Bad Habits

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As a writer, I worry I don’t have very good habits—or should I say I don’t have the right habits for me.  I worry I’m not walking, drinking, sleeping, writing as much as I should. Reader, if you regularly frequent this blog, you might recall my last post in which I discuss the dangers of sitting and my desire to “step it up.” A few weeks after writing that post I bought a fitness watch that tracks how many steps I take, my heart rate, my skin temperature and how many hours I sleep during the night. I have no idea yet why I should care how my skin temperature fluctuates throughout the day, but I bet you readers wanted to know that on average I get 7.5 hours of sleep.

Basis

Whenever I reach my goal for a day, a small trophy appears on the right corner of my screen, and surprisingly I am elated to have accomplished my goal. It’s a struggle to feel competent some days, and I guess completing any task will do… Anyway, I bought this watch because I wanted to develop better habits, and I figured dizzying charts and a small rectangular screen telling me just how lazy I am would push me forward to do so. I was desperate, you see, to evoke some sort of meaningful change in my life. Unfortunately I overestimated what the watch can actually do. The watch might encourage me to develop better habits, but it can’t really tell me how I can break my bad ones.

Can I be real honest with you MQR readers and friends? I have a string of bad habits, the worst of which is running Lifetime movies in the background as I write. There I said it. Please still love me. Another bad habit: I secretly love reading those “writer’s tips” articles, as if I might find, for free, the key to writing a great novel. On any given list (here are a few example: this, that, oh yes definitely this ) I find a few helpful tips e.g. don’t romanticize your vocation or write/work in short bursts, no more than 90 minute chunks. Most suggestions though, I can never imagine achieving like “stick to a schedule”? I can’t possibly. My schedule is I try to write every day. Or work in the early morning? Does writing at 3 am count? Can’t I get a carrot cake cookie for thinking about writing?

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In some ways, I think my fixation with reading these articles is my own lazy attempt to figure out how to create “genius,” how to make my work as inspiring as the work I read that inspired me to become a writer. This makes some sense, I guess, maybe. But have you noticed these writing tips are never as crazily inspiring as the “geniuses” who contribute? Most tips for writers are common sense really: don’t multitask, exercise, drink lots of vodka. How generic. I sometimes pity the writers who are asked to contribute, who must feel as if they are trying to reduce the whole gut-wrenching experience of writing and living into ten easy aphoristic steps. Truthfully, I think a great number of people know what they need to do to make their lives better, but they’re too stuck or broken or trapped to be able to do so.

Despite knowing how horrible my bad habits are I have the most difficulty breaking them. Why don’t I unplug my Internet and concentrate?  Why don’t I just stop watching Scandal? I DON’T KNOW. In writing this blog post, I asked my friends—writers and non-writers alike—about their bad habits, and, not surprisingly, many of them face the same problems as I do. No matter what the bad habit—leavings tasks until the last possible minute, smoking when nervous, over-checking Facebook—each person I spoke to was aware of the bad habit, felt miserably guilty about it, but seemed hopelessly unable to stop. “Phew. I’m not the only one,” I said to myself. I’m not the only suffering from this throat-clogging guilt—guilt for not being better, for not being more dedicated, for not writing this blog post earlier, etc. Every day I feel weighed down by this guilt, and I don’t know what to do with it. In writing this post, I tried to identify what it is about my bad habits I find so flummoxing. How can I be so self-aware yet so unable to stop? Am I self-destructive? Self-combusting? If I hate feeling guilty why don’t I just stop doing the things that make me feel guilty? These are the kind of questions I ask myself at 4 am after wasting the entire day watching Project Runway episodes back-to-back. I don’t feel particularly self-destructive, but what do I know?

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I didn’t really get this answer from any of my friends, but I’ve decided that I’d like to think my bad habits are methods of self-protection—for me a way to fight off an indescribable loneliness. Not a loneliness as in I am alone and I want a person’s company. Most people who know me in real life know I’m not that social of a person. I’m reclusive, an introvert (read Nania’s post about introverts), a bit of a flake and hardly ever spontaneous. I feel loved, and I do love a comforting group of people in my life. I like being alone. I prefer to be alone when I write, but I also feel so lonely when I try. Here’s the contradiction that feels inescapable. I write my best when I’m alone, but when I’m alone writing I feel the loneliest. That’s why I’ll turn on a Lifetime movie, filling my room with the voices of bitter divorcees, maniacal plotters, heedless teens!

If bad habits are ways for us to protect ourselves—from our loneliness, our anxiety, our sadness—then shouldn’t we be thankful we have them, that we, at the very least, can pinpoint what discomfits us and subconsciously create ways to combat what has broken us or that what scares us? Why instead do so many people, especially writers, feel guilty about their weaknesses? Their bad habits? I’m not condoning bad habits, some of which can be fatal—drug and food abuse, etc—but I suppose I’m trying to write my way into acceptance, to reckon with the fact that I am strong and weak, fearless and fearful, passionate and lazy, and that might be okay.

This is kind of a strange post for me, a little all “over the place,” but some days you have to be “all over the place” because that’s the truth of your experience. I’ve only recently recovered from a summer long panic attack, and it felt important to me, in the most blogger-like sense, to write this post because I need to shake this guilt off my chest. I want to quit my bad habits, but I don’t want to feel so miserable if I fail. Tell me people what are your bad habits. Let’s commiserate.

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