Just Start

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Everyday I sit down to write. I rarely begin with an idea burning a hole in my brain. I’ve got nothing and I just start writing. If I am lucky an idea starts to come together. For me the process requires constant, repetitive, disciplined work. If I show up, the good ideas follow. It’s the work that creates the inspiration.

Eventually words become sentences become paragraphs and I don’t stop until I hit at least 750 words. I’ve stuck with it for two years. What began as a broken New Year’s resolution to write more has become a daily habit.

Just start. That mantra has been key for me the last few years in everything I do. Just write. Just run. Just meditate. Just exercise. JUST FUCKING START!

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I’ve got a serious inertia problem. Newton’s First Law of Motion states that a body at rest or in motion will remain at rest or in motion until acted upon by an equal or greater force. When my fat ass is parked on the couch eating Oreos, I blame Newton. At rest I am immovable, but in motion I can be unstoppable.

I pretended for decades that I was a writer, but never wrote a damn thing. I fussed over having the right tools. I set up a WordPress blog. I bought dictation software. I downloaded countless writing and productivity apps. I manicured my social media presence. But I still wasn’t writing.

One of my 2015 resolutions was to write more. I signed up for a series of daily writing prompts. It helped to a point, but it was a half measure. It wasn’t until February 8th of that year when I signed up for 750words that I made a commitment to change a habit. On that day I made the decision to JUST START.

Just starting every day took so much effort at first. I focused on one day at a time for a week, two weeks, a month, three months, six months and then a year. Somewhere along the way it became a habit, an almost instinctual part of what I do every day. Now the momentum of two years of daily writing is behind me, rocketing me forward. I will keep on writing because the pressure to continue is greater than the pressure to stop.

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This month I made the commitment to up the ante and publish every single day. I appreciate everyone who has read, liked, commented and offered feedback and support. I’ve missed one day because I was falling asleep at my desk drooling onto the keyboard. I failed to finish, but I started.

I would rather fail to finish than fail to start.

Don’t Look Where You Don’t Want to Go

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That’s Gonna Hurt

By Anthony DeLorenzo (http://www.flickr.com/photos/delorenzo/2675869443/) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

There’s a smart mountain biking adage, “Don’t look where you don’t want to go.” Mountain biking requires intense concentration, quick thinking and immediate reactions. Bombing down a hill strewn with rocks, roots, trees and dropoffs can mean instant stitches, broken bones or worse.

The trick is to pick a clean line, focusing solely on that. The rider must look ahead to see what’s next while simultaneously threading the trail right in front of the bike. Do not stare at the tree you hope to avoid. Do not glance at the cliff. Keep your eyes off the giant mud puddle. Target only the trail where you want your bike to go.

I’ve had enough stitches, bruises, scrapes, cuts, broken bones and near misses (not counting thousands of dollars of bike repairs) to know that looking where I don’t want to go often results in going exactly there. Ooof! Looked at the tree, hate some bark. Gazed at the mud bog, chioked down a pound of dirt soup.

Sure, you can wreck even when things are perfect, but I have found that focusing on the trail and charting my direction without distraction results in fewer mishaps and even the occasional state of flow. To sound trite, you become one with the bike. Obstacles melt away, the trail passes beneath the bike and every twist and turn comes with grace and ease. It’s what makes mountain biking magical. The thrill of conquering a brutal trail with minimal bodily and equipment damage is exhilarating.

So what does this have to do with day to day living? I don’t get on a mountain bike much anymore, but the lessons learned on the trail pay dividends. The key concept to success on a nasty trail or on a tyoical day is Don’t Look Where You Don’t Want To Go. This is all about focus, concentration and targeting my goals.

If I get caught up in distractions, spending my time regretting the past or caught up in pregaming the future, I lose the immediacy of this moment. Once I disconnect I will hit a tree, skid on a root or slide right off the trail. There are enough challenges heading my way at any moment, why look the wrong way?

If I think I will lose my job, my mind obsesses about the horrors of unemployment. If I feel a relationship is souring, I will focus on how it’s souring rather than how I can repair it. The list goes on. The results of obsessing on a past I can’t change and a future I can’t predict are never positive. So many things become a self-fulfilling prophecy when I look where I don’t want to go. Get your eyes back on the trail.

I reached a point a few years back where I was mired in busyness, distracted by anything and everything. My productivity and overall state of mind suffered. All I did was look where I didn’t want to go and wound up going there.

How could I get back on track? How could I regain focus and concentrate on what mattered? After slogging through a few years of going nowhere fast I decided to show up for my own life.

Step by step, I instituted a set of daily practices to reconnect with myself and chart a smarter way forward. Each of these added to my mental, physical and emotional well-being.

EXERCISE was the first step. For years I had been a distance runner and cyclist, but had almost stopped working out. I made a decision to make fitness a key goal again. As I ran and eode my bike more I began to feel energized and and more confident.

MEDITATION was the second. Forget everything you assume about meditation. Think about taking two steps back, sitting still and focusing on your breath. Instead of filling my every moment with the incessant distractions of modern life I gave myself 15 minutes a day to do nothing but be present. A sense of calm and serenity

WRITING every day came next. Thinking about writing is not writing. The only to  way to write is pen in hand, ass in chair, words on page. The benefits of writing are numerous and I detailed them here.

Daily GRATITUDE offered me the chance to be thankful for everything and everyone in my life. Instead of obsessing on what’s wrong and how it must be everyone else’s fault, I write down what is great and magical in the people, places and rhings right around me.

These daily practices shifted my focus from all the obstacles and distractions in my life back to the trail right in front of me. Of course, what works for me won’t work for everyone, but I’ve seen the powerful impact of positive actions. Today, I choose to look where I want to go and I find myself getting there most of the time.

Failing Every Day

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I have been reading a lot of James Altucher lately. One of the things I admire is his incredible ability to ship. He has written 17 books, blogs constantly and is a prodigious podcaster. I started with Choose Yourself which was packed with remarkable insights and resonates with me both as a writer and consultant. This led me to follow his blog and look into his other books. Not everything he writes is brilliant, but he will unearth a smart idea in almost every post. His most recent book, Reinvent Yourself, is a wide ranging assortment of blog posts, learnings from podcast interviews and his takes on insights from big thinkers, all stitched together under the theme of reinvention. While not as powerful as Choose Yourself it is loaded with nuggets of wisdom.

What’s remarkable about James is his perpetual curiosity and his desire to ship constantly. Like Seth Godin he publishes something every single day. He does a new podcast every week and ships a new book as soon as the ink on the previous one dries. That’s how he succeeds. He is indefatigable and constantly reiterates his formula for success. He never stops throwing something new at the wall.

I succeeded in creating a daily writing habit. Over the past two years I have written at least 750 words per day totaling nearly 600,000 words, missing only one day out of the last 724. What I fail to do is ship. I write, but I don’t publish. The missing step is the step that will take me forward. I need to share my writing, but I don’t. I am the tree falling in the woods with nobody there to hear it, thus I don’t make a sound.

Fear, lack of confidence and inertia play a role in my reluctance. I am sitting on at least 130 posts that are almost ready to go. What will be the tipping point?

It may have been a message from an old friend.

By chance I inadvertently published a very raw post in draft form a few weeks back. Mortified, I scrambled to reverse the mistake. I deleted it on WordPress, but also trashed the automatic notifications on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr. The one thing I neglected was the email sent to those who follow my blog. My good buddy Marsh Gooch (who writes a terrific music blog) received the email and liked what he read. He asked me what happened because wanted to like the post, but it had disappeared. He said the post was “thoughtful.”

“I thought your goal for this year is publish. Then publish!” were his other blunt sentiments.

Seth Godin says not shipping is failure. James Altucher posts every single day and brags of writing 1000 words daily. Then there is me. WIth 130 drafts waiting to be set free I am holding onto 130 failures. Failure to communicate. Failure to share. Failure to ship. Failure.

So here is my revised resolution. I worry that good intentions will amount to nothing if I don’t tell anyone, so I will declare it here. I will ship one post every day in February. This will be 28 successes. The real success will be a new habit of shipping, not just in February, but March, April and beyond

The power of habit is an amazing thing. Three years ago I only thought about writing. I rarely exercised. Somehow I reached a tipping point with both of these and created strong habits. It was a combination of willpower, momentum and desire. I found time every day to write. I made time to exercise. Now I can;t imagine not exercising or writing.

So I’ve got 28 days where I must ship a new blog post daily. Let’s see where the next four weeks take me. I look forward to any feedback or advice you may have. See you at the end of the month and thank you for reading.

And thank you to Marsh for the gentle but powerful nudge!

Heard Ya Missed Me, Well I’m Back

One year ago I limped away from blogging. It was less a decision and more part of a process to focus on writing. My last post essayed the dilemma. It wasn’t a case of writer’s block. It was a case of publisher’s block. While I was writing every single day, I wasn’t publishing. I took much of 2015 and all of 2016 to focus on writing, not publishing. I wanted to create a powerful writing habit and discover what I wanted to write about without the need to publish.

When I first set up this wordpress blog my hope was to showcase my expertise on all things content and marketing. It wasn’t what I wanted to write about, but more what I thought I should write about. The blog (and my writing) meandered and sputtered. There would be a flurry of posts followed by a drought. My momentum and dedication waxed and waned. I needed to decide what I wanted out of blogging. Rather than forcing myself to write so I could have something to publish, why not focus on writing, and writing only. Forget publishing and write.

This process began in early 2015 as I sought resources and prompts to encourage regular writing. I started with One Month Writing from the great folks at OneMonth and saw my productivity increase, but not quite as much as wanted. I had spent decades thinking about writing and rarely setting pen to paper. A half measure wasn’t enough.

Then I found the key

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One of the resources recommended in One Month Writing was 750words. The idea is simple. You sign up and write 750 words every day. Yes. Every. Single. Day. Once you hit 750 words the site pops up an alert. You can keep writing or save.

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There are badges and plenty of data to encourage a daily habit. I signed up in February of 2015 and have written every single day, except for one. With 692 total days and 574 days straight (and counting) I’ve written 540,000 words. That’s enough to parcel out into 6 or 7 short novels.

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The positives resulting from this process have been remarkable and rewarding. I’ve broken it down into 7 powerful benefits.

1 Creating a habit – I set a goal to write more. I had the motivation, but needed to gather momentum. The hook of checking each day off on 750 words gave me the impetus to write. As the days added up I had the weight of each successive day behind me pushing me forward. Today, I must write. It is what I do.

2 Discipline – I have missed one day out of 691. I write when I am tired, uninspired and just plain sick of writing. inspiration doesn’t just happen. It comes with discipline and hard work. Often I start with nothing and just write. As my words become sentences and then paragraphs, an idea will form. 30 or 40 minutes later I walk away with a polished essay, a rough draft or a handful of baby sketches.

3 Focus – Writing requires time and few interruptions. i must put down the phone and ignore the bleeps, buzzes, notifications and digital distractions that carve my time into tiny slivers. Complete thoughts demand undivided attention. The increased focus plays out in many other parts of my life and I am much more present and available than when I started.

Organization – My brain fires at hundreds of miles per second. The process of writing down and sorting out ideas gives them a framework my brain can’t. My mind may be the inbox, but I must process. Do I save for later? Act now? Delete? Writing out my thoughts clears out the clutter and frees my mind to focus on what needs to get done.

5 Creativity – In the beginning I struggled to find writing topics. Today I keep a file for future posts. Every day I write down 4 or 5 possible ideas that I want to explore. I dig deeper on past ideas and spread my ideas wider to satisfy my curiosity and explore new topics.

Rough Drafts –  I can test drive ideas and beat them into shape. Writing daily means I often revisit and rewrite the same ideas repeatedly. Rough drafts are often terrible, but they lay out the idea so I can refine and focus it. Repetition allows me to dig deeper and find the essence of what I want to capture with my words.

7 Catharsis – Perhaps the most surprising result of creating a daily writing habit is the ability to toss out all the garbage. The negative thoughts pile up. The recurring mental conversations about unresolved personal issues create too much distracting chatter. Writing shovels all that crap up and out. It is the ability to spring clean on a daily basis.

Now I am ready to make publishing my new habit for 2017. It worked for writing. Let’s see if I can do the same with posting here on my blog.

Heard ya missed me, well I’m back.

That Time I Wrote 100,000 Words @750words At A Time

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I hit a major milestone last week. Since February I’ve written more than 100,000 words. Let’s put that into perspective. According to Amazon’s Text Stats, the median length for all books is about 64,000 words. I have written enough to fill one novel and am halfway through a second. While I doubt many of my words are novel-worthy, I know there are a handful of great ideas buried in all the debris. More importantly, I’ve developed as a writer and found a discipline that has eluded me for years.

I’ve always liked to think of myself as a writer. Witty, pithy, insightful, sure, but with NOTHING to show for it. Like many would-be writers I talked about writing, i thought about writing, I bought moleskins, notebooks, dictation programs, apps, but the result was always the same. Nothing! Maybe a half a page here, a blog post there, but mostly an empty page and a mindful of half baked ideas.

So one big goal for 2015 was to write more. For the last few years I set up alerts, systems, and tricks to get me writing more. Some things worked and others not so much. I managed to write once or maybe twice a week at best, but my natural inertia kicked in and I would find reasons not to write. I needed something drastic. Actually I needed two things. First, make the time and second, make it a daily habit.

To accomplish the first I waged war on my own busyness. I reduced my information and social media diets considerably. I found ways to eliminate digital distractions. And I put down my damn phone. I was able to write three or four times a week, but I still wanted more. I wanted to write every single day.

Then I found the solution, 750words.com. I wrote about it here a few months back, but with 100,000 later I need to shout about it a little more. I started In February, committing to write 750 words every day. AND, I wrote every single day. After fighting my own procrastination and laziness it was astonishing. Writing is hard work. Churning out words takes discipline and at first much of what I wrote was terrible. Too personal. Too mundane. Too repetitive. But at a certain point I got a rhythm. Pieces started to flow together. It may not be great, but some of it was worthy of posting on my blog, worthy of sharing and worthy of asking for feedback.

Some days I start with a rough idea. Others I already have a full post sketched out in my mind. Sometimes I just start writing and it begins to take shape. The ideas coalesce and 750 words later I am done. What is really critical is the discipline that has come with the act of writing. Initially it took sacrifice just to get my ass in the chair. Then it took work to write. Now it takes effort not to write. Whether I have anything to say or not isn’t important, it’s the ritual of sitting down, writing the first words and pushing through to the end. That’s the real moral to the story. Action. Writing. Results. Repeat.

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It has been a total of 137 almost consecutive days of writing. I had a 118 day streak and then I spent a Saturday carpooling kids, cleaning the basement, mowing the lawn, running 6 miles and falling asleep at 9:30. When I woke up the next morning I knew something was horribly wrong. What was different about the night before? Then, it hit me. I didn’t write. I had fallen off the wagon, but I jumped right back on. It’s been another nineteen days and counting.

In the end, it’s not about success or failure, There are no awards or benchmarks apart from an occasional milepost that reminds me I have stuck to my resolution. My goal is not to make a living as a writer. It’s about a daily act, a simple ritual. Laptop in hand. Butt in chair. Four fingers and an occasional thumb typing away. The thoughts are mine. The words are mine. The discipline is a gift that I hope keeps on giving 750 words at a time.

750 Words About 750 Words

I made a 2015 resolution to write more. “Write more” has been a vague goal for the past few years. I wrote more in 2014 than I had in years past, but it still wasn’t enough. I wanted to write every day. I needed to make a commitment and take action.

I started the year by signing up for One Month’s 30 Day Writing Challenge. Every day for the month of January they sent me a writing prompt. The prompts were great and I started writing, every other day. And sometimes every third day. By the end of January I had written about 13 times. Still not enough.

I kept at it and whittled the list of remaining prompts down, but I needed more motivation. I wasn’t reaching my goal. One of the resources listed on One Month was 750 Words. I clicked and found myself challenged to write 750 words a day, every single day. Ok, I can do this. Sign me up now.

I started mid-February and my first order of business was to crush the remaining One Month prompts. I could write about anything I want. There were no rules. Just 750 words.

It’s been 57 days since I started and I haven’t missed a day yet. I’ve written poems, fiction, non-fiction, jokes, scripts, mantras and more. I don’t plan it. I just sit and write. It has been cathartic to spew three pages of my random ruminations every single day. It clears out my head to allow me to process my thoughts and focus on what is important.

Another goal for this year was increased focus. To get there I needed to simplify. I reduced my insatiable need for media input, unsubscribed from countless newsletters, slashed my RSS feeds and took a few steps back from several social media platforms. I couldn’t write if I was always reading. Over the last several weeks I have barely watched TV. My time has been focused on writing and reading real books.

Initially I hoped to use my 750 words to blog more, but I found that most of my writing was often about making sense of my day. Most days it is just a work in progress and not worth publication. It is my workshop. I can hammer out ideas and get to the essence of what’s happening. Somewhere in each of those 750 word entries, however, there is a solid future blog post.

For March I committed to writing every single day. I made it. Thirty one days. 24,000 words.

What did I learn?

Writing is hard. Good writing can be painstaking. There are a lot of ideas that sound amazing until you try to write them down. What seems so groundbreaking in your head seems pretty trite on paper. It requires focus, planning and a bit of inspiration.

Writing is work. The words don’t always flow, but you must keep going. Sit down. Pen in hand. Ass in chair. Words on paper. The point is to write. Don’t stop. Don’t check email. Don’t check Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or text messages. Keep writing. It will take shape. Words will come.

Writing is liberating. I have written out dark memories, deep fears and painful thoughts. Once on paper they just aren’t very scary. As a matter of fact they seem minor and insignificant. I put them down on paper and the process allowed me to let them go.

Writing is scary. It seems so simple, but once you start pouring your heart into it the work gets tough. I wrote about some personal things and changed to third person just so I could be more honest about what happened. I could write it about someone as if it were else but not myself.

I have published three pieces of fiction on my blog. This is a first for me. The pieces were fun to write and vaguely fun to read so I published them. Big risk, but I got some good feedback. Or maybe kind feedback. It doesn’t matter. I did it and I am proud of it.

I will never be a gifted writer. I am a solid, persuasive writer. Occasionally I get lucky and write something above my weight class. Real writing is a gift. You don’t see it often. But when you do it is breathtaking. That is not my ability.

I will keep writing. 750 words a day, every day. And I will focus on publishing more. One day I may prove myself wrong. Maybe I do have a gift. I just need to keep writing until I get there.