Five rules to make me actually write

A few days ago, I announced I was quitting my day job at Google Ventures to focus on writing. The response to the post was really awesome. They say people on the Internet are horrible, and it’s certainly true sometimes—but last week, all I got were warm fuzzies and turbo boosts.

So I decided to write a few behind-the-scenes posts as I get started with my new career. If I become the next J.K. Rowling or E.L. James, you’ll look back on these journal entries and think “I knew him way back when!” If it’s a disaster, well, you can watch the train wreck in realtime. It’s really a no-lose scenario.

On to the job at hand. Last week, making the announcement felt great. This week… I’ve got to actually write. That’s much harder and less glamorous.

Writing is the path of most resistance

When I sit down to write, I want to do anything else instead. Check email, skim Twitter, read news, back to email, organize my desk, do the dishes, should I have a snack, should I have a coffee, etc. Writing is hard work, so my brain is always tricking me into another activity — something requiring less focus and glucose.

Not having a day job should make things easier. After all, I’ve got the whole day to write. But then again, I’ve got all day… so why not put off writing a little longer? Yeah, my brain’s gonna love that argument.

This lack of structure is dangerous. So I need to create structure. As luck would have it, I’m a total nerd about this kind of thing — redesigning time is what my first book is about. This might actually be fun.

I know from developing the design sprint process that I won’t get my schedule right on the first try. Instead, I’ll start with some rules/principles/constraints, come up with a prototype, and test it out.

In this post, I’ll set out a few rules for myself. They’ll probably change over time, but this is a good start:

Rule 1. Have a schedule

Nobody is expecting me to show up, but I need a schedule so I don’t have to decide to sit down to write and explain to other people that it’s time to write. Writing has to be the default.

Rule 2. Write every day

Writing is waaaay easier when I do it every day. I’m like an old Apple II computer, and I’ve got to keep the floppy disk in the drive or it takes forever to find it and reboot.

Rule 3. Shut off distractions

Email is a huge problem for me. I’ve been using an app called Freedom for a while, and I just paid for the new version and have been getting familiar with its settings. I should be able to schedule Freedom to shut off email and other distractions.

Rule 4. Start in the morning

I’ve historically done most of my writing late at night, but that’s mostly because the morning was unavailable. I have a hunch it’s better to start early—as if I were going to work—and get points on the board before I get randomized.

Rule 5. Make it sustainable

I’d go nuts if I was by myself all day, every day. I prototyped this last summer, spending two straight weeks of vacation writing full time every day, and I got a little jittery. Ask my friends and family—that’s a lot of time to spend with Jake.

So part of the job change plan is doing some advising and workshops. If it works, it’ll help support the writing and supply much needed human contact.

But it’s also dangerous. I get super excited about these projects, and other people are ready and waiting to interact with me—unlike writing, where I’m dancin’ with myself. It’d be easy to end up back where I started, with a new crop of full-time commitments in the way of writing. I’ll need boundaries to keep that from happening. The advising days are super important for my sanity, but they can’t take over.

The good news is I’ve done a little homework, and I have an excellent place to start. More on that in the next episode.

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