I have at least one or two nights a week where my mind just keeps racing and it’s almost impossible to fall asleep until hour gets truly ungodly. I feel the need to write something, even if it’s only a blog post.
Over the past month, I’ve decided to try a very interesting writing experiment, after reading a book by Cal Ripken Jr., a baseball player who holds the record for most consecutive games played. As unbelievable as it sounds, that number is 2,632 games of baseball. Consecutively. Without missing a single game.
The message that stuck with me in that book is simple and to the point: Show up. Every day. No excuses. Do it with a freakish, zealous consistency that would give most people in our commitment-phobic society an aneurysm.
That’s where the idea of my experiment started. If Cal could defend his streak so assiduously, so conscientiously, then what was stopping me from doing the same?
Obviously I wasn’t going to play MLB, but why not writing? That’s where the idea started.
My wife bought a mini chalkboard that’s meant to sit on a table or counter, probably as a way of displaying a daily menu or something to that effect. Well, it wasn’t getting much use, so I re-purposed it and put it on my desk next to my computer monitor.
Three simple words on it that have been far more motivating for my writing than anything I’ve ever written in my life:
Writing Streak: Day X.
Right now, that X is 33. If I miss a day of writing, that number has to go back to 0.
Since I started this experiment, I haven’t missed a single day of writing. I haven’t had a weekend or break of any kind.
I suppose I’ve become something of a writing robot.
My smallest output was 500 words. My largest was 8,000. In the past 33 days, I’ve finished the final draft of my final Xenoworld novel, wrote a (not so) short story which I submitted Analog which I fully expect to be rejected, and I’ve finished the first draft, all 76,000 words of it, of the Wasteland prequel I was teasing earlier this year which, until a month ago, I didn’t expect to ever get done.
I don’t want to say it’s only because of the chalkboard and finding some random book by Cal Ripken Jr. in the library, but it’s pretty much only because of the chalkboard and finding that book. I don’t know why, but seeing that number climbing up is a bit scary. I don’t want to lose the streak. The higher the number goes, the bigger the weight of it gets.
It’s already got me planning for the future. I’m going to Disney World for a couple of days this week, so I have to bring my laptop to write in the car while my wife drives. I’m going to have to wake up early in the hotel just to get a couple of hours in. When I fly home for Christmas, I’ll have to bring my laptop as well.
There’s a second aspect to this. I realized about a week into the experiment that it would feel like cheating if I could just add to my streak by writing a measly few sentences. Technically, I would be writing, but not in any meaningful amount. I also didn’t like the idea of having a minimum word count, like 1,000 words, to keep the streak alive. If I did that, it would make it feel like I was just trying to race to that number as quickly as possible.
In short, having a set number just seemed . . . boring. That’s where the dice came in, that little random flair that keep things from getting too stale.
It works like this: I open a notepad, and write the numbers 1-6. Besides each of those numbers will be potential word counts. On a typical day, they’ll be in the range between 1,000-5,000. This will deviate sometimes. If I’m occupied that day, the range will be smaller, say, from 500-2,500.
Then, I roll the die. Whatever number I get, that’s the amount of words I have to write. My writing streak can’t be added to unless I meet that word goal.
Sometimes I get “lucky” and only have to write a thousand words, some days, I have to write 5,000, or in one case, 8,000 words. One time I rolled 6 four days in a row. That resulted in me writing over 20,000 words in four days.
I know this method sounds crazy. I feel a bit crazy for even sharing it. Then again, writers are known for doing weird things to get in the writing mood. I think it was Asimov who liked to write in a tiny closet, which in my opinion is a little stranger than what I’m doing.
As stupid and silly as it sounds, the exercise has really stretched and pushed my abilities as a writer. This is the absolute fastest I’ve ever written a draft for anything. 76,000 words in about three weeks. I might be releasing two new books this year!
Of course, just by revealing this in a blog post, I’m probably going to jinx it. But honestly, I’ve tried all sorts of things to increase my productivity and for some weird reason this is the one that’s sticking. I’m not saying I’ll always do the dice method, but the writing streak part is one I plan to keep doing forever.
In just a little over a month, I’ve been the most productive I’ve ever been in my writing career. Even when considering late 2013/early 2014, which was probably the most productive period of my life. I’m excited to keep the streak going. Just thought I’d share, for whatever reason that compelled me to.