writing habit

Fired after 45 years of work.

A friend of mine was laid off a week after her 64th birthday. There was no chance to return to this job at her age. Without a structure and purpose in her life, she quickly started vegetating, not knowing what to do with the day ahead.

When change happens in life, when we have to deal with anxiety and stress, there are not many things we can turn to.

Talk to a friend or spouse? These conversations quickly escalate, and they don’t make the situation disappear. The emotions remain.

Instead, you gather these feelings inside until they explode. Sometimes they become paralyzing. Sometimes they become destructive.

I have a solution for you. A habit that not only helped keep my friend’s sanity but always gets me through difficult times – and provides more clarity, gratitude, and happiness.

A young girl hiding for two years during the Nazi occupation in the Netherlands discovered this secret as well:

“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.”

Anne Frank

Anne Frank took out her journal and wrote – in the midst of fear, anxiety, and danger.

The endless advantages of writing

A study followed recently fired engineers, and they found that those engineers who consistently wrote were able to find another job faster.

“The engineers who wrote down their thoughts and feelings about losing their jobs reported feeling less anger and hostility toward their former employer. They also reported drinking less.”

Another study discovered that subjects who reflected on the good things in their life once a week by writing them down were more positive and motivated about their current situations and their futures.

So while writing eliminates stress, it at the same time offers benefits like:

  • gratitude
  • forgiveness
  • happiness

Moreover, writing regularly alleviates productivity and the ability to learn. If it becomes a habit, it provides structure and discipline and thus helps create more healthy habits like exercising or quitting smoking.

When a crisis hits my life, I sit down to write. Why? Because it not only helps me deal with the emotions, but it helps me come up with ideas to solve the dilemma. It triggers my creativity, it gives a glimpse into my soul and it provides me with ideas and new thoughts. Thoughts I would have never thought without writing.

Practical advice on writing

There are three questions preventing you from writing.

1. When to write?

The alarm goes off.

You hit snooze for a couple of minutes. Then jump into the shower and hurry because you’re already late. That’s how the day goes: hasting from one appointment to the next. One do-to item after another.

When the day is over, you might get one blissful hour of Netflix on the couch, and when you notice you start falling asleep right there, you drag yourself to the bedroom.

This way or similarly, our daily life rushes by. Where to squeeze in time for writing?

The problem lies in the priorities. We tend to prioritize the things that seem to need attention now. We think short-term. The price? Lack of health and happiness when the bill comes several years down the line.

Instead, prioritize the things that might show no benefit straight away but in the long run, save your life.

Start your day with writing. You don’t need an hour. Fifteen minutes are enough. Don’t hit the snooze button; wake up fifteen minutes earlier to get a cup of tee or coffee and write for 15 minutes.

Why mornings?

You could write in the evening. But the early morning hours have clear benefits: no distraction, high levels of energy, an empty mind, and an active subconscious. Successful writers through the ages have written in the mornings, „as soon as the first sun rays hit“ (Hemingway).

With writing first thing in the morning, you are much less likely to fall in with others’ agendas. You own the day.

2. Where to write?

Don’t focus too much on the perfect writing space. You can write wherever.

J. K. Rowling wrote in a crowded cafe. I sometimes wrote on the train. Don’t let the quest for the „perfect place“ prevent you from writing.

If you can choose, find a place where you feel safe, cozy and where no distractions lure around the corner. Ideally, pick the same place every time. This will give a trigger to your brain and signal that you’re about to write – which in turn will provide an effortless start to your writing time.

3. What the heck to write?

This is a question that frightens most. What do I write? How do I even start?

Introducing: The Morning Pages.

The Morning Pages are a concept developed by Julia Cameron.

“The act of making art is both scary and healing. Art brings light to places that have remained dark. Art brings perspective. Making art, at any level, is an act of courage and an expression of faith.”

Julia Cameron, The Miracle of Morning Pages: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Most Important Artist’s Way Tool

Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, ideally done first thing in the morning.

There is no right or wrong way to write here. You just write anything that comes to mind. You don’t have to fill three pages. But you need some kind of goal: a timer of 15 minutes, three pages, 200 words.

Freewriting can be hard in the beginning. We are not used to becoming aware of our stream of consciousness in this way. But don’t judge your writing. Don’t even re-read it. Just let it be what it is. Give yourself permission to just write whatever comes to mind.

And, like James Patterson says, „freight-train“ through the process.

In times of crisis and stress, having a writing habit can become a lifeboat. So even if you’re not experiencing difficulties right now, you can reap the benefits of a writing habit – creativity, productivity, clarity of mind and communication, happiness – and prepare for those bad days that hit every single one of us.

The Titanic lost so countless souls because of pride. Because they went in unprepared, not taking enough lifeboats with them.

Take your lifeboat. Prioritize the long-term. And reap the rewards.