Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Root Cause of My Writerly Bad Habits

In my old life one of the many things I did at the day job was to serve as a Lead Auditor for ISO 9000 and AS9100 quality management standards. I’m was also certified as a NASA Lean Six Sigma Black Belt. I’ve taught process improvement and led process improvement teams.

Why is this cryptic set of qualifications relevant to today’s topic?  I’m trained to “science the shit” out of any process on the face of the Earth. Or Mars. Analyze it within an inch of its life and find the errors, the statistical inefficiencies, identify the ways to do everything better. (And that wasn’t even my primary assignment!). So of course I’ve turned my critical eye on my own process as a writer.

I was a lot less rigorous than I ever had to be at JPL though, didn’t keep metrics, didn’t do interviews, draw flow diagrams or write any reports. I sat down with a cup of tea and a lavender legal pad after breakfast and made notes about where I was getting in my own way. I actually did a Mission/Vision session with myself, to establish what was my main motivator and how did I see that once it had become reality. Then I did the strategies that would advance my Mission and identified some of the things that would definitely hold me back. (Sounds SO formal, doesn’t it? But I did no powerpoint slides.)

 Over the last year since becoming a fulltime author I’ve noticed a few things.

1.    1.   I worked on all kinds of assignments and projects at the day job. Multitasking was my middle name. I like having many irons in the fire. As an author, I had a tendency to take on too much because it all sounded fun, or challenging, or was a learning experience. I’d get it all done on deadline but there was a toll and sometimes the price was paid in stress-related health problems. After becoming aware of this aspect of my own nature, I made myself promise not to say yes to anything immediately this year, and to really think it through, as far as how the activity would help me in my career as an author. (Or to pay forward some of the wonderful help I’ve received over the years from other authors and editors and bloggers.)  And to say no when required. That’s still hard for me – I like to be helpful. Getting way better at picking and choosing, however!

2.    2.    I LOVE research but sometimes that can take me way far down the rabbit hole. I need to do better at only going as far as I need to for the book (or post) I’m writing at the moment. Maybe make a note if there’s something that might be intriguing for the future, but NOT pursue the fleeing plot bunnies like a confused coyote until metaphorical the sun sets.

3.      3.  I LOVE social media in general but have a bad habit of trying to “get caught up” every time I log in. There is no such thing when it comes to the Internet, and you have Facebook and Twitter going on, and four e mail accounts (for different things).  Had to tell myself to give up, turn it all off when trying to write!

4.       4. The main problem I uncovered was that after many years of working for others, I had an unconscious tendency to see everything as “part of the job,” which the multitudinous  tasks would indeed have been in the office.  That led to a subproblem - things that I owed to other people tended to take priority in my day, versus sitting and getting new words on next novel. BZZZT! WRONG! The novels are the key to my life as a writer and nothing should be taking precedence over the stories. If I want to do other activities, that’s fine and desirable, but I can’t let them take priority. Write first, strike while the creativity is hot. Other stuff later or not at all.

I’d say the root cause of my bad habits is a desire to do it all and do it perfectly. We won’t drill down any further, thank you, as to why I want to do it all, much less the quest for perfection!

I just have to keep pulling my focus back to the writing, every day.

So that’s me and  few photos of the lovely flowers on my balcony.


  1. That led to a subproblem - things that I owed to other people tended to take priority in my day, versus sitting and getting new words on next novel. BZZZT! WRONG!

    Yessss. This.

  2. Thanks for the comments! Glad you all enjoyed the post :)

  3. I could join Over-researcher's Anonymous with you. When writing a volcano adventure, I found myself mired in a 50-page scientific paper on reducing signal-to-noise ratio for seismographs buried on volcanoes' flanks. (Snapped fingers in front of own face. "what are you doing??") If you love learning, as I and (no doubt you) do, this is hard to cure.

    Good post, Veronica!