Dani Shapiro
January 12, 2010

On Habits

There are a lot of things I’ve done wrong as a writer. I published my first book before it was ready, and my second book too. I stayed with one agent far too long, and jumped ship before I had fully considered what I needed. I didn’t plan out my literary career, to the degree that such things can be planned, but rather, allowed myself to be buffeted by the winds of other people’s ideas and projections. I don’t regret any of it, because seven books later I am aware that the bends in the road are part of the process. Change one thing, in the light of retrospect, and everything else changes too.

But one thing I have always been pretty good at is creating habits that support the work. People often assume I must be disciplined, but really, it’s all about habit and routine.

What do I need to get my work done?

This is different for everyone, of course, and life circumstances also dictate some of the possibilities for routine. For instance, I once had a student, a psychologist and AIDS researcher, who wrote in the mornings–by which I mean 4 in the morning–before she left for work. She has published two novels. I don’t know how she did that. I really don’t. I have other students and friends who write in the middle of the night, when their families are asleep. I don’t know how they do it either. But it works for them. Me, I keep banker’s hours. I like to wake up in the morning, get my family settled in their lives for the day, and then make myself a strong cappuccino and sit down at my desk. If my cappuccino machine broke, I might have a problem working that day. I might have to drive to the Nespresso store and buy a new one. It’s that much of a habit. Another habit is my yoga practice. At some point during the mid-morning, I try to unroll my mat and practice an hour of yoga. On days when I do that, my mind is clearer, longer. And I try–though this is a losing proposition–to stay off the internet while I’m working.

We get used to whatever it is that we do. Anything can become a habit, for better or worse. But the most important habit of all–whether night or day, yoga or no yoga, cappuccino or not–is the sitting down to write.