Cultivating small habits for writing success

When I was a kid trying to go to sleep, I always had this kind of noxious daydream that my path in life wasn’t this nice neat little path to success. I imagined the path to success leading up and down this series of close hills, the sides of which led straight up and then straight down again. I had this notion that if I wanted to succeed, I had to walk up and down over all these hills.
I don’t have that daydream any more, thank goodness, but I still have the same reaction – one of shock and horror – every time I set a major goal for myself. “Well, that doesn’t happen to people like you,” or “You can’t do that,” that smarmy little voice says, and my mind immediately draws the conclusion that this project is going to fail, and that’s the end of that.


But yet I managed to average 1,130 words a day through the last couple of months, the busiest months in the year. Logically, I know I should be able to manage 2,000, or at least 1,500 words, a day. Yet there’s still that part of me that says, flatly, “No. You can’t do that, that’s impossible.”

I’ve been doing better about circumventing that voice (though some days are always better than others). I see other people in my self-publishing circles making pretty good money at this, so I know that I can earn money at this as well. It helps to hang around people who are succeeding, because you can learn a lot from them. I’m watching how they do things, because I like to learn through imitation. I’m doing my best to ingrain these new habits in myself – and discarding old habits, especially perfectionism.

Perfectionism is a bad habit that can kill your work.

“But you need to write with care, you need to take more time on these books,” I keep hearing myself say.

On the other hand, writing with care doesn’t mean tying yourself in knots when you write. It doesn’t mean picking yourself to death. It means changing your standards — even *gasp* lowering them — so you can give yourself space to advance, and succeed.

I’m not trying to make Art any more. Now I’m writing just to write, to have fun. Now I go burning down the pages, writing these fun rip-roaring adventure novels so I can make a good living for myself. A writing-shaped life. And if some agent or editor wants me, why then they’ll have to find me, and offer me a damn good deal, because what I’m earning every month is not bad. (I still have to pay out money for things like websites, subscriptions, book covers, but especially advertising, but every month I’m in the black and the business is sustaining itself very nicely.)

To avoid that voice that keeps telling me no, I concentrate on certain habits of success. I’m shooting for 30 books out in the world. (I’m currently up to 22.) I’m shooting for a certain number of words a day – slowly practicing bringing that total up, despite my horror at the very thought. Okay, snarky interior voice, I won’t shoot for 2,000, but I can manage 1,000. (And then you quietly, while the voice is looking the other way, add a few words on the end of that.)

I aim to create work habits that I can control. Habits that I can work with. Small steps. Little by little I’m making my way toward the goal.

It’s those small habits I’m doing my best to cultivate. And I read what these other self-publishing authors do, and I try to do those things too. Imitation of the right things can lead to success.

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