One Week of Earnest Effort


We now know how addictions come about. Now comes the really important part: How to apply that knowledge.

Well, I already gave away the secret in one word: Conditioning. This is the process by which you internalize and normalize an activity through repetition. It can, but doesn’t have to, rely on some sort of trigger.

And by trigger I mean a stimulus that brings on an automatic response.

I mentioned briefly the idea of instating some kind of ritual you can use in your routine to get you ready for the day’s work. In fact, I’m listening to the song I mentioned in that post right now. Before I started listening to music to get me in the writing mood, I used to play a game of Hearthstone. It was actually surprisingly effective, especially if I won that one match. If I lost it was hard not to try again…

But to build up this kind of conditioning, you’re going to have to bite the bullet for a time. Whatever new habit you’re trying to add to your life (even if it’s a daily writing habit) you need to make yourself do it at first.

It doesn’t matter if you incorporate a ritual or not. The important thing is that you make yourself do the activity. Make yourself sit at the desk and type up some words. Every day. For a week.

See how you feel after that week. Chances are, you’re likely to feel pretty good about your progress. You’ve put in a lot of work and you have a lot to show for it. Maybe you wrote for a half hour each day and you have 7,000 new words to show for it. If that’s 7,000 more words than you wrote the week before, then you’re already doing great. Hopefully you’ll want to keep up this habit, now, to keep the momentum going.

The honest truth is that these things are incredibly hard at first. You will have to make yourself do it. I can’t stress that point enough. As much as you might “like writing,” you have to admit that it’s still work. It’s not easy to make stuff up.

If you need a little nudge, here’s something that’s worked for me in the past: The Write Chain Challenge. I’ve written on it before, but I’ll share again what it is here.

Basically, the Write Chain Challenge is a Twitter-powered accountability tool to get you writing (and keep you writing). You’ll end up on their leaderboard with your number of “links” and get to see how you stack with others. The system is tiered, so it gives you the incentive to try to reach that next level of prestige.

Here’s my entry as a Write Chain Champion (though this is a bit outdated since I quit the challenge a loooong time ago):

This is one of the great things about the online writing community. Everyone has each other’s backs. There are any number of programs out there for writers who just need a little bit of inspiration or motivation.

Plus, you’ll know you’ve finished your one week of earnest effort when you graduate from Write Chain Apprentice to Write Chain Journeyman. Three more weeks of that and you’ll be a Master.

This is the kind of incentive I love, and I think it’s mostly because of my nature as a gamer, always looking to reach the next level.

As time goes on—maybe after a week but more likely a bit longer than that, and possibly with a false start or two—you’ll no longer have to make yourself write. You’ll make time to write, you’ll excuse yourself so you can go write. It will become a compulsion, it will be a part of your daily routine. Eventually people will learn that when you say, “I have to write,” you aren’t just making up excuses. They will give you the room you need.

(Okay, admittedly, some people are less understanding. Sometimes you have to let people know that you need time and that, no, it can’t wait. Especially if you’re pressed for time and you’re using the one chunk of space you have available to you for writing and you’ve been looking forward to it all day. It happens.)

Is this the same as an addiction? Well, no, not exactly. But it is a form of conditioning, one which can make writing (or your other new habits) part of your day. When you’re lying in bed at night and realize you haven’t written and you can’t sleep until you’ve gotten some words out of your system, then you’ll know you’ve reached the level of conditioning you need to reach to make this habit real.


About David Shank

David T. Shank is a writer, runner, and musician, in that order. His blog is hopefully an oasis among the vast ocean of negativity that is the Internet. He lives in Cleveland studying how to write good.

Got something to say? Say it!