Motivation is an ongoing struggle for authors. Fiction and nonfiction… traditional and indie… Bestsellers and busters… all authors—at one time or another—have trouble kindling the creativity fire, including me.
“If I waited to be inspired, I would be screwed.”— Srinivas Rao
Host and founder of the popular podcast the Unmistakable Creative, Srini Rao, shared how he took his writing to the next level by focusing on a daily creative habit.
There was only one way I was going to be able to pull this off: write 1,000 a day. It had to go from being a task on my to-do list to a habit. What I didn’t realize is just how much that would change my life.
It wasn’t long before I figured out the necessary elements to easily write 1,000 words a day. I would wake up every morning, and I would just put my fingers on the keyboard. Sometimes I wrote garbage. Sometimes I didn’t.
But when I powered through the garbage (sometimes the first 200 words), I ended up with gold. I figured if I was willing to produce enough garbage, I would come with just enough gold to meet all my deadlines and expectations. In his book Unthink, Erik Wahl calls this creating for the trash can: “If you create for the trash can, some of what you create will probably be worthy of being in a museum.”
Interesting, huh? Thought-provoking, but not enough to set my butt ablaze.
A few months later, during a l-o-n-g, l-o-n-g period of extinguished creativity, I stumbled across another inspirational article. Rao’s plain-Jane honesty sparked my curiosity, so I researched the benefits of daily, consistent, measured goals. An article about an expedition race to the South Pole in 1911 not only ignited my creative fire but transformed it into a wildfire.
“Victory awaits him who has everything in order—luck some people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck.”—Roald Amundsen, South Pole.
Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott led separate teams to cover a journey of 1,400 miles. Both teams would march the same distance, but their leaders had different approaches to the task.
Scott planned to push hard on good-weather days and rest up on bad days. Amundsen’s strategy was to march 20 miles every day, no matter the weather. Amundsen beat Scott to the Pole by several days, and he and his men returned to Norway safe and sound. Unfortunately, Scott and four of his men perished on the way back to Great Britain.
Talk about an Aha moment…
Usually, I take the Scott approach to life. Get excited about something new, throw myself at it like a maniac, and burn out quickly, get sidetracked, or give up. On the few occasions I channeled Amundsen, like running daily to prepare for a marathon, packing five boxes a day to prepare for a move, finishing my first book after struggling for 10 years, I succeeded.
So, with blogs and books to write, websites to launch, writing and editing classes to prepare, and weekend editing seminars to develop, I needed an infallible method to get my writing done. I analyzed Rao’s and Amundsen’s efforts and came up with guidelines for an experiment I named Project Write My Ass Off:
• Commit to a minimum daily effort that’s hard enough to achieve when your day is going great but still doable when it’s not.
I commit to writing 1,000 words a day.
• Determine self-imposed constraints to ensure you don’t push too hard and lose sight of the purpose of long-term steady progress. Even on good days filled with energy, stick with your daily commitment to avoid burn out.
I commit to writing 1,000 words a day. No more. No less.
• Tailor your plan to your personality and situation. Be brutally honest with yourself about how you will achieve your goal. What works for someone else may not work for you.
I commit to writing 1,000 words a day. No more. No less.
I will put off all other work and personal tasks until the 1,000-world daily threshold has been met.
• Buy-in to your commitment is key. Don’t attempt the effort for your spouse, your significant other, your critique partner, your friend, etc.
I unequivocally commit to writing 1,000 words a day. No more. No less. I will put off all other work and personal tasks until the 1,000-world daily threshold has been met.
• Adapt a concrete timeframe that’s not too short (that the tangible deadline snaps at your heels) but not too long (to deal with unforeseen setbacks) but just right.
I unequivocally commit to writing 1,000 words a day for 30 days. No more. No less. I will put off all other work and personal tasks until the 1,000-world daily threshold has been met.
• Ensure your outcome is within your control. If achieving your goal depends on the behavior and/or decision of others, failure is a possibility.
I unequivocally commit to writing 1,000 words a day for 30 days. No more. No less. I will put off all other work and personal tasks until the 1,000-world daily threshold has been met. I will not do any guest blogs or send work to my critique partners until this effort is done.
• Dedicate yourself to consistency. Good intentions do not get the job done.
I unequivocally commit to writing 1,000 words a day for 30 days whether I feel like it or not. No more. No less. I will put off all other work and personal tasks until the 1,000-world daily threshold has been met. I will not do any guest blogs or send work to my critique partners until this effort is done.
The experiment kicked off on February 1, 2018. In the first week, I nailed my 1,000 words a day every day.
In the second week, laptop issues frustrated me for a couple days. Alphasmart Neo to the rescue! The routine change threw me a bit, but writing prompts helped get the creativity flowing, and I hit my daily total every day.
Third week? The flu. Yeah, bucket by the bed and MacBook Pro on my lap. (You’re welcome for the visual.) Calling off the experiment would have been easy and justifiable. However, that’s what I always do when the going got tough. Not this time.
I had to prove to myself that I had what it takes to reach to the South Pole.
For four days each, those thousand words took me all day to write. They weren’t pretty or great, but they were written. Whoo-hoo!
In the final stretch (on Day 25), I had to pick someone up from the airport during my usual writing time. Out of my newfound routine, I felt withdrawal. Weird, huh? Not to worry. I had tossed my iPad and Bluetooth keyboard in my purse. Weather delays handed me two hours in baggage claim, and I got my 1,000 words in! Yes!
At midnight on March 2, Project Write My Ass Off ended. Calling the experiment a success is an understatement. Just as Rao discussed in his article, momentum kicked in around the second week and never waned. Ideas flowed… creativity gushed… writing surged. In those 30 days, I:
• Wrote 15 blog articles.
• Wrote four chapters for my WIP.
• Wrote two conference workshops.
• Write three online writing lessons.
• Wrote copy for two websites.
• Started writing a giveaway for one of my websites.
• Learned that a distraction-free desk and Scrivener desktop made writing easier.
• Realized that without days between writing, ideas and content direction remained fresh.
• Discovered that sometimes the work was crap and sometimes it wasn’t.
• Proved that I can reach the South Pole.
Project Write My Ass Off… Take Two is in progress with the same guidelines as before except two: (1) The new timeframe is 60 days. (2) A burning desire to help others discover how to reach their South Poles is now a mission.
Give it a try! You’ve nothing to lose except your creative fire.