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Is Good Writing a Habit?

By 26/09/2012July 26th, 2016Uncategorized

I came across this article, which starts as follows:

“We are what we repeatedly do,” Aristotle famously proclaimed. “Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

And later, it goes on to quote William James:

The great thing, then, in all education, is to make our nervous system
our ally instead of our enemy. It is to fund and capitalize our
acquisitions, and live at ease upon the interest of the fund. For this
we must make automatic and habitual, as early as possible, as many
useful actions as we can, and guard against the growing into ways that
are likely to be disadvantageous to us, as we should guard against the
plague. The more of the details of our daily life we can hand over to
the effortless custody of automatism, the more our higher powers of mind
will be set free for their own proper work.

I’ve been mulling over thoughts and habits for a bit now, and found this very applicable to my writing. Time was, I couldn’t sit down and write a paragraph without breaking into a sweat. Now that I’ve been writing for 5 years, it seems more natural– the act of writing has become a habit, and I’m now more concerned with ‘deliberate practice‘.

I’m wondering how much of habit I can include into my writing. Write every day at a particular hour, write using a specific medium, listen to a specific music, imbibe certain craft techniques — a routine and ritual that would become automatic, and then I need worry about only the story, and not the writing of it.

Then I wonder whether this would stifle me– I write everyday, but I swing between notepaper and laptop, colored pens and black, various kinds of music and silence, different locations in my home. If I make my ritual too concrete, will I be unable to write without it? Different strokes for different folks and so on.

I’ve decided I’m going to give structuring my writing habits (rituals?) a try.

What about you? Do you believe good writing can become a habit, or even be born of one?

Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her next literary crime thriller, The Blue Bar, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency, and was published by Thomas & Mercer on January 1, 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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  • M Pax says:

    I think we can make better writing a habit. I think procrastinating can easily become a habit. So it's good to then create rituals and habits to kick that one to the curb.

  • I feel guilty about deliberate practice. I try to do it, I really do. But then I get distracted by writing stories. Must do better!

  • What it is a habit?

  • Writing to me is like an urge and it can happen any time, any place.

    Loved the look of your space. So bright and cheerful 😀

  • Interesting question. For me, I think it's more about internal habits than external habits that would help to make me a better writer – I.e avoiding procrastination, allowing myself to 'write through' a difficult section etc. I would find too many external rituals (same place, same music) stifling.

  • This might show up twice so please delete one if it does!

    I've never been able to stick to a ritual, especially since lately my life's been a little all over the place. Sometimes I need silence, mostly I need music, and sometimes I write really well in the coffeeshop with headphones and the background buzz of other customers. But I know the more I write, the more I NEED to write, and I love that 🙂 I think trying to get into a habit that lets you just focus on the writing, rather than then when and how and all that is worth a shot. Hopefully when I'm more settled schedule-wise, I'll be able to try this too! Hope it works for you!

  • Jenni Steel says:

    I come on and read your posts and comments from everyone and they fill me with inspiration. I know that I need to write more as when I do it flows. Yet I feel such an amateur amongst you all.

    I myself write when I am clear of everything else from around my feet. Then I can sit down and write regardless of time, place or situation.

  • Arlee Bird says:

    I believe in that old adage "practice makes perfect". You can't help but start writing better if you really set your mind to it and write. A lot of reading helps too.

    Wrote By Rote

  • I really like this! And you're right – some things about writing have definitely become a habit for me. Mainly, the more I write, the easier it becomes. And, like all habits, if I fall out of my daily writing then it can be hard to pick it back up again. The good thing is, I know I can if I keep at it.

    As for the rest of it? I like a little variety, but I know other people who must have the exact same setting every single day: The same chair in the same room. The same candle lit. The same type of tea in the same mug in the same spot on the table. The same music (or none at all). You get my point.

    I figure, it's worth experimenting, right?

  • I think creative writing should be done when one feels like writing – no compulsion, no deadline – it just comes from within. Reading helps a lot in improving sentence formation, and expression of thought.

  • Damyanti says:

    Thanks for all these viewpoints. I'm not a creature of habit, so settling on rituals is a little difficult for me. I now write everyday, even if it is a page, and that has definitely helped me improve my skills.

  • cyrusman says:

    The more we write the better we get, but there are other things such as plotting, brainstorming, revising that we have to constantly practice.. Sometimes taking a short relaxing break could do wonders to our creative minds.

  • Jolie du Pre says:

    The more you write, the easier it gets!

    Jolie du Pre
    Precious Monsters

  • HeatherL says:

    Writing in and of itself, I believe, is a skill that anyone can learn and master. Crafting a story on the other hand…I think you need more than just skill. You need vision and imagination and that is something that cannot be learned.

  • Yes, I think that good writing is a habit, and that the more you do it, the better at it you'll be. Sure, some people may have some innate writing skills, but practice is still crucial for everyone.

  • Saru Singhal says:

    I think writing more makes you a better writer. I am not born with this talent, like you did in earlier days, it is very difficult for me to write even a single paragraph. An Indian author Vikram Karve wrote that if you want to be a good writer, write as much as you can. I am trying to do that. Though I can't write by the clock.

  • Lynn Proctor says:

    i think as we take a long look back at all kinds of great literature from children's writing to adult–there is all kinds of great writing, that most of which i believe people are born with

  • Sure! It's just like practicing an instrument.

  • Tonja says:

    I think it should be the same as training for a marathon. We need to train most days – not everyday and not exactly in the same way everyday – to be sure we eventually can make it to the finish line. Overdoing it and being too repetitive can hurt us.

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