Photo from 2012, taken at my favorite table at Les Deux Magots
I am a person who loves lists. When I feel overwhelmed, I write down everything I need to do in 10-15 minute increments. It calms me down. Makes me feel like I am accomplishing something. Makes me feel like I have a plan.
Today, for instance, I wrote that I would work on this post at 8:15. So here it is, 8:15 and I am parked on the couch with my laptop.
I make lists for everything, but my favorite list is the one I devise every year for my birthday. New Year’s Resolutions have never worked for me; monthly resolutions seem short-sighted. But I wanted a way to track what I accomplished in any given year in line with my goals. I have one item for every year of my life. This year, I’m working on my 25 at 25 (I started this several years ago, inspired by this 101 in 1001). Most of the goals are arbitrary, and I usually figure out which during the course of the year (how important is it to me to visit every New York City borough? Do I really need to learn how to make five cocktails?), and if I’m really honest, I usually don’t achieve the majority of them. It feels like failing every March.
I have recurring items on the list; I just keep writing them down until they happen. I read a certain number of recreational books every year; I (try to) write in my journal weekly (I’m lucky if I manage monthly).
This year, I have a new addition as item two: to write 250 words every day. This works out to 1,750 words a week and 91,250 words a year. But the goal is to manage to get 250 words down every single day, no matter what.
It worked really well from March-June. Then I got busy in July, and I got tired in August, and overwhelmed in September. But it seemed fine, because from March to June of this year, I’d written about 50,000 words. I was well on track to my yearly goal.
I’ve always loved to write; like most people, I found publishing and editing by writing. But last year, I felt like I was struggling to get things down. Writing became a slog. I put a post-it up at my desk at work that reads, one word in front of the other. And I thought, if I can do that every day, I could easily write a novel-length project every year.
I chose 250 words because it seemed manageable. That word count is small when I can devote a day to working on a larger writing project (I’m partial to novels), but it’s something I can achieve even when I’m swamped with work. Even on my most blocked days, I can knock out 250 words in 15 minutes.
Somehow, I still fell off the wagon.
This month, I’m recommitting to writing 250 words a day. It doesn’t matter if it’s on this blog (can check that off today!) or in my journal or on one of my other two major writing projects. Writing 250 words a day is about discipline. It’s not really about how quickly I can knock out a project or how many words I can write in a year. It’s not even about writing anything good. It’s about sitting down and doing the work every day. Forming a habit. Making it essential. Making time.
Back in college, I took a creative writing class with Richard Powers. We had a meeting to discuss one of my stories in his office. He knew two major things about me: that I wanted to be a book editor and that I wanted to write novels.
He asked if I had a daily writing routine. I said I didn’t. I was a college student. I wrote when I had the time (which, in retrospect, was often). No, I didn’t write every day, but I could finish a novel project in a year. That seemed good enough.
The conversation nagged at me over the years. To do anything you care about, you need to prioritize, and you need to make it routine. So this year I decided to do just that.
I still don’t have the kind of daily writing routine he was referring to. I don’t write from 5:30-6:30 every morning or from 8-9 every night; I fit in my 250 words whenever I can. But there’s always my 26 at 26 (eek!) next year.
And if you have any tips for habit-forming, please let me know!