3 Limits and Targets to Write Daily, Minimize Self-Criticism, and Overcome the Fear of Publishing
“Writing is a habit, not an art.”
This line and chapter from Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content by Ann Handley has shifted how I view writing. I no longer view it as a talent or a skill, but simply an action. Viewing it as a talent or skill comes with a pressure for it to be good, because who doesn’t want to be talented or skillful?
But when I view it as an action, it’s not about good or bad, it’s about whether I do or do not.
Handley explains and quotes a number of other authors and writers that the key to good writing is to write a lot. So the goal shouldn’t be to write well all the time, but to just focus on writing often, to simply write all the time.
When you just focus on writing often, you’ll have more writing in total to revise and improve. Get all the bad writing out, a lot of it, and then figure out how to improve it.
Here are some limits and targets, most of which I’ve borrowed from the Ship 30 for 30 writing challenge run by Dickie Bush and Nicolas Cole. I have been applying them to my own writing process, and as a result it’s helping to achieve what the challenge set out to accomplish, which is to create a daily writing habit and to get over your fear of publishing.
1. Write for only 60 minutes or less per day.
Write only once per day, and for each of these writing sessions, only write for 60 minutes or less.
This time limit is prescribed by Jerry Seinfield, one of the most prolific comedians (who are also writers), and also by Dickie Bush and Nicolas Cole, online writers who run the Ship 30 for 30 writing challenge.
For those who dread the process, it’s a promise to end the misery so long as you promise to subject yourself to it. The reward? You fulfilled your writing responsibility for the day.
2. By the 60th minute of each writing session, publish what you’ve written no matter your opinion of it .
This micro-deadline is a gift. If you’re a procrastinator or a creative who hides behind the excuse of perfectionism to not show your work (which is usually better than you think it is), the forced publishing within such a condensed time limit will force you to produce more complete work on a consistent basis.
This rule isn’t cruel, and it’s definitely not confining.
It frees you from the fear of publishing. If you adhere to this rule of publishing whatever you’ve written, no matter what you’ve written, it desensitizes your fear of being seen. Instead, it allows your focus to shift towards seeing where you can do better. Don’t focus on how badly you did. Focus on how much better you could do, and then go do it, day after day.
3. Each published work only has to be 250 words.
As a target, it is easily within reach and highly achievable. Usually before the first 30 minutes are up, I am already well beyond 250 words.
And with the 60 minute time limit, I’m pressed to write as quickly as possible so I can produce a completed first draft and then spend the remainder of my time refining it as much as possible.
While I have written work that I don’t think is good, I’m more surprised and glad that I completed something. And if it wasn’t good, then I already have tomorrow to do better.
Thus far, the 60 minute time limit forces me to write quickly. Meanwhile the 250 word target sustains a feeling that I have already succeeded during the writing session since I reached it so early on, and this is a feeling I regularly want to return to.
Tip: challenge yourself to see how quickly you can write 250 words instead of trying to write 250 words of uncontested genius).
The hope here is to change your relationship with writing, to eliminate the fear and embrace the process, and thus your consistency to constantly create work and work to create.
Shift the pressure from pursuing perfection towards being productive and prolific.
Do more, and then do better.
Because if you’re working this much and that often, how could you not get better?