‘Bye honey, have a great day. Love you.’
Then I sit down and write for two hours. Half an hour of free writing to get me going, then on to Google Docs. I’ve made it a ritual – Moka pot, scented candle, flight mode, and trained my brain to associate the time and place with writing. It’s a daily habit that requires no thinking, and it’s helped me publish 12 books and a newsletter every week for the last year.
I try to approach it as a time for me to learn and reflect rather than stressing about it. And focus on what I can control: my daily habits and routines.
Fascinating article on Barack Obama’s habits and how the daily routines saved him from going mad when he was president. It’s all about removing day to day problems. ‘You’ll see I wear only grey or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down my decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.’ The act of making decisions degrades your ability to make further decisions. ‘You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.’
Reading that has made me feel more relaxed about eating granola for breakfast every day and my ‘work wardrobe’ (is it lazy to wear loungewear 24/7? I rotate cardigans for Zooms). No. I’m embracing minimalism, and it’s strategic – I’m habit stacking! Training me to get OUT at lunchtime and there’s less friction. All I need to do is pull my trainers on, and off I go. I’m shopping online at Tesco, buying clothes from Whistles and hair products from Kerastase (fuck it, they work). Making things routine frees up mental energy for the important stuff.
In 1887 William James wrote a short book on the psychology and philosophy of habit (Internet Archive). He argued that the ‘great thing’ in education is to ‘make our nervous system our ally instead of our enemy. 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.’
He shares his three maxims to successfully form new habits – the first one: launching a solid initiative and making a public pledge. Simple, powerful ideas that live on in bestselling business books like Richard Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and James Clear’s Atomic Habits. And the #Ship30for30 Atomic Essays (build a writing habit in 30 days) have taken Twitter by storm.
Research shows habits can help your productivity. Dr Robert Boice studied productive vs non-productive faculty writers and found productive ones had shared habits, which ‘included working patiently and regularly; writing with stable and calm emotions; feeling less uncertainty and pain, a greater sense of fun and discovery, and welcoming criticism. Successful writers were more likely to write regularly for short periods than “bingeing” with long, infrequent sessions.
He emphasises the importance of lack of self-consciousness and that you should write without feeling ready. ‘Keep a nonjudgmental attitude about your writing, and approach writing not as a painful necessity but as a time to relax, reflect, and be calm.’ And form or join a peer writing group.
So I’ve signed up for the next #Ship30for30 cohort in August. Let’s see if it helps with the things I’m struggling with: over-research and over-editing. I’ll be setting sail on 9 August if you want to join me (my code here). Massimo Curatella has written some brilliant essays on what he’s learned – One Year Writing: 30 lessons in 30 days.
I’m challenging myself to write one Quora answer daily for a year. Taking whatever I’ve learned that day at work as inspiration. It’s not about being an ‘expert’ in a niche but sharing stories and life lessons that are relatable, universal and entertaining – as so many Quora answers are. I get a lot from it, so it’s good to give back.
What’s your writing process? Any helpful habits, tools or resources?
No newsletter next week as I’m full time on the app project, but I’ll be on Twitter. If you’ve published something, send me the link, and I’ll share it.
I’m going to write something on community polyamory as I’m struggling with that. I’m in so many incredible communities and not enough time in the day so I need to choose three to focus my energies on. I’d love to know how you manage and make the most of your online networks.
More rituals… I have my lucky shirt on for tonight to go with Gareth’s lucky spotted tie. Doesn’t he look sharp in those summer knits (Percival – young English company, made in Tottenham). Great management style – checking in on every player before a match, and seeking advice outside of the field.
‘It’s God, family and calcio’ – here’s to all the Italian mothers who have sacrificed so much to allow their sons to pursue their careers🥂 ⚽️
✍️Anne-Laure has published 300 articles on Ness Labs. Enjoyed this one on how to build a better writing habit. Great advice on seeing it as a conversation starter rather than something that needs to be polished and perfect. Approaching writing as a startup: write, publish, iterate, feedback. Content, courses, coaching, community to help you put your mind to work – it’s well worth the small fee to join (increasing soon).
🧘🏻♀️Buster Benson, the founder of 750words.com, on the benefits of meditation and why he thinks free writing is better. The value of shutting down your neocortex and its relationship to creativity and flow, and how to do it. 750words is an online journaling tool and community. If you’re frustrated with meditation and haven’t tried free writing in this way, give it a go. Get to know yourself better.
💻Finally, an upgrade to Google Workspace. Pageless view, emojis, and dynamic documents. You can create polls, assign tasks via @mentions, and present docs directly to a meeting. I used it this week with a client and it saved us time. The big pop-up box on my screen requesting a call made me jump. I’m using Google Keep for notes, Scholar for research, Writing Habit + SEO Assistant. The all-in-one workspace.
📚Timeless Advice on Writing: The Collected Wisdom of Great Writers. Maria Popova (Brain Pickings) periodically updates this reading list of famous writing advice, featuring words of wisdom from masters of the craft such as Kurt Vonnegut, Susan Sontag, Henry Miller, Stephen King, F Scott Fitzgerald, George Orwell, Ernest Hemingway, Joan Didion, and more. Enjoy!
📝Paul Graham on How To Work Hard. I love how people drop everything to read his essays. ‘There are three ingredients in great work: Natural ability, practice, and effort.’ Learn not to lie to yourself, procrastinate, get distracted, or give up when things go wrong. ‘I can’t be sure I’m getting anywhere when I’m working hard, but I can be sure I’m getting nowhere when I’m not, and it feels awful.’ Printing it out for Julieta to read. Love the basic HTML. At its heart, web design should be all about words.
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To offset the carbon emissions of this newsletter and my online work, I plant 12 trees every month via Ecologi. I encourage you to do the same in your country – here’s a list of climate action groups. We’ve got 10 years to sort this out – no time to waste🌍