08 October 2013

sacrifice Art by Sean Wes

One month ago, I decided to start blogging once a day, for 30 days. Here are some of the tips that helped me reach post #30 in one piece. I hope you will use them to start your own 30-day challenge.

Tell your friends, so they hold you accountable

During the past few years, I made several weak attempts to write a blog but I would invariably fail. What made the difference this time was that, instead of writing in solitude, I made a public commitment to write: I told my friends, I published it on my Facebook wall, and I tweeted about it.

If I had kept it quiet, whenever I was feeling too tired to write, or couldn’t come up with an idea for a post, my brain would have convinced me that skipping one day wasn’t a big deal. Luckily, I told everyone, and the fear of public humiliation loomed large every time I thought about copping out.

Verbalize what you want to do and why you want to do it

I picked blogging, but you pick anything. Choose something from the list of things you always wanted to do but never had time. Determine your daily deliverable and your time frame. My deliverable was a blog post, but it can also be a workout, a foreign language lesson, a drawing, or anything else. I found that doing something for 30 days is ideal because it is long enough to develop a habit, but not so long that the activity becomes a burden. Instead of every day, you could also do it every other day—but whatever you choose, make sure the rules are clear before you begin.

Another factor that helped me make it to the end of the month was that I crafted a story that explained why I was investing the emotional labor: I wanted to tell others what my interests were, and I wanted to get better at shipping.

Decide what you need to sacrifice to make time

Reading my morning news every morning was a two-hour activity. I knew that writing a post would take me about that long, so I decided to stop reading news (surprisingly, after having gone cold turkey for a month, I don’t miss it at all).

There were a few things that I was willing to give up (news, TV, Facebook), and others that I wasn’t (salsa dancing, 30-minute power naps, email). That’s why verbalizing your reasons for getting started is so important. If you come to the conclusion that learning a foreign language is vitally important, skipping on Breaking Bad episodes for a month won’t feel like a heart-wrenching sacrifice.

Keep a notebook handy

Some ideas will come at you out of nowhere; make sure you write them down before they slip away. I like to keep a notebook handy because the act of putting pen on paper can set off an idea cascade that helps improve the original idea. Also, lazily flipping through my notebook has helped me turn old tentative ideas into fully fledged posts.

I’m always scrounging around for topic ideas. I get them from conversations, lectures, articles, and rare fleeting strokes of inspiration. Anytime you think of something interesting, write it down. Don’t worry about quality; at this point, the only criteria is that you think it is worth exploring. Once you start writing, everything will start shifting and morphing, some stuff will make more sense, and other stuff will turn into drivel. Capture your raw thoughts first, there will always be time for editing later.

Express your true self

Criticism kills creativity. Ignore the voice in your head that whines “Nobody cares about your opinion. You are not good enough to share your work.” You don’t need the New York Times or the Museum of Modern Art to decide you are good enough, all you need is an Internet connection.

Once you give yourself permission to create, you will be surprised by what you are capable of.

If you decide to start your own 30-day challenge, please let me know.