ROW80

Don’t Break The Chain by John Holton

It’s the beginning of 2015 as I write this, and the various how-to sites are full of productivity “hacks” (i.e. hints or tips… why they don’t call them that, I have no idea why), about increasing your output and establishing new habits. One that comes up all the time is the “Seinfeld method,” the way Jerry Seinfeld established himself as a great comic.

When he was starting in the comedy business, Jerry figured out he had to write every day if he was going to make it. He bought a year-at-a-glance calendar and a red Magic Marker, hung the calendar on his wall, and, each day when he had finished, crossed out the date on the calendar with the marker. After a while, realizing how much fun it was to see his calendar gradually fill up with red X’s, he made it his goal not to have any dates that were not crossed off. He called it “Keep The Chain Going.”

I realized he was right, and that I had experienced it myself. I started on 750Words.com back in February 2012, and committed to completing the 750 words each day. The site told me after three days “You’re on a 3 day streak!” Then it was 4 days, then a few days later 7 days, then 30, 60, 90… Soon I was doing the 750 words just to see the number go up by one every day. Then, for some reason I can’t remember, after I had reached a streak of 403, I broke the chain. I felt terrible; I had broken the chain. I managed to get myself back on track, and, after a couple of false starts, I’m now (as of this writing) at 54 days in a row. I don’t want to let that chain get broken. And there have been times I’ve sat down at the computer at 11:30 at night (2330, if you keep time the way I do) and finished just before midnight. And, as tempting as it is to generate 750 words of “Lorem ipsum aliquat” etc., I’ve never had to rely on that to keep the chain going.

It’s been the same with my blogging. Last July, I challenged myself to blog at least once a day, every day, Monday to Sunday, for as long as I could. July 1 was the start of the Ultimate Blog Challenge (where you post daily for the month) and just kept going. Today, the chain stands at six months, eight days. I go to my web page and look in the upper left-hand corner at the calendar there, with all of its days marked off, and I don’t want to break that chain, either.

“Keep the chain going” is a technique that works for me, and for Jerry Seinfeld, and for others who have used it to establish a habit. Seeing the chain forming and keeping it going is a powerful incentive.

So, if you’ve been having trouble keeping a habit going, why not give it a try? Print a calendar (here’s a good source), use one of those calendars you get for free at church (it’s the beginning of the year, after all), or use this. Write your goal at the top of the page and hang it where you can see it. Every day you complete your daily goal, cross off the date on the calendar. Soon, if you’re faithful to the process, you’ll see a chain forming. Then, don’t break the chain.

All right? All right! Straight ahead!

~*~

John Holton

Sunday #ROW80 Check-In

Today is my birthday.  In a perfect world, I’d have the WHOOOOOOLE day to myself to write but…we don’t live in a perfect world (social obligations and all that).  So I’m scraping together time around various and sundry birthday festivities (we’re going to see The Kingsmen).  I’m determined to FIND MY GROOVE AGAIN!

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What Makes Us Tick? And Why Does It Matter? by Shan Jeniah Burton

It seems like a simple enough question, doesn’t it? Maybe even a little pointless?   

Or maybe not. 

ROW80 is, after all, the writing challenge that knows you have a life. And the thing about lives is that no two look just the same. That’s exactly what makes the act of setting personalized goals so empowering. Each of us can decide what we want to accomplish, based on our own vision, our own reality, and our own nature. We can have one goal, or many. We can have goals that, on the surface, have nothing to do with writing. Our goals can be short term, or take an extraordinarily long view, or anywhere in between.

It’s all up to us – each of us. Every time we check in, we have the chance to evaluate those goals, and to decide if they still work for us, if they fit with our vision, our reality, and our nature.

And that’s why knowing how we tick matters.

Take me, for instance. I’ve got a wide-angle mind; I do better with a sweeping variety of projects I can flit between. I’m OK with things taking longer than they would if I did doing one thing at a time. Every thing I’m engaged with feeds others in a symbiotic relationship, forming new connections encouraging plot tribbles and new projects. 

That might be torture to those of you who have laser-focus minds, or just like a more minimalistic, tidy approach that allows you to see big gains, fairly quickly, in return for your effort.

Lots of projects keep me energized, like carrots that luring me to say, “Good enough; let’s get on with other things now,” rather than, “It’ll never ever be good enough, so why do I even bother?”

That’s just part of the way I tick.

Like many of you, I’m a parent, in addition to being a writer. That, of course, puts wrinkles in my plans and my life that wouldn’t be there if I didn’t live with children. Having a spouse and a house adds others, and so do the companion animals who share our lives.

We homeschool, so while we aren’t tied to school schedules, I have paperwork to contend with several times a year. I spend most of my waking hours in close proximity to my kids. I might need to interrupt my writing anytime, because I’m their mom, and that’s part of my job.

For me, with this parenting and educational reality, my many diverse goals mean that there’s always something I can be doing to move me closer to my long-range vision. Shorter, easily stopped, less focus-intensive projects when the kids might need me, or I’ve got things to do or places to go, and longer, more challenging goals for when they’re doing their own thing, and I’m free to devote a stretch of time to my own.

For those who aren’t parents with children at home, or who have older or younger kids, or who pursue other educational paths, there might be a definite schedule that brackets when you can write, and what type of writing projects you can manage. One thing at a time might work best, in those situations, or just a few things that can be cleared from the to-do list fairly quickly.

With many goals, I can adapt to the changeable and free-flowing nature of my life. I need that, to keep ticking along.

Many of my fellow ROWers combine work and writing. I can decide when to write, and for how long, and I don’t have a schedule as much as I do a certain rhythm to my days. When they were little, writing was hit-or-miss, and it may be again, when we enter the ‘old enough to have a job, but not old enough to get a license phase’ next year. 

I’ll need to adapt, then – and that’s part of keeping my writing ticking along, too – the knowledge that life is change.

Each of our lives has a list of particulars far more complex than I’ve touched upon here. No one else can tell you what will make you more or less likely to achieve your goals, or what goals will suit you best, or even how to define whether you’ve succeeded at them. All of these things will depend on your unique situation. If what you’re trying to achieve, and the way you choose to pursue it, matches the way you tick, you’ll be free to focus on your goals, rather than struggling to fight your life or your nature.

So, what makes you tick? How do you like to write, and how does that fit with the rest of your life? How does your mind approach goals and challenges? Learning in general? If you haven’t given it much thought, adding that to your goals might do wonders for your progress, this round and beyond.

~*~

Shan Jeniah Burton

Do It Now by Elizabeth Mitchell

If you want different results, you have to put something different into the mix. If you keep putting the same ingredients in the cake, it will always turn out the same.  Pretty basic knowledge in baking, but still hard for me to put into my life. Many times, I have told myself, “I don’t like/want this [fill in the blank].” Sometime over the past several years, part of my brain has responded, “So change it.”  Now, with my “decade” birthday this spring bringing the dawning realization of my mortality, my brain responds: “So change it NOW.”

 

I would therefore like to add “Change it now” to Kait’s challenge in this first Round of 2015 to try something new and shake things up.  Shake off the comfort of the familiar. Let me assure you, I love my comfort zone.  It has no sharp edges to poke me, but it also does not challenge me, or anyone else.  Full of words I could write in my sleep, it has no bite, no truth.  Honestly, I’m scared silly of the truth, but it is all I have to offer.

 

I have often proclaimed my inability to write fiction. When I force myself to look at it honestly, my protest is a safe way to avoid the challenge and hard work involved in writing good fiction. Am I comfortable writing fiction?  No, not at all.  Three years ago, I shelved a story that occurred in a dream, because not only was it fiction, it was horror, which in all truth, I have no idea how to write. But should I shelve it out of cowardice?  The more I dig, I find there are more stories I want to tell, and each one frightens me more. But I’m going to try.

 

And I’m going to try now.  I hide behind the full-time day job and other responsibilities, saying that I will write when I’m retired.  I have told myself that I cannot write enough with these other responsibilities, but I wrote two academic articles totaling over 12,000 words in less than a year, so that inner conversation is patently untrue. While I will certainly have more free time after retirement, why am I waiting? Might it be cowardice? (The answer is an unequivocal “yes,” in case you are wondering).
My challenge to shake it up now is not just for us few neophytes in this group, but for all of us. Kait’s point that the same process doesn’t always work with a different book is surprisingly freeing for me.  Authors with several books behind them still have to leave their comfort zone and find something new that works. So I challenge those of you comfortable with this business of writing to shake things up and find a new approach. Those of you contemplating something very different–a new genre, non-fiction, or fiction–go for it.  So will you join me in my leap into the unknown?  Let’s do it now.

 ~*~

Elizabeth Mitchell