HERE WE ARE AGAIN. It’s the start of a new year and it’s time to establish your new year’s writing goals.
Everyone knows that writing is an addictive habit that, once firmly established, takes over your life. It’s also the gateway to even darker habits, like self-publishing and buying pay-per-click Amazon ads. If this description rings a bell, don’t despair. Like all habits, once halted it will fall into a gooey pond of inertia and get stuck there, and will only return with great effort and intent on your part.
This year, you can make a real difference to your and all your loved ones’ lives by making this one, firm resolution: stop the habit of writing.
Now, I know you’re thinking that’s impossible. But I’m here to reassure you. Before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, I wrote nearly every day. I posted regularly on my blog. And I wrote books. Whole books! But now, I can proudly say that I haven’t written a single blog post since last January — when I arrogantly wrote about resetting and realigning your life. (I am now ROFLOL.)
If I, someone who has written for most of her life, can stop writing, you can too. I’m here to share with you the ten steps I took, and I guarantee that if you take these same steps, you WILL succeed.
The Ten Steps to Successfully Stop Writing
- Identify your triggers — those conscious and unconscious cues and behaviors that lead to writing. To find your triggers, start by paying attention for one full week. Notice each time you feel the writing urge — but do NOT keep a log or write it down. What time of day does the urge usually occur? Where are you when it happens? What is your emotional state? Are there other parts of your daily routine that lead to writing? Do you have someone in your life who enables you or encourages your habit?
- Focus on all the reasons you have nothing new or worthwhile to say. This step should be somewhat easy to take, because all writers suffer from imposter syndrome anyway. (If you don’t feel like a pretender, you might want to question whether you are truly addicted to writing, or if you’re just a dabbler.)
Each time you’re tempted to write down your thoughts or complete the final chapter of the novel you started ten years ago and haven’t managed to finish, simply remind yourself that everything of value that could be said has already been written and that you have nothing original to add to the world’s knowledge or experience. Record a reminder of these facts to yourself on your smartphone, and listen to it daily while doing mundane chores or any time you feel a particularly strong writing urge.
- Substitute another habit in its place. The best way to stop one habit is to begin another in its place. Since writing is such a kinesthetic habit, it’s best to replace with a task that involves using your hands. Knitting, woodworking, gardening, and even cleaning house are all acceptable substitutes. Since these engage your hands, you would have to make an effort to stop what you are doing in order to write. Which brings me to the next step.
- Remove your writing tools from the house — or at the very least, make them less accessible. If you must have pens or pencils and paper around the house, separate them and place them in different rooms. That way, if you want to make a note, you’ll have to go to great pains to locate the items you need and get started. Dispose of all your notebooks and use small bits of paper instead. And if you usually write on your computer, ask a friend or loved one to hide it from you — at least until you’re through the withdrawals stage. If that fails, uninstalling any writing applications (including operating system notepad software) should do the trick.
- Practice distraction. Facebook, Tik Tok, YouTube, and Instagram are perfect applications for this purpose. Turn on notifications to be sure you get notified of any new posts and be sure to scroll mindlessly as much as possible. Word of warning: do NOT post any messages of your own. If you must participate, simply share any funny memes or outrageous political posts you like. And keep scrolling.
- Nurture an all-or-nothing mindset. If you can’t dedicate at least four hours every day to write, then you might as well not start, because everyone knows that writing is a tortuous task that can only be accomplished in large and continuous chunks of time.
- Surround yourself with non-writers and avoid places where writers congregate. Now, this step can be tricky, especially if you’ve developed a large network of writers and many of your friends are part of the literary community. Start by quitting any writing critique groups or clubs, writing Facebook groups, and so on. Block writers’ phone numbers so you won’t receive their calls and messages wondering where you’ve gone. Join Tinder or go to the local bar to meet new friends. Or better yet, stay home and watch all ten seasons of The Walking Dead.
- Avoid enablers. These are people who, though not writers themselves, encourage you to write. This can be difficult if your enablers happen to be your children, spouses, or other close family members. Tell them you will not be writing any longer and ask for their support. If they will not support your resolution to stop writing, consider moving into an Airbnb to get some distance, until you feel strong enough to resist their influence.
- Stop reading books, especially poetry and fiction. Stephen King famously said, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” And we know how he ended up! Reading stimulates imagination and those portions of the brain that govern language: Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas. If you stop both reading and writing you can allow these areas to atrophy, which will greatly weaken the urge to write.
- Develop an attitude of ingratitude. This is easily done by finding fault with everything and everyone around you. Allow your jealousy to fester over what your neighbors and coworkers have that you don’t. The more ingratitude you feel, the less you will want to communicate with the world around you — and, serendipitously, the less the world will want to hear from you. Thus diverting the desire to write before it even begins.
IF, after performing all ten steps, you still struggle with your writing habit — and from my personal experience, I think that highly unlikely — then you should just give up and give in. You are an incorrigible writer, and there is no hope for you.
On the other hand, if you ever decide that writing is not such a bad habit after all, simply perform the opposite of all these steps again, in reverse. Like listening to the Beatles’ songs backwards to hear their hidden message (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, google it), start with number 10 and instead of developing ingratitude develop gratitude. Work your way back up the steps.
By the time you have reached step number 1, you will have firmly re-established your writing practice.
Please leave your emoji in the comments section below, so I will know if anyone has read this.
Thank you, and have a wonderful year!