To Write, Repeatedly

Why I’ve failed to write in the past, and what I’m doing differently now

Last year I had a goal to publish 12 blog posts. By the end of 2020, my record stood at zero published and zero attempted.

As a new year begins I can’t help but wonder: Why did I fail in the past, and what must I do differently to succeed this time?

In this post I’ll consider these questions and explore some answers.

A goal without a plan is a wish

Goals are supposed to be specific, measurable, and time-bound. I thought I had covered these requirements by choosing a number, “12,” a deliverable, “blog posts,” and a date, “by the end of the year.”

The problem is that’s where I stopped. I didn’t form a plan that would take me from zero to one, and then from one to two, and so on.

Without specific actions to take, I didn’t have a clear a path forward, so the barrier to entry was too high.

There’s no action without motivation

“Publish 12 blog posts” was a wish rather than a goal. But even as wish, it failed to do its job.

Why the number 12? What would 12 blog posts achieve for me? How would publishing them change my life for the better?

Deep down I knew the goal was arbitrary and didn’t really matter to me when compared with all the other things on my plate. This goal had to compete for my time and attention, and it just didn’t make the cut.

It’s about identity

I realize now what matters to me isn’t the deliverable of 12 blog posts. What I care about is deeper than that. It’s about my identity.

“People like us do stuff like this” is a phrase from Seth Godin that comes to mind.

I want to close the gap between what I expect of myself and what I actually do. Specifically, I want to be someone who writes. Publishing 12 blog posts is merely a side effect.

They say you are what you do repeatedly. So to change my identity I need to change my behavior. My real goal, then, is to form a habit. To write, repeatedly.

A new approach

Now that I know how and why I stumbled last year, here’s what I’m doing differently in 2021:

1. Make the goal about action

Instead of defining my goal as a deliverable, I’ve defined it as an action to take. My revised goal is to write for 1 hour every day about something I can publish.

If I can perform this one action every day, then eventually I’ll have formed a habit that shapes my identity, making me someone who writes.

2. Put time in the calendar and show up

Knowing the action I’m going take, I can be specific about when, how often, and even where I’m going to take that action.

Decisions about duration and frequency show up as a recurring event on my calendar. Every day, at the same time and in the same place, I write.

Blocking time makes it easier to show up and do the work: I know when I have to start and I know when I get to stop.

Showing up is of course critical. I use a few other tricks to keep me on track:

  1. A daily checklist with a counter that tracks consecutive days of writing.
  2. A routine that prepares me to write.
  3. A milestone to reach: publish a blog post by the end of January 2021.

3. Have a repeatable workflow

If 80% of success in life is showing up, that leaves me with the other 20% to consider.

What do I do when I sit down to write each day?

Rather than face a blank page and expect some magic to happen, I now have a set of steps to take and a consistent way of taking those steps.

What I have is a repeatable workflow for writing, and it goes something like this:

  • Keep a list of topics or prompts
  • Capture notes and ideas as I read books and articles
  • Link related notes and ideas by topics
  • Pull together related notes and ideas to form an outline
  • Split screen between my outline and 1st my draft
  • Set a timer and write one section at time
  • Edit, edit, edit
  • Publish

Success is in the practice, not its side effects

I now approach writing as a practice to follow rather than an assignment to complete. The achievement I celebrate is the hour I write each day.

By reframing success in this way, I’m sidestepping my expectations and insecurities about the content itself, and clearing a path forward to do the work.

This blog stands as a proof of concept for this approach, and it’s the first side effect of the writing I do repeatedly.

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