Don’t break the chain!

Confession: I thrive on deadlines. In all the jobs I’ve ever held, I have never missed a single one. My first book owes its very existence to the publisher extending me a contract (with a deadline!) before I’d finished the manuscript.

But without a firm deadline, I flounder. By the time Fractured was published in November 2010, I had started on a couple new projects but wasn’t making much progress. I attempted to flesh one out for NaNoWriMo 2010, but quickly lost steam. In 2011, I was busy with wedding planning, and the most I managed was a short story (and only then because there was a submission deadline!). After the wedding, I took another shot at NaNoWriMo… but this time, I didn’t even last a week, and produced about a tenth of my 2010 effort: less than 2,000 words.

In January, I boldly dragged out my manuscripts from both NaNoWriMo attempts and proclaimed that I would, indeed, become a disciplined daily writer in 2012. That goal went the way of everyone else’s New Year’s resolutions: dead in four days. I continued to attend monthly Torkidlit meetups but was starting to feel like a fraud. To be a writer, you must write, after all.

And then in late February one of my friends posted this article on Facebook: “How Seinfeld’s Productivity Secret Fixed My Procrastination Problem.” The method it describes is not new: it’s called “don’t break the chain,” and it’s very simple:

  1. Print out a blank monthly calendar.
  2. Set a measurable goal.
  3. For each day you achieve your goal, place an X on that day of the calendar.
  4. Don’t break the chain of X’s.

I printed out calendars for March to December, and started on March 1st. My goal is 200 words a day (minimum) or half an hour of revising (though I consider that an “out,” and have only used it once–my priority is finishing the first draft). Here’s my calendar for March:

And here’s the rest of the year: looks a little daunting, but also exciting!

So far, I’ve written over 9,100 words in 26 days (an average of 350/day). Progress is slow but steady, and the word target has had the bonus side effect of shutting up my internal editor so I can focus on getting the first draft done and then going back and rewriting most of it. The biggest benefit, however, has been making writing a daily habit: something I’ve struggled with for far too long. It’s too early to declare success, but at least I feel like I’m finally on the right path.

If you’ve also tried the Don’t Break the Chain method or have your own productivity tip to share, leave a reply below!

"Yes, Sir William, I'm AWARE that this was a long post. No need to rub it in!"

2 Responses to Don’t break the chain!

  1. Pingback: Don’t break the chain: update | Joanna Karaplis

  2. Pingback: There goes my brilliant career idea… | Joanna Karaplis

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