More than a few years ago, I went along to a seminar called “Renovate your life”, which was mostly about health and fitness. I didn’t magically want to go live at the gym! But I came away with a great strategy that I have found works. It was the 28 day challenge (thanks, Craig Harper).
Craig said choose one thing and commit to doing it for 28 days. Have an accountability partner, and every day when you have done your “thing”, email or text your partner and say “Done”. When your 28 days are up, if it worked for you, commit to another 28, and then another 28. That’s 84 days of doing your one thing, and you will have created a habit.
I chose walking. Every day I walked for a minimum of 20 minutes. After 84 days, it was most definitely a habit. In fact, I still walk every day (usually now for at least 30 minutes) and if I don’t, I get twitchy. Occasionally I’m out there walking at 8pm – in the rain.
What does this have to do with writing? Well, it didn’t take too long before I realized this could just as easily apply to writing. I’m great at procrastination. I have medals for it. But I have a long-time writer friend who lives half the world away from me and we set up our 28-day challenge via email. Each day, we committed to write for 30 minutes, and then check in.
Five years later, we still do this, although the challenge “thing” has changed over time.
Fast forward to a Hamline winter residency, sitting around one night with a bunch of fellow students, and I happened to mention this 30 minutes challenge idea. In no time, I had six people who wanted to try it. We set up an email group and, since I was 15-17 hours ahead of everyone else, time-zone-wise, I usually emailed “Done” first. Not everyone lasted the 84 days, because life happens even when you’re doing a challenge, but we all did lots of writing. That’s the benefit.
Right now, I’m in the middle of a 30-minutes-a-day challenge with some of my writing group. You might not think 30 minutes of writing a day is nearly enough, but it is, trust me! It keeps the novel in your head, it keeps ideas bubbling, and when you have 30 minutes you can just sit down and write. This is Day 66 and so far I have added 25,000 words to the first draft of my current novel. Some days I do more than 30 minutes, but if I stick to the minimum, I know it will work over the long term.
I’m about to teach the first class in a course called “Write a Novel in a Year”. Guess what my students are going to be doing?
Sherryl Clark is a July 2013 graduate of the MFAC program. She lives in Melbourne, Australia. To find out more about Sherryl and her writing, visit her website.