When I was in MD a couple of weeks ago, I spent some time with Jo Cose and at one point I was urging him to just sit down and write the book he’s been wanting to write for a number of years. I said, “500 words, just make time for 500 words a day. It’s not much, it might still be hard some days to get 500 words, at most it’s about an hour of time. If you want to do more, do more, but 500 words is very, very doable.”
I don’t know if he took my advice, but I decided to take it myself. So I’ve made a pledge to write at least 500 words a day, every day for the next 50 days. No breaks, no days off. If I want to write more, I do. But I have a minimum goal to reach. And writing for the blog doesn’t count. I’ve chosen to only count creative writing. I started on August 18 and am doing pretty well for three days. To help me keep on track, I’m using the “Seinfeld” calender technique–which was not invented by Seinfeld, but as a meme, it’s been mostly attributed to him:
One night I was in the club where Seinfeld was working, and before he went on stage, I saw my chance. I had to ask Seinfeld if he had any tips for a young comic. What he told me was something that would benefit me a lifetime…
He said the way to be a better comic was to create better jokes and the way to create better jokes was to write every day. But his advice was better than that. He had a gem of a leverage technique he used on himself and you can use it to motivate yourself—even when you don’t feel like it.
He revealed a unique calendar system he uses to pressure himself to write. Here’s how it works.
He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker.
He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”
“Don’t break the chain,” he said again for emphasis.[From Motivation: Jerry Seinfeld’s Productivity Secret]
I have had some good success with using this technique in the past and need to use it more often for certain things (like, ahem, working out) because it definitely seems to work on my psychology. Instead of printing out a calender, however, I decided to make my own using Numbers and filling in the sections instead of using and “X:”
I’m also keeping track of how much I do actually write each day, but with the clear understanding that anything over 500 words is great but not necessary.
This ties in with another friend’s recent blog post:
“Fake it till you make it”[From Pensives & Ruminations]
“Become the change you want to be”
“Just do it”
Dopamine production is kicked off by sex and drugs and rock & roll. Or any other exciting activity.
I am sure there are dozens of similar cliches, but what clicked in my head after reading that article is your lifestyle becomes reinforcing on a neurological, chemical level.
So, if you want to get in shape, force yourself to do it for a while. Your brain will become addicted to running/swimming/biking.
If you want to be a painter, keep painting, etc.
So yeah, if I want to be a writer, I write. Daily, habitually.
Although I’m not sure if I get the same kind of dopamine rush from writing 500 words that I might from sex, drugs, or rock & roll, I do think it has already begun to make me feel a bit better. More . . . well, more myself. Rewiring your brain isn’t easy, but it’s also not complex: you simply have to cut some new grooves by leading with your body and actions. The brain will, rather quickly, catch up and settle into new habits and new patterns. It’s getting the needle out of the first deep groove that’s the hardest part of the process.