It’s that time of year again. Time for resolutions, and for all of the skeptics and killjoys who say that resolutions never work.
They certainly can work, but you need to approach them the right way.
Most people fail at resolutions (at any time of year) for two reasons. The first is that they focus on outcomes (“lose 50 pounds”) rather than behaviors. The second is that they try to put massive changes into place all at once. (“I will work out three hours a day,” even though today I work out 0 minutes a day.)
And if you want to become a better writer, so you can reap all those awesome benefits of being a strategic, authoritative content creator, you’re not going to get there by resolving to “be a better writer” this year. Or by promising yourself you’re going to write for six hours a day, every day.
Here’s a more realistic habit you can develop instead — one that will actually get you where you want to go.
Every day in January, write for 20 minutes.
By every day, I mean every day. Including weekends. Including the Martin Luther King holiday. Including the days that get crazy.
If you’re not in the hospital with two broken arms, write every day. For 20 minutes.
During your 20 minutes, turn off all distractions. Set your phone to Do Not Disturb, or shut off the ringer. Quit your email service. And for heaven’s sake, get rid of all social media. Use a service like Freedom or OmmWriter if you need to.
Some days you might write someplace weird, like in a notebook while you’re waiting for the bus. That’s fine.
Some days you will definitely write embarrassingly awful crap. That’s also fine.
Set a timer for 20 minutes. I like using a meditation timer on my phone (there’s a good free one here) — it’s much less jarring than the usual nasty buzz.
Don’t edit during your writing time. This is for first drafts only.
Only write. Every day. For 31 days in a row.
It doesn’t have to be relevant to your topic. It doesn’t have to be on your “big project,” whatever that may be. It certainly doesn’t have to be good. Just write something.
Every day you write, mark a gigantic X on that day with the colored marker of your preference. Make it satisfying. Use a fat red sharpie or a glitter pen or rainbow colored pencils, whatever turns you on.
Or use whatever’s on your desk right this minute, because procrastinating until you find the perfect pen is against the rules.
What to do if you just aren’t doing it
Assuming you’ve tried the Seinfeld method and that isn’t doing it for you, cut the amount of time down to 15 minutes.
If that doesn’t work, make it 10 minutes. Or two minutes.
If you can’t write for two minutes a day, write one word a day. One word. Sit down and make it happen. Then after a few days of that, try writing one sentence.
Write your one sentence every day for 31 days in a row. If you don’t get started until January 17, that’s fine. Just start.
“But I can’t get my (book, report, manifesto) written in one sentence a day”
If you’re writing zero sentences a day, one sentence is a big improvement.
And daily habits are a funny thing. When you get into the habit of sitting at your writing technology of choice (laptop, iPad, Moleskine and fountain pen, etc.), and clearing away distractions, you’ll start writing.
Once you develop the habit of writing every day, you can bump the time up just a little bit — maybe two sessions of 20 minutes, with a 10-minute break in between. Then two sessions of 25 minutes.
You get the idea. Use your timer. Nudge yourself forward.
If the habit starts to slip, go back to what you can do reliably every single day.
If it is important, do it every day, if it isn’t, don’t do it at all. ~ Olympic wrestling gold medalist Dan Gable, and frequently quoted by master strength coach Dan John
To become a better writer (whether it’s for text, podcast scripts, video scripts, or anything else that needs words to be strung together effectively), you need to write.
And the best way to write more is to build the habit of writing every day.
Give it a try for 31 days, and let us know how it’s going! And if you’ve ever tried a daily writing practice, we’d love to hear about it in the comments.