Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Writer's Life - Evaluating Your Work Habits

Guest post by Harriet Hodgson

Writing habits develop consciously and unconsciously. You may have established firm writing habits, habits that you live by daily. As time passes, however, it is easy to stray from these habits or get lazy about them. Poor work habits can hinder your output. Some writers, for example, are terrible procrastinators, and others constantly miss deadlines.

Is it time to evaluate your writing habits?

You may start with Stephen R. Covey's book, "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People." His list of essential habits may be applied to writing. The list includes being proactive, using your mind, putting first things first, thinking like a winner (essential for freelancers like me), understanding and being understood, synergy, which includes leadership, and what Covey calls "sharpening your saw," or evaluation.

Recently I decided to evaluate my work habits. I listed them on paper and kept the list short. My work habits are:

* Write daily, even if it is for only 5-10

* Make learning part of every day.

* Hone my writing instincts and trust them.

* Do careful research.

* Give credit when credit is due.

* Read work aloud to check clarity and flow.

* Keep adding new words to my vocabulary.

* Stay in my writing niche, but do not be confined by it.

* Explore different kinds of writing.

* Set new goals and work towards them.

* Network via the Internet and conferences.

* Be kind to myself.

Though these habits may change or expand in the months to come, they are still the crux of my writing career. During my 30+ years as an independent journalist I have worked hard and tried not to shoot myself in the foot, another term for sabotage. Gail Solish writes about self-sabotage in her Idea Marketers website article, "3 Habits That Sabotage Workplace Success."

These habits are never feeling good enough, avoiding conflict, and poor boundaries. When you get a reject slip it is easy to lose confidence. If this happens (and it has happened to me), you need to have a talk with yourself and ask three questions. Why do I write? What are my goals? Do I enjoy writing?

Savvy writers try to avoid conflict, but sometimes conflict is unavoidable. Years ago an editor asked me to do something that would harm my manuscript. I refused. He called the publisher and the publisher called me. During our conversation I spoke briefly and unemotionally. At the end of the call the publisher agreed with my decision.

Poor boundaries in a writer's life may include not citing resources, failure to attribute, not respecting confidentiality and, I am sorry to say, plagiarism. According to Solish, "It has been said that it requires 21 times of doing something in order to make a habit." Changing bad habits is hard work, she goes on to say, and it may take you 21 tries to replace a bad habit with a good one.

I evaluate my habits yearly. If you have not evaluated yours now is the time to do it. Good writing habits will help you reach your goal -- seeing your name in print.

Copyright 2010 by Harriet Hodgson

Harriet Hodgson has been an independent journalist for decades. She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, Association of Health Care Journalists, and Association for Death Education and Counseling. Her 24th book, "Smiling Through Your Tears: Anticipating Grief," written with Lois Krahn, MD is available from Amazon.

Centering Corporation has published her 26th book, "Writing to Recover: The Journey from Loss and Grief to a New Life" and a companion journal with 100 writing jump-starts. Hodgson is a monthly columnist for the new "Caregiving in America" magazine, which resumes publication in August. She is also a contributing writer for the Open to Hope Foundation website. Pleas visit her website and learn more about this busy author and grandmother.

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