How to be 86% (precisely) more likely to keep writing

You’ll never get something written if you don’t start writing it.

At this point you’ll be so awe-struck by this razor-sharp nugget of writing wisdom that you’ll have to make yourself a cup of really strong sweet tea. No?

While it’s obvious that you’ll never write anything if you don’t start — actually starting to write — putting pen to paper or stopping that darned cursor flashing is the one thing our research tells us that writers grapple with the most.

But it’s also the one thing you can do as a writer that means you’re more likely to continue in the long term.

86% more likely it would seem — more on that in a bit.

On your marks…

Over the past few weeks we’ve challenged people to take part in our 5-day writing ‘kickstart’ — a free email course designed to help writers complete a project of their choice over a week.

It’s been a bit of an experiment to see if we can build a tech product around the idea — all based around theories of behavior change and the science of habits.

In a nutshell, this is how it worked…

Research tells us that you’re more likely to achieve a large goal when it’s split up into smaller chunks and then approached in stages.

So first, we asked people to set a writing goal for the week and then, to tell us what small step they would take to meet this goal.

Once a step had been accomplished, we asked writers to tell us what progress they had made — and what they’d do the next day.

The idea here was to make people feel accountable to an actual human being (ie me) and give them a direction for the next day’s work.

We asked writers to complete their step to a 24-hour deadline and told them if they missed their deadline they’d lose one of their two writing ‘lives.’ Use both lives, and it’s off the course — no excuses.

Here, the idea was to raise the stakes. Writers love deadlines and they hate missing them — especially if they lose something when they do.

Results please!

We found that writers were more likely to drop out at the first step — before they’d done any writing — than at any other stage of the course.

However, once writers did get over this initial hurdle — once they got off the starting blocks and actually wrote something — they also became 86% more likely to complete the whole challenge.

And not only that; once they had started, they became far more reluctant to lose their writing ‘lives’ and more committed to writing consistently every day.

So what does all this tell us?

At one level it’s super-obvious. Once you start a piece of writing you are of course physically closer to finishing it than if you never start at all. Well, duh…

But there’s also something else going on. Making a start is about more than getting words on a page. It’s about making a shift in your writing psychology.

Make the change, make a start

Once you start writing your words mount up — and that’s great — but even more great is that your attitude changes too. You become more willing to continue and more confident that you can.

Once you start writing — even if it’s a 20 minute bout of free-writing or morning pages — the ideas start flowing and that makes you want to keep writing. You start to look forward to writing and that means you’re more likely to do it.

Once you start writing, you break any demotivating procrastination spiral you might be in. You start to prove to yourself — and to others — that if you can do it. And if you can do it today — you can do it tomorrow.

Once you start writing, you feel invested in your progress and so, more invested in your writing project as a whole. After all, you’ve carved out the time from your busy day, you’ve written some words, you’ve put in some hard graft — who wants to throw in the towel now?

Finishing what you start is important but perhaps even more important is making a start at all and writing those few first words.

Pushing round paper clips, tidying your spotless desk, or arranging your ball points in size order does not count. Only writing counts as writing — so make a start now.

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Want to get writing, keep writing and finish what you start? Join the wait list for our new and improved 5-day writing challenge.

About the author: Co-creator of digital productivity tools for writers @write_track, blogger @thenextweb, comms consultant. amateur scriptwriter and all-round creative productivity geek.


Originally published at blog.write-track.co.uk on August 6, 2016.