Reducing friction is one of the most overlooked keys to getting things done. For the author, friction can come in many forms, but there are ways to reduce or eliminate friction and get the work started!
Other links from episode:
Leuchttrum1917 journals (Amazon affiliate link)
Atomic Habits: An Easy &Proven Way to Create Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear (Amazon affiliate link)
Reducing friction is one of the most overlooked keys to getting things done. For the author, friction can come in many forms, but there are ways to reduce or eliminate friction and get the work started! This and more on Episode 10 of Writing Pursuits.
Welcome to the Writing Pursuits podcast, where authors like you discuss writing craft, author, life, and book marketing strategies. I'm your host, Kathrese McKee. I own Word Marker Edits, and write and produce the weekly newsletter, Word Marker Tips for Authors. In addition, I am a speculative fiction author.
Writing Pursuits is for authors who drink too much coffee, endure judgmental looks from their furry writing companions, and struggle for words. If you are a writer seeking encouragement, information, and inspiration, this podcast is for you. Let's get to it.
Hey, Writing Pursuits Authors. Welcome back to the podcast. To those of you who are new, I want to extend a special welcome. My name is Kathrese McKee, and I'm glad you're here. Please leave a comment, a star rating, or follow the show to help others find Writing Pursuits.
Today’s topic was inspired by James Clear’s wonderful book, Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. The intriguing tagline is: “Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results,” and I believe this book delivers because it has changed my life.
I have so many positive habits I want to form, and just as many negative habits I want to break. I want to transform my daily life, to feel more fulfilled, to take care of the important stuff, and to omit or reduce the time thieves from my life.
Since I read Clear’s book earlier this year, I have managed to do three things consistently that I really wanted to do:
The first is to journal every day.
The second is to publish my Word Marker Tips for Authors newsletter every Tuesday.
The third is to produce a new episode of this podcast to air every Wednesday.
Journaling, consistent journaling, is something I have repeatedly tried to do throughout my adult life. Every time I started, I would go for a few, glorious days, and then I would forget or my schedule would get too crowded. Months would go by before I tried again.
I know journaling is important. Whenever I managed to do it for a short while, the journaling yielded results. There is just something about intentional, handwritten reflection. The practice is life changing. Journaling helps you focus and have those golden, ah-hah moments.
Then I read James Clear’s book, and realized the journaling habit was within reach.
In Atomic Habits, the author sets out a framework he calls The Four Laws of Behavior Change which form the foundation for habit development. And I’ll quote:
“All behavior is driven by the desire to solve a problem. Sometimes the problem is that you notice something good and you want to obtain it. Sometimes the problem is that you are experiencing pain and you want to relieve it. Either way, the purpose of every habit is to solve the problems you face.”
He breaks habits into two phases: Problem and Solution.
During the Problem phase, there is a cue and a craving.
An easy example he gives is when you receive a text message notification.
The cue is the signal a message has arrived.
The craving is your curiosity to know who sent the text and what the message says.
During the Solution phase, there is a response and a reward.
Your response is to pick up the phone and read the text.
Your reward is satisfying the craving to know.
That’s simple, right?
Problem=Cue & Craving
Solution=Response & Reward
So what happens if the response doesn’t work and the reward doesn’t happen? The answer is, you will try a different solution the next time the problem presents itself.
Every habit we have, good or bad, boils down to these two phases and the four steps.
So how did I break through my resistance to form a journaling habit? And I know it’s a habit now because I have performed the action daily for nine weeks straight,even when I went out of town for several nights. Talk about a disruption in the schedule. But the habit worked! And I am thrilled.
How to form new habits.
The cue - Make it obvious.
The craving - Make it attractive.
The response - Make it easy.
The reward - Make it satisfying.
Eliminating a bad habit works by doing the opposite.
How to break bad habits:
The cue - Make it invisible.
The craving - Make it unattractive.
The response - Make it difficult.
The reward - Make it unsatisfying.
I’ve got the perfect example for writers, and it’s true for me.
One of the classic detours to take before starting work on a writing project is to check your email first. We have all done this. An hour later, you haven’t even started writing because you answered three emails, and then you followed a link--”just for a moment”--and that reminded you to order a coat for your daughter because the weather is changing. That took twenty minutes of shopping to find one she will like. When you get done with your order, you check your bank balance and pay a bill.
“Holy time waster, Batman!”
Most of the activities were useful, BUT they are NOT the best use of your time if you want to publish a book by the end of the year. You could take care of most of those things while you’re sitting in the carpool line.
Let’s back up to when you stopped using your computer the night before. Log out of your email application. Close the browser. You can take things another step by shutting down your computer. Whatever it takes. The next time you log on, the browser is not visible. Congratulations, you’ve removed the cue,
Also, to get to your email now, you either must open the browser or open your mail app. I don’t know about you, but I hate to wait for applications to start, so this makes checking email slightly less attractive. If you turn on two-step authentication, you make opening your email application more difficult. The entire process of checking your email “for just a moment” makes you grit your teeth. It is no longer a satisfying experience.
So how do you reduce friction and build a positive writing habit?
I am getting to that, but now, a short word from our sponsor …
This episode of Writing Pursuits is brought to you by Word Marker Edits, trusted by fiction authors since 2014 to take their writing to a new level of excellence. Featuring story analysis and diagnostics, Kathrese McKee, a Three Story Method certified editor, can help you “prepare your story for the journey ahead.” For more information, go to WordMarkerEdits.com.
And now, back to Writing Pursuits.
So far, we have talked about the book, Atomic Habits, why habits are formed, and how to form positive habits and break negative ones.
Let’s talk now about reducing friction. One of the keys to forming the writing habit and curbing all the negative habits that get in the way is to reduce the friction of a particular activity.
There are lots of articles about reducing friction for customers when they make a purchasing decision and how to make the purchase itself as painless as possible. But what about the friction of producing the actual product?
For authors, the product is content, including: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, short stories, ebooks, print books, audio books, articles, courses,etcetera, etcetera.
How can we reduce the friction of producing, of writing itself? As we discussed earlier, you truly need a cue and you also need to make getting started as easy as possible.
There was no cue when it came to writing in my journal. I resolved the lack of cue by purchasing a lovely new bullet journal produced by Leuchtturm1917. It is not spelled how it sounds. spelled. “LOISH trum 1917” is spelled: l-e-u-c-h-t-t-u-r-m-1-9-1-7. I will put a link in the show notes. Anyway, they are wonderful books.
I have used these books for years to keep my calendars and ToDo lists, using them as a traditional bullet journal. The books have an index in the front and blank pages full of dotted grids so you can draw straight lines, make diagrams, or write neatly. However, creating lists is NOT the habit I was struggling with. I can make ToDo lists all day long; it was the journaling habit I needed to establish.
I realized I was spending a ridiculous amount of time on the ToDo part of my life--the endless calendar creation and bullet points--and not enough time on journaling my life, so I decided to restructure how I used the bullet journal books.
An honest examination revealed that I was using my Google calendar on my desktop and my phone to organize my time, so creating a monthly and weekly calendar in my Leuchttrum1917 books was just busy work. I kind of LIKE busy work, don’t you? Because it makes you feel as though you have accomplished something.
Busy work doesn’t produce content.
The useful part about the calendars was the bullet points I put on the pages facing the calendars. Another useful thing about the Leuchttrum1917 journal was the existing, positive connection in my brain, associating the book with pleasure. As Clear says in the book:
“Cues are meaningless until they are interpreted. The thoughts, feelings, and emotions of the observer are what transform a cue into a craving.”
The positive connection I already felt for the pens, the lovely pages, and the process of writing in the books helped to solidify the craving to journal. Seeing the cue every morning triggered the craving to journal.
That’s the other half of the journal equation for me; I removed all of the friction to the task. The bullet journal does not go on a bookshelf. It stays out, in plain view. I even stuck a pen loop to the top of the back cover to keep my fine line, black Sharpie® pen always handy.
I set aside time in my morning routine. Dress, feed the dogs and take them out, grab my coffee, and journal. True to the tagline, I made tiny changes in exchange for remarkable results.
The book stays visible. I made a small change to my routine, and I put a FIRM limit--this might be surprising to you--on how much I am allowed to write. I write one page. The journal pages are about 5.5” x 8” of writing area. That’s all I am allowed to produce. No more, no less.
If you are wondering about my ToDo list, I’ve worked that in too. Each week begins with a right page facing the previous Saturday entry on which I write out the meal plan for the week. Then I leave a two-page spread for my bullet journal style ToDo list. The next seven pages are set aside for the daily entries.
It is simple by design. If a task isn’t complete, then in true, bullet journal fashion, it migrates to the next week on Sunday.
The cue is the book itself, waiting for me every morning to accompany my coffee.
The craving is to write a short entry and keep the streak going.
The response is to sit down and write.
The reward is everything positive that comes from the morning journal session, beginning with a feeling of accomplishment greater than I used to experience from the busy work. I capture a full page of thoughts. And sometimes I get inspiration which is always a bonus. And bonus, bonus, I get a log of my days to reread.
The takeaway lesson for me was this: removing friction around a task helps me form desired habits.
Another surprising thought in Clear’s book is contained in this quote: “In a sense, every habit is just an obstacle to getting what you really want. Dieting is an obstacle to getting fit. Meditation is an obstacle to feeling calm. Journaling is an obstacle to thinking clearly.”
In other words, maybe you don’t actually want the habit. Who WANTS to diet? Wouldn’t we all prefer to eat the food we like best? For me, that’s my mother-in-law’s chocolate sheet cake.
As Clear says, “The greater the obstacle--that is, the more difficult the habit--the more friction there is between you and your desired end state. This is why it is so crucial to make your habits so easy that you’ll do them even when you don’t feel like it.”
We all have good days when we feel anything is possible, and we all have sour days when nothing seems to be going right. Let’s talk about how to make writing itself easier to do, how to reduce friction for writing.
You need a cue for your craving, then you need a response that leads to reward.
Before we begin, let’s acknowledge the best and worst thing about habits: a habit gains strength every time it is repeated. I do not think about brushing my teeth. This is a habit I have repeated at least twice a day from before I can remember, well over 700 times per year for every year since I was maybe two? I couldn’t stop now unless I had no option.
The good news is if you can build a writing habit, it will become stronger with every repetition. Hurray!
Your cue to write could be music, a certain time of day, lighting a candle, or a ritual of some sort, whatever you come up with.
Maybe your ritual could be a few moments of silence as you build an image of something in your story. When I was writing my first book, I had a long commute.
On the way home, I always listened to the same album and thought about my characters. The music became a cue--even now, when I hear the theme music from Pride and Prejudice--which has nothing to do with my story--I think of my characters and their story.
The cue needs to lead to the craving or at least remind you of why you want to build a writing habit.
In addition to the cue, think about how to reduce friction surrounding the act of writing. Do you always have to clear off the kitchen table, set up your computer, find your notes, quell the kids, and feed the cat? No wonder it’s hard to get started and form a habit.
Make a tiny spot for writing in your home where you give yourself permission to leave stuff out, ready for the task. You could make the decision to write on your phone or in a spiral every time you find a seat on the bus. Been there. Dedicated space, even a seat on the bus, is a way to reduce friction around writing.
Dedicated time, when everyone knows you will be writing, is another way to reduce friction. The thing is, you have to defend your writing time against all opponents, including your lazy self. If you respect the time, others are more likely to respect it too. If you waver or compromise or show weakness, the game is up. And it is twice as hard the next day. Been there too.
Lots of writers talk about their daily writing goals, but maybe in the beginning, you need to think about setting a daily writing limit. That may be surprising. As I learned with my journal, it’s the small changes that make the largest difference down the line. This could be a limit on words or on time. A saying I repeat whenever I am putting off a task is, “I can do anything for fifteen minutes.”
In the beginning of your writing habit formation, maybe remove the friction of procrastination by knowing your minimum time and setting a low bar. Um, yeah, it’s going to take a LONG time to write that massive space opera in your head at fifteen minutes a whack, but right now, you’re trying to build a habit. Make it easy. If fifteen minutes doesn’t let you get in the zone enough to be rewarding, try half an hour.
Also, if you already have an existing daily habit, think about using that habit as leverage to form a new one. In my journaling example, I already had a habit of drinking a cup of coffee every morning. All I did was add the journaling to the schedule; I leveraged an existing habit to help forge a new one. My brain now associates drinking coffee with journaling. Convenient, eh?
Perhaps you watch the news every evening. Make the newscast your cue to write for fifteen minutes. If that works, remove the upper limit and write for an hour. Every day, follow up the newscast by writing.
Look for time thieves. For me, it’sTikTok. Dang it. Why did someone invent TikTok? Who knew there were so many funny people out there with hilarious pets doing weird and wonderful stuff? I can go down that wormhole and easily lose an hour of my life.
Or maybe one of your time thieves is going to the grocery store once or twice a week.
The pandemic yielded a huge benefit for me, as unfortunate as the pandemic is. My local grocery store got serious about offering curbside delivery. This has been a life saver for me, especially after I started the podcast. They keep track of my growing list. When something needs to go on the list, I simply open the site and add the item. The cart stays open until I select a time and finish the transaction. Seems kind of silly, but grocery shopping--the whole meal planning, list making, and selection process--took at least half a day per week away from my productive time.
And did you notice the sneaky way my grocery store reduced friction to win me as a repeat customer? I can shop anytime and anywhere I have my phone or computer. I don’t have to wait in a check out line. All I have to do is arrive at the store and pop open my trunk.
When you are done with your writing session, don’t quit before you reset. Resetting is an essential step to habit formation.
At the end of writing time, I like to write the first sentence to the next scene or chapter before I quit. This is part of my reset, and it makes it easier to get started the next time I write.
Sometimes, I write a post it note to myself to help me get in the groove next time. During the reset, I straighten my papers and get rid of like, stupid tabs on my browser where I was researching poisonous plants to use in my story. Only then do I put my computer to sleep.
Technology is another time thief, and I know--I know--you’re already feeling attacked. The key here is to INCREASE friction.
If Facebook--or whatever they are calling themselves this week--is interfering with your writing, turn up the friction. Turn on two-factor authentication. When you leave the app, log all the way off. I guarantee you will spend less time on any social media application if you do this because there will be more friction to opening the app. Also, try removing the most tempting apps from your phone if social media is a big issue for you.
Friends and family are often a source of friction. Since we love them, we need to be kind but firm. Train your peeps to respect your work time. If your sister-in-law always calls during your writing hour, you need to explain your new habit to her and then put your phone on airplane mode every day until she is trained. Part of your reset will be to take your phone off of airplane mode and check for messages. Now you have made it easier for everyone to respect your writing habit. The friction will decrease over time.
Of course, you can’t realistically get rid of all the friction in your life, but you can reduce it.
I highly recommend the Atomic Habits book by James Clear. It is well-written and James’s personal journey is riveting to read.
Today, we have covered the basics about habits. We covered how to build positive habits and break negative ones. Primarily, though, we have discussed reducing friction that keeps us from writing and how to increase friction to battle time thieves that get in the way of building a solid writing habit.
I hope you have found today’s topic to be helpful. Please leave your comments at Writing Pursuits.com for Episode 10. What is the time thief that presents the biggest obstacle to you? Or what is your most successful strategy for building your writing habit? I want to know.
Thank you for joining me today. If you have questions about writing or need a story diagnostic, please go to WordMarkerEdits.com. That’s all I have for you today. Until next time ...
Thank you for joining us today. If you enjoyed this episode, please leave a comment and follow the podcast. If you're new around here, I hope you will join the Writing Pursuits Author Community for more content and to receive Word Marker Tips for Authors. That link and all the links mentioned in today's episode are in the show notes at writingpursuits.com. Please join us on Wednesdays for new episodes, and keep writing, my friends. Keep writing.
Thank you for joining us today. If you enjoyed this episode, please leave a comment and follow the podcast. You are invited to join the Writing Pursuits Author Community for more content and to receive Word Marker Tips for Authors. That link and all the links mentioned in today's episode are in the show notes at WritingPursuits.com.
Please join us on Wednesdays for new episodes, and keep writing, my friends. Keep writing!