A Year of Finishing Novels: Designing Habits

Orange and blue lights reflected in a room of mirrors.
Playing in the Mirrorworld by Maria L. Berg 2022

I wanted to get this post out yesterday for my new habit of Sunday Assessment and Accountability, but my internet was ridiculously slow and not loading the site, then not loading this page, so I stopped trying to force it. There was no point in fighting and making myself miserable when the information is just as relevant today. One of the important lessons I’m learning about sticking with my new habits to reach my large goals is to be flexible.

Goals

When I started breaking my dream goal of finishing my novels into its smaller goals, I came up with:

  1. Finish First Draft
  2. Read and Revise
  3. Get Feedback
  4. Revise
  5. Edit
  6. Polish

Each of those goals can be broken into smaller goals with steps and deadlines. At first, I tried creating some S.M.A.R.T. goals. This mnemonic stands for: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. Then I read about S.M.A.R.T.E.R. goals which added that the goal has to be Exciting and have Risk.

After breaking some of my goals into SMART and SMARTER goals, I realized there was a fatal flaw in the system for me: Time-bound goals set me up for failure. If I defined my goal around doing things at certain times and then something came up that made me late: I’ve already failed before I started.

Then I read Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg, PhD and his ideas clicked for me. Instead of using a specific time to cue a habit, create a system using the cue of “After.” Such a simple change, but it makes all the difference.

Habits

In The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, he identifies the habit cycle as:

  1. A cue or trigger
  2. the behavior
  3. reward

To understand and change a habit, you need to identify you triggers, and rewards. This was hard for me at first, and I will talk more about the steps I took in my next post. To get started creating tiny habits, it helps to identify an anchor habit, something you already do on a regular basis. For BJ Fogg, it was going to the bathroom.

Tiny Habits

The idea of tiny habits is to break your goal into the tiniest, easiest thing you can do toward your bigger goal. BJ Fogg wanted to get in shape. The easiest, smallest thing he thought of was doing two push-ups. Every time he went to the bathroom, he would do two push-ups.

For my goal of finishing novels, the smallest thing I knew I could do every day toward my goal was write 500 words. I already had a habit of writing morning pages, but I wasn’t always consistent, so I lowered my morning pages to two pages instead of three, and created this habit: “After I write my morning pages, I will do my writer’s meditation. After I do my writer’s meditation, I will type 500 words of my novel.”

A Tiny Habit System

As you can see, using the word “After” instead of “At 9 am every morning” creates a system of small successes instead of setting you up to fail if your schedule changes for some reason.

Once I knew how my writing habit fit together, then I worked backwards to attach it to the one thing I know I will do every morning which is–Wake up.

Mt. Rainier at sunset as a flock of water fowl swim through its reflection.
Reflection with Diving Birds by Maria L. Berg 2022

Assessment

My weekly check-in:

  1. What went right last week? Last week my morning writing habit continued solidly. The increase to 600 words worked every day. Another group of small habits paid off. I started looking at myself in my tablet camera (back on January 26th) every time I turned it on to do my writing meditation. And over time, I fixed the lighting in the room and where I placed the camera, etc. until I thought it looked like me. Then, on Tuesday, I showed my face to my Zoom writing group for the first time. It was a big step for me. And I did it again on Thursday.
  2. What didn’t go well last week? Though I did sleep two nights without the laptop, my nightly habit attempts are still not going well. My morning pages habit was a good anchor habit to build from for my daily novel writing, but I don’t have a strong night time anchor that leads to my sleep goals–yet.
  3. What small steps will I add this week? This week I’m adding a revision goal. I’ve found that I enjoy printing out my stories as booklets then reading and revising them as separate little books, kind of my own version of the journal “One Story.” I would like to read, revise, and type up the changes of two stories this week. Since the reading and making notes part of that goal doesn’t include the computer, I will add reading a page of my story a tiny habit as part of my night time system.
  4. Is it time to increase one of my habits? Not this week. Last week’s increase to 600 words was good, but was challenging on a couple of days when I was tired. I’ll stay at 600 for now. My daily walk goal last week didn’t stick. I walked four days. And since it’s supposed to rain for the next week, I have changed this goal to using my cardioglide while I watch a Masterclass lesson.
  5. What else did I try? I moved my gratitude journal and my morning movement out of the bedroom and into the office because they are part of my waking up system and I want my bedroom to be only for sleep. I was going to give up on the topical magnesium spray because it felt greasy and sticky, but then I saw Jessica Baumgardner’s article about massaging it into her feet before bed and though it still makes my hands feel icky (I can always wash my hands), I’m going to try to make it a habit.

Accountability

One area that every resource talks about is social accountability. I have found many times in the past that if I share my goals here on Experience Writing, I am more likely to achieve them.

I would really enjoy if you would like to join me in an accountability club. Every week, type your goals in the comments, or leave a link to your post and we can check in with each other to see how we did with our goals.

My goals this week are to:

  1. Write at least 600 words of my novel every day
  2. Increase movement by using my cardioglide while watching a Masterclass
  3. Review my novel for 15 minutes every day

That’s it. I hope you will hold me accountable.

We Can Reach Our Goals Together!

2 thoughts on “A Year of Finishing Novels: Designing Habits

  1. I love that you share your step-by-step process for setting goals and tweaking them, as need be! Reviewing your novel for 15 minutes every day sounds like the perfect way to stay in tune with your story, notice where you trip, and keep the inspiration flowing for the next day. đŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

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