enough, in truth. As I noted when I began building this habit:

[The] early morning is the best time for me to be writing, and I get a lot of mileage out of taking anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes to get at it.

As I recognized six months ago, even when an individual day here or there slips, doing the work to make writing habitual means that the other days don’t. The result is that, delightfully, I’ve been able to get a lot of writing done, even through times when I really didn’t feel like writing.

So, next up: do the same thing with reading nonfiction books. I’ve read an absurd amount of fiction in the last year–and I allowed myself that intentionally as a kind of letdown after finishing seminary. But as I’ve noted in this space before, I don’t want to stay in that letdown mode forever. I want to build once again the habit of reading hard books carefully. The way to do it, of course, is… just to do it. Day by day, just reading. Hopefully in six months I’ll have a report complementary to this one, where I can say that I kept writing but also started reading hard things again.