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Are better habits the secret to writing success?

by Rebecca Evans

Over the years I’ve  worked for Arvon I’ve encountered several mysteries, including:

  • the precise role of cake in stimulating creativity during an Arvon week
  • the unreliability of Lumb Bank’s heating despite the attention of every plumber in the Calder Valley
  • and the reason why super-keen and talented writers so often fail to complete their writing projects.

I now accept the first two as the natural order of things – universal truths in the land of Lumb. However, I refuse to accept that writers are unable to make progress towards their writing dreams.

Writing habits

One of my favourite parts of the job has been hosting evening readings by writers. I love listening to authors read their work under the spotlights of the Lumb Bank barn – and I’m just as interested finding out how they write as what they write.

Week after week writers would describe how they carved out time from busy schedules and hectic home lives to practise their craft – before work, while commuting, at lunchtime, after the kids have gone to bed. This got me thinking: how did they manage to develop a writing habit when others found it so hard?

So, after reading countless writers’ biographies and interviews, I started to research what, when and how people write. I found that writers rarely have problems coming up with ideas and finding inspiration. Few suffer from writers’ block. The main barrier is developing a regular writing practice. In short, they need to stick at it and they often don’t.

Behaviour change for writers

Over the past year I have worked with the behaviour change group at Leeds Met University to explore the potential of persuasive technology to support writing. Behaviour change is often associated with getting people to give up smoking, lose weight or take more exercise. It is firmly established in the healthcare sector where people harness technology to ‘track’ and ‘self-monitor’ enabling them to manage conditions by logging their symptoms and how they feel. They use this information to make adjustments to their behaviour. The proliferation of smart phones has supported all sort of behaviour change, for example there are 146 asthma management systems available on Apple’s iPhone App Store.

I wanted to find out what would happen if I took the principles behind tracking systems and applied them to writing. My initial research found that 85% of writers want to write more, and of that number 90% want to write every day. That’s a significant number wanting to change their behaviour. Could tracking help them?

Volunteers needed

In the next few of weeks I will launch a test website which works on desktop computers and smart phones. I need volunteers who want to help me test out the hypothesis that better habits lead to more productive writing.

Testing will involve initial set up of a profile and writing goals, a few minutes each day you write to monitor your progress, and a couple of questionnaires throughout the trial to see how it is going. If you would like to find out more, or get involved, email me on towritetrack@gmail.com

Make writing one of your New Year resolutions

My research found that there is often a seasonal pattern to people’s writing, with peaks in productivity during the winter months. National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) moved its annual writing challenge from July to November “to take advantage of the miserable weather”. It seems the dark and cold drives us to our desks while sunshine tempts us away, as one writer said: “I find it hard to write when it’s lovely weather.”

So why not put your resolutions into action this January and see if the website will help you develop a better writing practice? I can’t promise you’ll get published, but if you’re interested in finding out if setting writing goals and monitoring their progress might work for you, send me an email.

Rebecca Evans has worked for Arvon as Centre Director at Lumb Bank since May 2010. After working part time to support the new team at Lumb, she will leave Arvon at the end of December. You can follow her adventures with writing habits on her blog http://blog.write-track.co.uk/ where you can sign up for updates to find out how the research is going. She can be contacted by email on towritetrack@gmail.com


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