On Writing Something Every Day

I was listening to a podcast recently when I heard the following:

The way that books actually get finished is you have to work on them, like, every day… and I don’t know about anyone else, but… to sit down and get a serious amount of original writing committed to the page every day, I can’t do that.

But what I can do, if I’m forcing myself to finish a book… is every day make edits. …you can find something like that to do every day. [Do] whatever your mental capacity allows you to do that night. And then eventually, you’re finished.

I haven’t ever written a book, but I have other pursuits that require a lot of motivation. Specifically, I’ve been in a funk with a side-project I’ve been working on. So about a week ago, I decided to treat it like a book and commit to “write something every day”.

Usually I end up writing code, but I’ll accept any kind of progress. It could be updating my task list or sketching out a data model. Anything.

So far it’s worked really well, I think for a couple reasons:

  • It’s combatted my excuse that I shouldn’t work on it unless I have a large block of time, wherein I can make significant progress (see the Maker’s schedule).
  • I retain the project context from day-to-day so it’s easier for me to jump in where I left off.
  • The habit is behaviorally effective. So much of what people call willpower is simply just habits at work.
  • I see progress, and that’s motivating. It makes me believe in the process… believe that no task is so large that it cannot be completed with consistent incremental progress.

Most importantly, it helps me get over the motivation hump of starting. Daily, I face choices like “do this hard ambiguous thing” verses “watch an entertaining youtube video.” In that moment, it can be hard to decide to start working on code.

But once I’ve started, I get sucked into the challenges and I become motivated again. So if I can start, then I’ve won, and “writing something every day” is doing that for me.