Repetition of the same thought or physical action develops into a habit which, repeated frequently enough, becomes an automatic reflex. – Norman Vincent Peale
I don’t know about you, but creating a consistent writing habit has never come easy for me. So far, in my first 27 years of life, I’ve dragged my way through, and the results haven’t been as promising as I’d hoped.
The resistance I face sitting down at the desk and starring a blank page waiting for the enthusiasm to come is close to unbearable. I’ll do my best to avoid that situation… there’s some washing that needs to be put out, food to be eaten, or what about that email that needs replying to, or to be frank, any one of 100 reasons I will make up in my mind not to write. It’s a killer.
If there’s one thing I’ve discovered, it’s that self-discipline isn’t a linear process, either. For example, I’m a disciplined man when it comes to doing something like exercise. Ever since a kid I’ve found it easy to get out in the morning, put on my running stuff, and off I go for a run. But writing is a different ball game.
Last month, on August 9th, I decided that the story I’d been telling myself about writing for the last 10 years was not serving me and it was time for a change.
For the past couple of months, my good friend Dino has been sending me his daily writings on Facebook. His process was pretty simple. Sit down every day, pick a theme and brain dump his thoughts about it. No editing allowed, just follow the flow of thoughts that emerged in the moment, write them down, and then get on with the day!
I liked the idea so I decided to give it a shot, committing to 500 words a day on a theme of my choice for 30 days.
For some reason, I’d always thought that writing 500 words was difficult. But actually I’d never tried consistently, so really it was just an assumption.
I can now tell you, with confidence, that writing 500 words is actually pretty simple – it only took about 15 minutes of my day. In addition, add in to the mix writing about a topic of my choice, and not needing to think about editing the awful words, made the process even simpler. So with all this in mind, how could I possibly say no to a measly 30 days of 500 words?
I couldn’t. And each and every day for the next 30 days, I turned up and I wrote 500 words every single day. But not only that, on many of those days, perhaps 80% of them, I ended up writing 1000+ words.
By the end of the month, September 8th, I’d written 55,600 words. Over the 30 days, 500 words equates approximately 15,000 words in total, so I’d written about 3.6x my initial target. Granted, the words weren’t perfect, but as I knew fine well, the consistency, delight and discipline gained from turning up every day was invaluable.
Just like exercise, cooking and reading, I’ve now managed to convince myself that writing is a non-negotiable. It’s early days, and sure, the habit is still forming, but I feel confident to say that I’m going to commit to writing at least 500 words every single day for until the end of the year.
There are a few realisations that accompany my belief that I can achieve this with close to 100% certainty:
1 – Make it so small you can’t say no – I think this is why I wrote so much more than 500 words over the 30 days. I realised that most of my resistance towards writing came at the start of the process when considering the enormity of the task at hand. I would previously set myself lofty goals like write a chapter of a book within a week, and I’d never do it. But when I simplified the process down to writing “just 500 words” per day, I actually ended up achieving more than I ever would’ve with the goal of writing 1 chapter in a week. Not to mention, the increased confirmation and positive feedback I gained from making this a daily habit.
The point: start so small with a new habit that makes it difficult to say no.
2 – Goals vs. Rituals: A goal will take you to a temporary finish line, but then what? A new goal? What about when you run out of ideas for goals?
What about a daily ritual instead? Our lives are dictated by our habits. Like exercise and reading, I consider writing a daily practice and priority. By creating a daily ritual around writing, regardless of my environment (where I’m at, what I’m doing, how I’m feeling), I can be sure that I will turn up and do it.
The Point: Rituals and healthy habits will take you much further in life than ambiguous goals.
August was the most prolific writing period of my entire life. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, I am very happy with how the month went. It was less about the quality of my writing, and more about creating a habit, discipline and consistency around the practice of writing, eliminating all those unproductive thoughts and ideas about writing that were holding me back from the craft. Over time, I will focus on the quality of my words, once I’ve solidified the daily habit of writing.
In conclusion, the self-doubt that those thoughts created each and every time I sat down at my desk were destructive. But now I have my own experiences to prove that if I am self-aware of my thoughts, and understand that they are simply just that… thoughts… then I can push through to find that writing is nothing more than the simple act of self-discipline and commitment to doing by putting pen to paper.
On we go.
Thanks for reading,
Daniel Beaumont, Sunday 9th September 2018.
About the Author
Hello everyone, I’m Dan – a 28-year-old social entrepreneur and writer from the north of England, living in Bucharest, Romania. I’m currently writing my first book about my 4-year journey around the world seeking wisdom and life-lessons from everyday people I met hitchhiking and Couchsurfing.
I discovered that travel, if approached with the right mindset, can be life-changing, and a trip combining travel, purpose and introspection is a great way to learn, challenge oneself and change for the better. Now my mission in life is to share what I’ve learned to inspire others to embark on their own journey of self-discovery and use travel, entrepreneurship and technology as a means to make the world a better place.
I’m also the founder of Podstel – a vision to help humanity belong and grow by creating a worldwide network of ‘homes’ that bring locals and travellers together to share their stories, passions and skills. The first two Podstels are open and thriving in Bucharest, so if you’re passing through, be sure to come and say hi, or stay the night with us.
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