194 gold stars – a year of writing regularly

Tracking star

Research has shown it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. Bec Evans urges writers to not get disheartened but instead focus on writing regularly. A small amount soon mounts up as she found out by tracking her progress on Write Track.

Too busy to write?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a spare 10,000 hours in my life to become an expert writer. It takes a long time to write a novel – even longer to write and edit a good one. It’s enough to make you give up on the whole idea.

My excuse for not writing was that I was too busy. And I seem to get busier each year, with last year being particularly frantic. Despite all of my busyness I made more progress on my writing than I had for years. Rather than focussing on achieving big goals, I aimed to do a little bit of writing each day.

Give yourself a gold star

Research into building habits shows that the best way to make progress – whether on writing, sport or musical instruments – is to do a little each day.

In his book Show Your Work! Austin Kleon urges everyone who wants to build a body of work to “forget about decades, forget about years, and forget about months. Focus on days.”

“Focus on days.” – Austin Kleon

So, every day that I write I give myself a gold star. I do this by tracking on Write Track.

Track my writing

After a week I get a few spots of gold; after a month there’s a scattering. After a year it’s a veritable pot of gold.

a year of writing

Celebrate, review, improve

I must admit I’m frankly chuffed to bits with my 194 pieces of gold. Look how amazing July and August were – I was on a roll. I achieved a whole bunch of goals last year including writing three articles for publication, a short story, five guest blogs, over 40 blogs for my own website, and writing the first draft of a novel. A whole novel!

But when I review it honestly I can see room for improvement. The last few months have been shocking. Did I really only write for three days in December? I can’t have drunk that much mulled wine!

“The record of that idleness has been there, staring me in the face.” – Anthony Trollope

Anthony Trollope, arguably one of the most productive writers of all time, reviewed his writing practice harshly. In his autobiography he explained his process for tracking his writing. For each book that he wrote he prepared a diary, in which he logged the number of pages he completed each day: “so that if at any time I have slipped into idleness for a day or two, the record of that idleness has been there, staring me in the face, and demanding of me increased labour, so the deficiency might be supplied.”

From gold chains to jewellery boxes

Rather than dwell on my idleness over the past few months (did I say I’m very busy?) I’d prefer to focus on what’s next. Jerry Seinfeld has a good approach, one that he credits for his success as a comedian. He puts a cross on a wall calendar for every day he writes. After a few days there’s a chain of crosses. He said: “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 is to not break the chain.”

My goal for the coming year is to get as many unbroken chains of gold as I can manage, enough to fill a jewellery box.

“Your only job is to not break the chain.” – Jerry Seinfeld

Six tips to build a writing habit

  1. Set yourself a small goal to write for only a few minutes each day.
  2. Attach your writing to something you do each day – for example writing after you’ve eaten lunch.
  3. Increase the length of your writing session but keep it small enough to fit into an average day.
  4. Monitor your writing practice by tracking it in a diary, calendar or online.
  5. Give yourself little rewards to keep motivated, a decent cup of coffee should do the trick.
  6. Don’t beat yourself up when you miss a day, instead focus on writing the next day.

Bec Evans About the author: Co-creator of Prolifiko, Bec has spent a lifetime reading, writing and working with writers. From her first job in a bookshop, to a career in publishing, and several years managing a writers’ centre, she’s obsessed with working out what helps writers write.