Category Archives: Success

My Writing Streak is My Friend

Yesterday was day seventy-five of my current writing streak. What’s a writing streak, you ask? It’s essentially consecutive days that I write.

I have wanted to write every day for quite a long time. I can’t binge very well. I can sit in one place for an hour or two, and then I get distracted by something—kids, the internet, the phone, the internet. I think the most I’ve managed to write in one day is about six-thousand words, but that pace is not really sustainable for me. I wear out on it.

So, since I can’t binge my way to copious production, I have to do it the slow, steady way, which means writing more days than I don’t.

The first half of this year was an exercise in frustration. I had one hundred and one days in the first six months that I didn’t write at all. That means I only wrote on eighty-two of the first one hundred eighty-three days, which I don’t consider to be a formula for success.

I tried and tried to write every day, but I just couldn’t make myself. I would let things get in the way. Up until June, I wrote six days in a row, twice. That was my longest sustained effort. One of those times, I was at a workshop, and had no choice in the matter. In June, I managed nine days in a row near the end of the month. I don’t remember what happened to stop it, but it was probably just a day spent playing Diablo III or something.

Finally, in early July, I got fed up with myself and my lack of progress toward writing every day. I hate the days I don’t write. I hate myself on those days. It’s not healthy. So I decided to challenge myself.

I created a spreadsheet to track my writing progress. Every day that I wrote, I put the wordcount for that day in the cell for that day. I saw where I was at (and how many holes were in it).

And then I started writing, and counting. I told myself I was going to start a writing streak, and I was going to keep it going as long as I could. And then, I told my writer friends. In the early days, I tweeted the day of the streak, and my friends cheered me on.

The first few days weren’t great. I didn’t write a whole lot of words, but I told myself that any number was better than zero, and that if I continued writing, the days would get better.

They did get better. And now, it’s day seventy-six, and I can’t imagine going the entire day without writing something. I can’t imagine doing it tomorrow. It’s become a habit. Something I need to do before I go to bed. There have been a couple days where I slipped the words in right under the wire, but I got them in, and I went to bed happy.

I’ve written 113,000 words in those seventy-five days. I don’t feel like an asshole, any more. I don’t feel like one of those people that talk a good game, but ultimately all they do is talk.

If you’re struggling to write every day, like I was, challenge yourself to a streak and tell your friends about it. Set a goal for a one week streak. On the last day of the streak, set the goal to make it two weeks. Then twenty days. Then thirty. Then fifty, seventy-five. My next goal is one hundred days. Only a multi-day coma or death will keep me from it.

New Plan Day 1

Today was the first day of a new plan for my day. I’ve been fighting for a while with my daily schedule. I like to read blogs and other interesting things about the publishing industry. I have a day job to do, and kids to watch, well, by the end of the day when I was trying to write, I’d be tired and worn out. It had to struggle each day to get to the writing desk. I’ve managed it, but sometimes with only an hour or so to write. It also made my wife a bit unhappy because she often wouldn’t see me in the evening. She went along with it because the plan is for the writing to replace the day job at some point, but it’s not something she really embraced.

So, the new plan is that I go to bed at 10pm (instead of midnight) and I wake up at 5am to write before switching over to the day job stuff. This gives me at least two solid hours of writing time without the distractions of the day getting in the way. It also leaves the evenings free for whatever we want to do.

And it worked wonderfully today. I wrote 2000 words in about two and a half hours. Now the rest of the day is free to use as I need to without the worry of whether I’m going to get to the tasks of highest importance, at least as far as my career is concerned. My wife and kids would argue that they’re more important, and I’d have a hard time disputing that. But now, I get to spend time with them, too, without the writing hanging over my head.

The Five Stages of Professional Anxiety

In my experience, there are five stages of anxiety with regard to how you feel about any particular task you’ve taken on.

1) Complete Newb: Can I even do this at all?
2) Novice: OK, I can do this, but will I ever be any good at it?
3) Journeyman: I’m pretty good at it, I think, but will I ever get to the stage where I’m not worrying about how good I am?
4) Professional: How good is my project?
5) Master: How do I keep from being a dick?

I can’t say I’ve ever reached Master status at anything, so I’m only guessing about the Master’s anxiety. I have, however, become a professional programmer, and I plan to become a professional writer.

I went through the first three stages while I was learning to program and trying to become a professional. Those stages were horrid. I hated them. You feel like a child, to some degree, all the way through.

Once I became a professional, once I proved to myself I could produce and produce well, the fears that dominate the first three stages fell away. Oh, you still wonder on occasion if you’re a fraud. You still have to learn and get better, but it’s no longer your primary fear during the day. Your primary concern morphs from yourself to concern about your current project, and you just sit down and do the job.

I’m going through the same progression as a writer, and I hate it. But this time, since I know what I went through to become a programmer, I can look back and compare the two and see the progression. I know what’s coming, even if I’m not sure when. I can tell myself to stop worrying and just work, that at some point, after I’ve sold enough of my writing, that the fear of being an utter failure will fall away, to be replaced only by concerns of the current project.

I can’t wait until I get there, because no matter how often I tell myself to stop worrying and just work on it, I still worry.

The Destructive Power of “If”

I had a conversation with my oldest daughter today regarding writing, and I don’t remember exactly what we were talking about, but it was in relation to my plans for my writing. And I said something along the lines of, “If I can write 2000 words a day.” She stopped me right in the middle of my thought and said, “That’s not a good way of thinking about it.”

It took me a moment to figure out what I’d said, and what she was talking about, and then I saw it. The word “if”. There is no better hedge word in the English language. It allows for the possibility of failure, and when used for something that is entirely under your control, using the word pretty much facilitates failure. I’ve been using the word “if” to avoid commitment to my goals. Goals which are completely within my ability to control the outcome.

“If I can write 2000 words a day.” OF COURSE I can write 2000 words a day. It’s not an onerous chore. It’s a couple hours in the morning before work, or in the evening before bed. The question is not “if” I can write them. The question is “will” I write them. Will is the key. Effort. Choice. “If” And “Can” are not what we’re talking about. I have complete control over the choices I make. Do I want to write 2000 words a day? Yes. Do I want it more than I want to watch a movie? Do I want it more than I want to play World of Warcraft? Those are the questions I need to be asking.

What words are you using in the conversation in your head? Are you giving yourself opportunities to make excuses for why you’re not doing what you want to do, just by the choice of words you use to speak to yourself? Avoid “if I can” in areas where you are in complete control of the outcome. Change it to “I will” and see if that doesn’t improve your odds of doing what you set out to do.

This Ought To Be Required Reading In Every Management Course

Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule is an article by Paul Graham that should be required reading in every management course that’s ever taken by anyone. And If they have to read it several times, so be it. Understanding the difference between what I do, and what a “Manager” does, and what I need and what a “Manager” needs is critical to getting the best performance out of me and people like me.