(This post is about twice as long as normal because I just couldn't edit it down anymore without losing content)
For the month of November, I challenged myself to write and post something every day. I honestly didn't know if I could do it, but I was determined to try. Just before midnight on November 30, I crossed the finish line.
I realized this is the third month-long challenge I've given myself in the last year. In December of 2018, I started writing a manuscript for a book I've wanted to write for years on singleness. I sat down one day and said, "I've got to start this. I've been talking and thinking about it for too long." So I just started writing unfiltered thoughts on singleness in the Church. I was blown away when I wrote 4,000 words in one afternoon. I thought, If I could do it one day, then why not every day? So I set a somewhat insane goal to write 40,000 words in three weeks. The last day of the third week I was boarding a plane for the Middle East, and just as the plane was taking off I wrote my 38,000th word - in my mind, a success.
Three or four months later, I was playing around with a guitar riff I had written years ago. I had been brainstorming lyrics and melodies for weeks, and hadn't come up with anything. Suddenly, I had a moment of inspiration and epiphany and everything just flowed (if you're a songwriter, you know all about those rare moments). I wrote the music and lyrics in about an hour and had a finished song I was extremely happy with. I got my recording gear ready and spent the week recording and mixing a finished product. If I could do it one week, then why not every week? I set a personal goal - equally insane as the first one - of finishing a four-song EP within a month, which meant writing and recording a new song every week for the next three weeks. I had a lot of free time in my schedule at the time, but still it was admittedly bonkers to even attempt it. Yet somehow, on the very last day, I finished mixing the final track with almost no time to spare.
I've learned something about myself: these challenges seem to work really well for me, and I've spent the last couple weeks thinking about why. The following is a list of things I have discovered. They fit my personality type well. My guess is that they will also be true for many others, especially creative types, but I'm not trying to write a self-help guide here, just a documentary of sorts.
When I take the first small step, I've jumped one of the biggest hurdles. This one is so cliché it almost doesn't need any elaboration. Dave Matthews was onto something when he wrote, "To change the world, start with one step. And however small, the first step is hardest of all." I don't know if it's the hardest of all - for example, the last week of blog posting was by far the most challenging - but it is extremely difficult to get momentum going! I love to write prose, poetry, and songs, but I mostly just think about writing and rarely get words on paper that I'm happy with. Recording and mixing music is one of the most addictive things in the world once you get started, but it takes a lot for me to get up the willpower and energy to start. But in my case, I've noticed something about this first step: it has to be big.
When I start big, I know I can do it. The common denominator in all three of my successes was a successful big start. When I first started this blog, I posted a number of old poems I had written to start filling up the feed, plus two I had written in the week before that. The growing list of posts so early on was inspiring to me. When I started writing the book, I chose to start writing from the things I knew best, so 4,000 words flowed from my fingertips like lightning. The thing that made me commit to the EP was writing a whole song in a day and getting it recorded quickly and efficiently. A big start means I know I have it in me! The question, I guess, is what do you do when you don't have that moment of inspiration to have a big start? You can't conjure those moments up, and sometimes we spend months or even years waiting for them. I don't actually have an answer to this question, but I've learned that, when they come, I really need to capitalize on the momentum generated by the big moments!
When I feel accountable, I keep going. Accountability doesn't have to come directly from people checking in with you. When I started the blog, a big part of my accountability was the fact that I put the investment in to secure the domain name and site hosting, and then I told a few people and wrote on the home page about my commitment. I felt accountable to myself, to make my purchase worth it, and to others (even if they didn't remember or care) that I had to follow through on my word. With the book, it was the same thing. I told a few friends how excited I was and shared access and comments privilege to the document with a few people. They knew I had committed to writing 40,000 words by January. And with the album, I shared the original recordings of the first couple songs with people and told them what I was doing. Both times, I felt like I had no choice but to follow through because in some way I felt it was tied to my integrity. (I realize that if taken too far, this could become a seriously unhealthy way of thinking, but I think in moderation it is a great motivator.)
When I remove self-criticism, I feel free to write. The hardest lesson for me to learn was that it's far better to start writing freely and unfiltered rather than trying to craft every sentence into a masterpiece. This is funny because I'm really an external processor, and writing is just like external processing with yourself. But somehow, putting those words down feels more permanent than talking, even though in reality it's not at all permanent. The best things are not written, they are edited and rewritten. This is why I draft all my songs and poems on scrap pieces of old paper - somehow, a clean blank page intimidates me, but the margins and back of a coffee-stained and crumpled piece of junk mail sitting on my counter doesn't.
When I set a specific and regular goal, I do it. I've really learned that it's crucial for me to set a very specific and regular goal. Write a blog post every day. Write at least a thousand words every day. Write and record a song a week. Specific and consistent daily/weekly goals, even for a mid-term or long-term project, are essential for me, or I just keep procrastinating. I've tried "big picture" goals before, and they are awesome, but they simply aren't enough for me to really get the job done.
There you have it. There's not much more to say. I usually try to keep my posts to 500-700 words max, because using less words to communicate content has been an enriching discipline for this overly verbose writer. The 1200ish words here is about as short as I could make it, so if you're still with me, thanks for reading, and check out some of the stuff I wrote in November. There are some real gems (and a few that might be better printed and used as toilet paper) - but I had a lot of fun writing all of them.