Don’t Break the Chain

February 16, 2011

In early January, I read an inspiring article in an e-mail newsletter published by The Writer’s Store, which introduced Jerry Seinfeld’s “Don’t Break the Chain” writing productivity tip.  Applying Seinfeld’s technique, I’ve successfully achieved a goal of daily creative writing since I started applying the technique January 10.

Deceptively simple, really

Basically, to make sure that Seinfeld kept himself progressing creatively, he hung a a large year-at-a-glance type of calendar on the wall.  Each day, he permitted himself to put a big fat red X on the calendar for that day if, and only if, he wrote new material.

That’s it.  X

But here’s the beauty of it; one red X is no big deal, but when you start creating an unbroken “chain” of red X’s, then ya’ got something.  You’ve got a chain that represents something: the real work of a repeated endeavor.  And it’s on your wall, so you see it every day, getting longer and longer.  XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

And the more impressive it gets, the more you don’t want to let it break!

Next thing you know, you’ve got yourself a daily habit.  At least that’s how it’s worked for me, I’m happy to report.

But with a couple of changes

Along with the article, The Writer’s Store provided a link to a free printable 365 day calendar.  Nice of them.  And, of course, it drives traffic to their site.  So, everybody’s a winner, I guess.

Except that I didn’t care for the freebie, which looks like this:

I don’t like it because it doesn’t tell you what day of the year each box represents.  To  my brain, that’s a major flaw in the tool, because I would forget if I marked the X for today, and I’d be able to justify the act of sneaking in an X onto a square because the square isn’t committed to a certain date, you see?

So I made my own version, which works much better for me.  If you think theirs is better, knock yourself out; it’s free.  Here’s where you can get it.  But if you think my style of calendar works better for you, have at it.  Click here to get the PowerPoint document.  As you can see, mine shows the full year, but also commits each box to a specific date:

You can either print it out (and then post it prominently near your PC to physically mark the daily X you earn with a marker) or you can do the marking on your PC; you’ll note that the document includes some progress “lines” that you can personalize and stretch out to cover each new day:

progress-bar-egOne procedural thing I changed: The Seinfeld article is geared to writers in general.  As such, its perspective is that you can write anything to get a red X on the calendar—blogs, scripts, articles, a memoir, whatever.  As they put it, “It can be anything, as long as you’re actively and routinely pushing yourself.”

I agree with the actively pushing yourself part, but my interest is to be successful as a creative writer—as a screenwriter or novelist.  I already write daily for my WriteWorks clients: web copy, e-mail articles, corporate blogs, and such.  So, for me, getting a red X would be a silly cheat.  Thus, I only allow myself to put an X on the calendar if I do creative writing.  I set the bar low in that I need only spend five minutes to get my red X.

But, as you know if you’re a writer, getting the fingers typing is often the hardest part;  once you’ve got the keyboard clicking, it’s easy to keep going.  That often happens for me; one paragraph turns into two or four or eight.

And it really, really works!

So far, I’ve earned my X every single day but one—January 19.  And that one missed day was/is painful.  Ugly!  Not sure what happened; I guess it just wasn’t a habit yet and I awoke the next day to the terrible realization that I didn’t earn my X.  But that one ugly blank spot spurred me on to never let it happen again.  And it hasn’t, as you can see: