I’m in a lot of online writer forums where I see the same repeated question coming from new writers. How do I find the motivation to write every day?
My answer is: Use Jerry Seinfeld’s “productivity secret,” where his goal was to write jokes every day, thus allowing him to mark that day on the calendar with a big Red X.
I started using his secret method on January 1, 2013, the semester I began writing my dissertation from the extensive outline I had created the semester before.
By early February 2013, I saw a pattern emerging. Red Xs from Thursday through Monday, but nothing on Tuesday and Wednesday. During that winter semester, I was teaching five classes total: two afternoon and one evening on Tuesday, one on Wednesday afternoon, and the last on Thursday afternoon. I’d celebrate getting through another week’s worth of teaching by going home and writing that night.
When my sister died in mid-February, there were fewer Red Xs for a couple weeks, even though from the other side, she encouraged me to keep writing. By the end of February, I realized if I was going to keep my April dissertation defense date, I had to step it up. Yet, that earlier pattern persisted. As that defense date drew closer, I knew I had to make a serious adjustment to my writing schedule.
I kicked the writing into high gear. Despite my full teaching load of five classes and performing only the minimum of household duties once home, I’d write until midnight or one a.m. every night. I remember having carried a grocery list for six weeks before I finally made it to the store. Thankfully, I had a well-stocked pantry and made do with what I had. My other saving grace was that I lived alone and had no pets.
My daily routine was to sleep, teach, and write, putting off anything and everything else that I could. Socialization and time spent online came to a screeching halt. I went through a lot of drive-throughs during that time and would pick up cereal and milk at the gas station.
When I look back at the calendar of March and April that year, I see that Seinfeld’s trick worked. From mid-March onward, the calendar became a continuous red serpentine of big, bright Xs.
I defended my dissertation on time and graduated that summer on schedule.
As I continued teaching full-time, a pattern would emerge, then change as each semester’s schedule changed with short interruptions of illness, my mother dying in 2014, and my being involved in a 22-car pileup later that year. And then, at the end of 2015, I retired.
I started my production company in March 2016 and have been writing and publishing ever since. The Red Xs weren’t continuous in the beginning. There were as many days without those Red Xs as there were days with them. But, in the last few years, the Red Xs far outnumber the few non-writing days.
It’s a rare month that has all the days marked. Everyone needs a day off now and then, but it makes me happy to see the majority of days with Red Xs.
Those Red Xs back in 2013 were a source of motivation to keep me going each day while I worked full time and still am even in retirement. But also, those Red Xs are a source of pride, showing that it is possible to do what I had always dreamed of—writing full-time. A topic I wrote about in a recent release: Finding Your Fire & Keeping It Hot. How to find that motivation you desire.