My One Writing Rule

The only way you get better at a skill is to recognize your areas of growth, make goals, preferably SMART goals, and keep at it.

I’ve spent the last few weeks observing my habits and noting my various, absurd excuses to get out of chores or anything I didn’t want to do. Now that I’m taking note of how I spend my time, I think I’ve unearthed the secret, my arch nemesis, my biggest shortcoming, and it goes by a most feared name:

Laziness.

This is the kind of existential title I aspire to write.

Someone less lazy could tell you from where this laziness stems. Is it anxiety? Depression? A sense of loss that only comes with a full-time desk job? Perhaps it’s the lack of routine, constant issues of money or faith or unfulfilled pursuits. Valid excuses are stored along with the non-valid ones. But in the blender that is my brain, the miniscule meet the mighty and stop me altogether.

But not all is lost! My Achilles Heel is identified, and at least I know in what shape to construct my armor.

Let’s start with bottom-of-the-barrel writing advice, that you should wait for motivation or inspiration. It starts with the word “wait” which automatically disqualifies it as good advice for achieving a level of mastery in a skill. And then it prioritizes something you cannot control — motivation and inspiration. Motivation is fleeting. You can’t count on motivation to hit you when you need it most. The Snack that Smiles Back challenged me to write and publish an article on Medium by October 8th, and I didn’t get here by succumbing to a wave of inspiration. (Note: I didn’t even make the deadline, so there you go.) Writing is not waiting, it’s work. If “Writing is rewriting” and “Writing is editing” are true, they only make sense if you have something on the page to work.

Here’s the rub, the hard-hitting truth that you don’t want to hear — you need to set a schedule. This fact is by far the most helpful and most productive strategy to becoming a better writer — just set-up a writing ritual and stick to it, establish consistency. The goal here is to condition your mind to write at an expected time each day so that you get used to the routine of writing, particularly if you’re lazy or otherwise have excuses to write at every opportunity.

Set 30 minutes a day to write. If that’s too much, make it 20 minutes, shit, even 10 minutes. Schedule a time that’s so short, you’ll feel bad if you skip it. Set it at a time you know you’ll be free, like right before bed, as soon as you wake up, immediately after work/dinner — whatever gets your body and mind on the same page. Put it on your Google Calendar, set an alarm on your phone, write it on your arm — whatever it takes, make it happen. Take it seriously and treat it like an unbreakable commitment, because that is how you get better.

Of course, the goal is to get you in the zone and to write longer than your set minimum, but when you’re lacking in motivation, writing because you made a commitment to yourself is enough. That is progress. Establishing this habit will make you a better writer, guaranteed.

To kick-off my Conquer 2017 quest, I’m publishing my writing SMART goal publically, for strangers to scrutinize:

I want to increase my volume of writing by publishing one article every two weeks on my blog until the end of 2017, to refine my writing and produce writing samples.

And the next one has to be on time.