Losing my writing streak

I lost my streak. After 83 straight days of writing, I couldn’t find the time on Saturday 20 April.

The fact that it’s taken me nearly two months to write a piece reflecting on that speaks volumes. After losing my streak, I couldn’t carry on with the habit. Since that day, I’ve tried on several occasions to get back on the horse. Feeble attempts, really. They were all forced, in that they were the results of nagging thoughts that I felt like I had to put in writing.

By now, I know enough about myself to acknowledge that it is not the way to (re) launch a habit. I need a firm structure, a clear plan and defined measures for tracking progress. Without all of those in place, I know that I will never establish a new habit, and whatever comes with it.

There was a lot going on in the weeks leading up to the day I lost my streak. Preparing for and interviewing for new roles, a kid starting a new organised activity (with me volunteering as a coach), catching up with friends and staying out late. (Well, later than usual!) Things that made it hard to prioritise getting up at 5AM. If the last few years taught me one thing, it’s that skimping on sleep is the most reliable shortcut to getting sick. I didn’t want that. So I slept in.

For a while I was able to juggle it all and keep the streak going, despite how much more challenging it is for me to find the energy to write in the evenings. One day I couldn’t. It wasn’t even a conscious decision. It was just a day so far removed from my regular routine that, as the habit had been quietly slipping away from me, I didn’t even stop to think about writing. Not once during that entire day.

Making a habit out of writing daily and then abruptly dropping it has taught me some things.

1. Daily writing is good for my health

When I write every day, my mind feels cleaner, crisper, clearer. In the time that’s passed since I stopped writing every day, I’ve experienced more inexplicable down days. Days where I feel like there’s a cloud hanging over me, most of the time for no particular reason at all.

I can’t tell you exactly why writing every day helps with this. Most days I didn’t write about big or important things. I think it’s just clearing the space for reflection.

2. I can be a writer

To be a writer, you just have to write. Conversely, to be a writer, you actually have to write. The first is framing is a cliché. The second, my reality for a long time. But these days of writing every day were enough to prove to myself that I can be a writer.

Heck, there were moments during those 83 days where I actually felt like a writer. So now I know that I can be a writer. I just have to write.

3. I want to be a writer

I really enjoyed being a guy who writes. In addition to point one, regularly putting words to the page felt good. It was an act of creation, and even if there were no particular outcomes of note, creating something from nothing is its own reward. The process was enjoyable. I want to continue with this creative outlet in my life.

I want to be a writer.

4. I need structure, a plan, tracking… and slack

I can never relearn this lesson too many times. If I want to do something, I need to be structured in my approach. Motivation is fickle for me, it comes and goes from one moment to the next. But I know how to be structured. I’m a god damned fiend for making plans, and for seeing them through.

But one thing I forgot this time around was leeway. For resilience you a plan needs slack. I need room for taking a loss without it meaning total annihilation. Doing something every day forever is not a good plan. I need to build in breaks and breathing points to make it sustainable. It’s just how I work.

9500 days out of 10,000 is better than 83 out of 83.

And that’s it.

Now I just have to put my talent to use. Make a plan that keeps me going and is sustainable for years and years. I’ll let you know how it goes.


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2 responses to “Losing my writing streak”

  1. @blog I really think slack is essential for long term success. If you just broke a 83 day streak, it is too demotivating to start over at 1. I've been thinking about some way to limit the downside of missing a day without completely dropping the idea of a streak. For example to have a rolling window so you eventually can "forget" the missed day, or to reduce the streak by one for each missed day instead of resetting to zero.

    1. Yes, that’s exactly it!

      I learned this lesson when I pursued running. I score too highly on “neuroticism” to approach anything with the notion that I can be “perfect”, so when trying to become a marathoner I even took forced rest days as a way to combat this tendency.

      The result was that I was always evaluating and trying to improve a body of work over a certain period of time. Either a week, or if that became disrupted due to illness or something else, I would look at the month, or even year as something on which I could and should continue to build on.

      I need to construct a system that applies the same principles for my writing.

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