My best advice on making writing a habit

Art Is A Dirty Job Paris photo credit Kirsten Akens 2014

Oh wow. It's Wednesday. Day 3 of the Your Turn Challenge.

Here's how my week with YTC has gone.

Day 1: Excitement! A new challenge! Bring it!

Day 2: A good, solid piece popped into place. Thank you muse.

Day 3: Ugh.

Can I say that again? Ugh.

There are different theories on how long it takes for a new habit to stick. 21 days. 30 days. Just one week. And there are theories that debunk each of these theories so who really knows. What works is whatever you can make work for you.

What I do know about forming a habit of writing is some advice I gave a budding future-author just last week. And it has nothing to do with a certain number of days.

At my favorite work-away-from-home coffee shop, the owner brought over a friend of his who had just started working on a memoir. The friend wanted advice on how to go about it.

I said, "Write."

He stared back at me.

Than I laughed a little. Honestly, I told him, the first rule of writing a book is to write it. And to write every day. Five minutes. Ten minutes. Set an alarm. Don't set an alarm. Just write something. Anything.

I went on to explain that the method by which really doesn't matter as long as ... here we go again ... it works for you.

Yes, there are typically two paths people take when writing. Plotting and pantsing.

Plotting involves starting with constructing a partial or full outline of what you're going to write before writing it. Pantsing is the code word for "fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants," writing (mostly) stream of consciousness or, in fiction, by letting the characters who live in your head speak through you.

I'm a pantser. Always have been. I very rarely outline much of anything because I've found if I spend that much time on a outline, by the time I'm done, I have no interest in actually writing the story. Putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard is the art for me. It's the process of full absorption that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi refers to in his book Flow that I love (that's an affiliate link to the book there, just so you know), that keeps me going.

But either way is equally valid — if it works for you.

So here I am. Taking my own advice. Writing.

Writing about writing. Which I get asked about a lot anyway, so it's not totally off board.

And as I re-read my words, they're not half bad either.

Day 3: Done.


(This is my Day 3 contribution to the Your Turn Challenge. Read others' contributions and learn more here.)

No need to freak, right? (Right?!?)

Konny graffiti on the streets of Paris photo credit Kirsten Akens 2014

This morning I've got a big interview for a story I've been assigned to write.

And I am freaking out.

I'm trying not to freak out. But I. Am. Freaking. Out.

My interviewee is a big deal. Not just out there in the world at large, but in my life. His work has influenced the way I think. His words are at times so intensely down-to-earth and relatable, and at other times, pure magic — at least in the sense that he seems to be speaking right to me.

And now, in a few hours, he will be.

Instead of him challenging me to think about things differently, I'll be asking him the deep questions.

That feels like a lot of pressure.

Of course, I've been in a similar place before.

I've freaked out (and geeked out) over interviewing, among others:

Amanda Palmer. Hunter Hayes. Norah Jones. Peter Sagal and Carl Kasell (who sadly would not record a message for my phone). Taylor Swift. Phil Liggett. Alton Brown.

And then, after getting on the phone and having my initial "Holy Heck I'm Talking To (Fill-In-The-Blank) Moment of Panic," I'd take a deep breath and remember that each one of these people was ... just another person. A successful person, yes. But still, just a person. With a body and a mind. A heart and a soul. A breakfast-lunch-and-dinner-eating human being.

Just like me.

Norah and I chatted about shopping at Target.

Alton and I talked about his love of flying airplanes.

Phil and I chuckled over the fact that he doesn't have a very good history when it comes to picking cycling tournament winners.

And Hunter and I laughed — and laughed and laughed about absolutely nothing at all of importance. (Super nice guy, he is.)

These tidbits might not be of the headline-grabbing sort. But to me, they're what I love most about interviewing, both "celebrities" and the woman next door — connecting with another individual, on a person-to-person level. Catching a glimpse of who's behind the persona. And then using a range of quotes and content to help tell a piece of that person's story, so that my reader has a chance to connect with them too.

Today, I have to remember that. Remember why I like doing what I do.

A little bit of freaking out is OK. It keeps me on my toes.

But then I just have to settle into my seat, open up my computer ... and dial his number.


(This is my Day 2 contribution to the Your Turn Challenge. Read others' contributions and learn more here.)

Show up & ship: the Your Turn Challenge


You know when a sign hits you over the head with a smack and wakes you right up?

That just happened to me.

I blogged every day last week. And I was super proud of that. And I planned to keep it going this week.

Until a case of the Mondays, and a slew of really amazing writing passed across my screen. Inspiring and clever writing like this piece by Mark Manson: The Most Important Question of Your Life.

And this, on the Myth of Perfection, by Susannah Conway.

And this, by Courtney Martin, on the Sacred Inefficiencies of a Very Human Life.

Cue the self-doubt. I got a major case of ...

The not-good-enoughs.

The I'll-never-write-like-thems.

The why-do-I-bother-anyways.

And then, like a whack on the side of the head (great book, by the way, which is why there's an affiliate link there, just so you know), or a tap of a magic wand, I found the Your Turn Challenge. A product of Winnie Kao, the Special Projects Lead for the incomparable Seth Godin.

So here I am. Writing a post.

Yeah, it's a post about posting. Which feels a little like cheating. But it's also about how sometimes we just have to shove the crappy thoughts about ourselves that take up residence in our mind aside and produce anyway.

Here's to, as Seth would say, shipping. Every. Single. Day.

Here's to, as my yoga teacher Jessica would say, showing up. Every. Single. Day.

Here's to, as I'm going to say, courage. Every. Single. Day.


(This is my Day 1 contribution to the Your Turn Challenge. Read others' contributions and learn more here.)