On Tuesday, I hit a writing milestone I would have told you was impossible a year ago, or six months ago, or three months ago: I wrote for my 300th straight day.
I’ve always been mostly a weekend writer. I told myself I couldn’t write much during the week because my writing day job sapped my energy. But last June I joined a group that had just attended a conference, with the goal of writing every day until the next conference, 306 days not counting Sundays because several members of the group prefer not to write on Sundays.
I had a couple false starts before the streak really took hold, but once it did, it became harder not to write.
I’ve been asked how I managed to write so many days in a row, even with a family and a demanding job and other obligations. Today, I’ll tell you what works for me. It might not work for you to follow exactly this same plan.
The first thing is to decide what it means to have written on any day. This definition really depends on you and your writing life. For me, any of the following count as writing:
- Writing (or revising) for at least 15 minutes. It doesn’t have to be great writing. It just has to be writing. I find that, often, by 15 minutes I’m on a roll and it goes longer. But if I stop at 15 minutes, I’ve met my goal.
- Critiquing. If I’m working with a critique partner, I can use my writing time to critique my partner’s work.
- Coaching. I’ve had other writers asking me for advice or encouragement. If I spend my 15 minutes (at least) helping another writer get past an obstacle, I consider this writing time. This hasn’t happened a lot furing my streak, but there have been some days when I’ve used whatever time I had helping somebody else. For me, this counts.
It’s your definition, and there’s no wrong answer, as long as your definition helps you meet your goals as a writer. Researching your historical novel? Participating in regular community-building events? Count them, as long as you’re not really using those as an avoidance technique. Your goal, your rules.
Set Small Goals
If I had set out to write for 300 days, I would have failed in the first week. That goal is too big, and it’s unreasonable. I’ve managed it, but not on purpose.
When I started, I wanted to write one day, then three, then five, then a week, then ten days, and so on. I’m a big believer in small goals. The best way to lose 50 pounds, for example, is not to set out with the insurmountable goal of losing 50 pounds. It’s to lose three pounds, then another, then three more. 50 is impossible. Three is manageable. The same goes for writing.
In the past, it’s taken me years to write a novel. By keeping small goals, I wrote two in 2018. That shatters a lot of the things I’ve told myself about my limits. It’s still a struggle on a lot of days, but I know I can beat the struggle now, so I just do.
It helps to have to report your progress. Several members of that group I mentioned earlier report our progress every Saturday.
I also use a habit app. Habit apps are designed to help you create (or break) a habit by reporting your success every day. The one I use is called HabitBull, but there are others that you might like better. The concept is simple: Every day I mark off whether or not I wrote that day. The app keeps track of my streak.
There’ve been days when I haven’t felt like writing, but then I look at the app and I see how many days in a row I’ve written, and I have to decide whether today is the day I want to start over.
And, if you want to have a set day off every week, that’s OK too. Make that part of your goal, and take that day off. If it’s part of your goal, your streak doesn’t end because you don’t write on Sundays. Count your week as six days, enjoy the break, and continue your own streak on Monday. Your goal, your rules.
Give Yourself Permission to Stop–Tomorrow
For the whole 301 days now, I’ve given myself permission to stop–tomorrow.
I know the streak’s going to end. I’ve known it from the first week. Just not today.
If higher priorities stop me from writing tomorrow, or even if I’m just too tired, I won’t feel bad about it. Writing’s a priority, but it’s not THE priority. It’s been a long time since I’ve passed the point where I’d feel like I failed if my streak ended. It’s going to end. Maybe it will end tomorrow. I’m fine with that. I’m going to write today, though, then we’ll see what happens.
In fact, this blog means I’ve written today. That’s 302 days. I might not make 303. But I made 302, and I feel good about that.