Monday, August 29, 2011

The Seinfeld Chain

One of my first blog entries talked about how "Writing Begets Writing" and NOT writing begets not writing. I'm really committed to maintaining the momentum I've built up in the last month around my writing. Some days it feels like the easiest, most natural thing in the world. Other days it can feel like a real drag -- the words don't want to come on a new story, the story I'm going through an edit on feels like it's just not working, etc.

So I'm looking for ways to help myself keep writing. I've already talked about one of the techniques, using peer pressure as a way to keep myself writing, not wanting to have to tell people "Yeah, I guess I sort of set that aside for now." (Again.)

Getting into the Twitter and blog world has been helpful, too. I spend lots of non-writing time thinking about writing and discussing writing with other people. There's a hazard, though, that I could end up spending all my time talking about writing instead of actually writing. That's a balance that I'm trying to carefully calibrate. (Hmm... Could that be foreshadowing of a future blog post?)

My third approach to holding myself accountable to my own writing goals will be The Seinfeld Chain.

The Seinfeld Chain is an idea which I read about several years ago, originating with comedian Jerry Seinfeld. It really couldn't be more simple. You get a big wall calendar (or some other visible equivalent) and a bold marker. Commit to some goal which you will achieve every day. Then, when you've met each day's goal, put an "X" in the calendar for the day. Quickly, you'll have a chain of "X"s and then all you have to do, in Seinfeld's words, is "Don't Break the Chain."

There's nothing writing-specific about this technique. You could use this for all sorts of such as home-cooking a meal, exercising, keeping in touch with a friend or family member; anything you wanted to do every day could be tracked with this method.

I've set myself a goal to write 500 new words every day. They can be on a story, a blog post, a critique or Beta Reader notes for someone I'm working with. They could even be in the form of a personal journal if that's what I felt I needed to be writing on that given day. I'll be going out to buy a calendar in the next few days, so I can start with September 1st.

I'm also going to make one small tweak to this. I intend to allow myself one "Mulligan" every four weeks. There's going to be some day when everything goes wrong and I get to the end of the day and just don't have any time left. So that day, I'll still give myself the "X" but there will be a big "M" written in between the two upper arms of the "X." That way I won't "forget" that I already took my Mulligan.

500 words a day may not sound like a lot. Remember, many novels are around 100,000 words. That's 200 days. If you started writing a novel 500 words at a time today you'd reach 100,000 words on March 25th, 2012. That's less than seven months away!

What could you accomplish, if you committed to working at it every day?


  1. I don't have a calendar, but I've told too many people about my latest attempt to finish a novel to be able to give up without any kind of fuss. I did this on purpose because my personality works that way. If I stop and give up, I'll be letting far too many people down and far too publicly. I could never let that happen. It would crush me.

    I've done the same for my attempt to get in shape and lose a whole lot of weight too. It's all to easy to give up when no one knows what you're doing and all too difficult when everyone knows.

    My goal is 2,000 words a day on my novel. It sounds a lot but I can easily half that number in an edit so it's best to try for more. For me at least.

  2. That thing that kills me lately is reading about writing. I'm absorbed in a bunch of books at the moment, many of them about writing memoir or nonfiction. They are fascinating, and promote a lot of great thoughts about writing, but sometimes I feel they make the writers' block worse. Good luck with your calendar! Keep us posted on how it goes.

  3. Cheryl, telling people about what you're doing is another GREAT way to keep yourself motivated. I have the exact same personality -- if I tell a bunch of people that I'm going to write a novel during NaNoWriMo well then I darn well better do it!

    I ran a 5K last year. (OK, "ran" may be a slightly generous term, but I did run a fair portion of it...) I had a gift-wrapped opportunity to back out of it, but I'd told so many people that I was going to do it, that I felt like I had to see it through.

    2000 words in a day sounds awesome. That will be my target during NaNoWriMo month, but I don't think I could reasonably commit to doing that 365 days a year. Congratulations on having such a lofty goal!

    eastbaywriter, I'll definitely keep people posted on how things are coming along! Thanks for stopping by, and good luck with finding that balance between writing and thinking about writing.

  4. That's a great idea, Michael. There's something about announcing your goals that's really motivating.

    I ought to try it for my novel. I'm great for writing shorts, but novelling not so much.

  5. Deborah, I can relate to that 100%. I've written dozens of short stories but have never tried a novel.

    I've committed to writing a YA novel during NaNoWriMo. I'm really excited about it, but also a bit nervous.

    Are you trying NaNoWriMo for your novel? If so, we can be writing buddies! :)

  6. Michael, 500 words a day definitely adds up. Consistency is the key to getting ahead and completley a manuscript. When we openly announce our intent, it does a great deal to motivate us to realize it.

    Welcome to the campaign. Happy to connect with you on Twitter. Thanks for return follow :).

  7. Hello, Isis! I'm excited about the campaign. It looks like a great way to get to know people in more detail!

    Thank you for stopping by and commenting.

  8. This is a great post and idea Michael! I'm not familiar with the technique, but it makes sense. The visual Xs are an additional picture of your accomplishment.

  9. Oh, I love the chain idea. I should use that the next time I need some writing butt-kicking. The visual effect of all those Xs adding up must really help!

  10. Hi, Michael! The Seinfeld Chain. Love it!

    Thanks for visiting my blog.
    I gave you a Shout-Out today! :)

  11. writenowlife and Claudie, I know I'm looking forward to having some nice rows of "X"s to look at when I'm feeling frustrated!

    David, thanks for stopping by and thanks for the Shout-Out!

  12. yay. Let's do it, Michael, it's a nanowrimodate

  13. Groovy! I'm mhaynes on the NaNo site. What's your username there?

  14. Hi Michael. Nice to meet you. I have to say that I'm scared to join sites like Twitter for fear they might suck up all my writing time. The social media can become addicting. Just set yourself a couple hours a day to write...that's what I do. :)

  15. You know, I can't remember. I didn't do it last year. Might be deboree, that's what I usually use. I'll let you know when I re-register.

  16. George R.R. Martin needs to read your post. If he just wrote 500 words a day, he could have Winds of Winter done before the year 2020.

  17. I could actually finish my WIP! But I'm a horribly lazy person, and even a chain of Xs can't stop that. I'd just forget to buy a calendar.

  18. welcome to social media, we'll slowly steal your It's true though >< I end up spending way too much time on twitter and writing forums than I do writing. I've learned to cut it back, a lot.

    welcome to the campaign!

  19. Laila, I think I may end up trying that. Allocating specific chunks of time for specific tasks (writing, social media, etc.). Still thinking it over some.

    Deborah, sounds good, just let me know.

    Michael, feel free to point him in the direction of my blog. :)

    Marlena, forgetting to buy the calendar (or procrastinating about buying the calendar...) might make it a bit harder. Best of luck with your WIP all the same.

    Eliza, thanks for the welcome!

  20. I'm attempting to get myself back in order (summer with two kiddos out of school threw me off the routine I had established last year) by doing Project 52, which is a blog-based thing to keep oneself in line. I've set 52 goals geared toward my writing and photography and I hope to accomplish at least one thing per week and then post updates. My blog was also set up as a way to keep accountability by talking about projects and progress. Good luck with your 500 per day!

  21. I usually manage about 500 words a day. It works for me. And there are those days when I flash write 1,000 words in a day. I love those!

    I love the idea of a Mulligan. I love the term Mulligan. I'm going to start using it in my daily life.

  22. Lesli, you're quite welcome.

    Cynthia, glad that I put a cool word in your brain! Thanks for stopping by!

  23. Welcome to the campaign! And yes...I am so much happier and productive when I commit to doing something writing related every day.

  24. Hi, Christine! Thanks for dropping in and leaving a comment. See you around the campaign.

  25. Taking it upon ourselves to keep interest and keep the drive, that whol self-discipline thing, is the hardest part I think (perhaps hope???lol); you've accomplished that already by demanding more of yourself!

    I want to get up to a healthy 4000 words a day, but so far it's more like 6 or 7000 words a day for a week, then nothing, nothing, nothing, then 3 or 4000 words a day, then nothing, lol. Yeeah. I'm a work in progress.

    Even now, there's a voice in the back of my head shouting "No excuses! Take no prisoners!"

  26. Jes, thanks for coming by my blog. 4000 words a day! Wow. I don't think I've hit 4000 on my BEST day. That's really great that you're able to be so productive!

  27. Hi Happy Campaigner (Great picture),

    My goal is to get into a habit of writing 2500 a day, 17,500 a week while I'm in first draft mode.

    I'm now a follower on your blog and Twitter. Hope to connect with you in Twitterverse :).

  28. The worst is when I get so into blogging, I'm not actually writing.

  29. Isis, thanks! 2500 words a day sounds awesome! Very impressive.

    Matthew, I'm still working on that balancing act myself.

  30. I definitely lose momentum if I ever stop. Sometimes I just have to sit down and write for an hour, just to do it. Something good usually pops out in the last 5 minutes though, so maybe I should just wait until then, huh?

  31. Hi Michael! Thanks for coming by my blog, it's great to meet you and I'm glad we connected through the Campaign! I actually use a calendar like the Seinfeld Chain for exercising, and it has been very motivating for me. I was thinking about trying it for writing, I think I will!

    Best of luck with your goals!

  32. Hanny, I know! Wouldn't it be great if we could skip all that slow "getting started writing" time?

    Julie, good to meet you! If the calendar is working for you in one area of life, I would guess there'd be a great chance it would work for you in another area. See you around the campaign!

  33. Awesome idea, Michael. I try to do that but sometimes the words don't want to come. Right now I'm finishing up Camp NaNo and then there is the two month break before the regular NaNo starts up. If I set myself up for at least 250 words, that's pretty easy to do. Sometimes. :)

  34. "Hi" from a fellow Campaigner! This is so true - it's downright tricky to find writing time some days. Lately, I've been walking around with a mini taperecorder to capture thoughts in those few spare moments so that I can write them down later. :) It's a bit sad, but really helpful!

  35. Hiya.

    I earn my living writing (techical stuff.... not what I WANT to write) so it's difficult to force myself to start again when I get home. I write when I'm driven to it by the story. Nanwrimo helps though.

  36. I'm in revision mode right now, so it's a little different. I spent all of June writing, as a 'break' from revisions (and as a part of BuNoWriMo), and that was awesome. But I haven't really got back on the revision wagon properly yet!

  37. @scribblingpencil, Thanks for the comment and congrats on wrapping up Camp NaNo!

    @Nicole, I've tried the mini-cassette recorder, too. It didn't work for me too well in the past, but might start carrying it again just in case.

    @MorningAJ, I hear you about having trouble doing the same thing Day Job and at night. I thought I might try doing some technical-related writing myself, but it was too much like "work."

    @Trisha, my hope is to always balance revision with new composition. That's part of why I set the goal so low. I hit 1000+ words lots of days, but wanted a target that felt like it should be manageable as an everyday thing. We'll see if I still feel it's management when I get into post-NaNo revisions in December. :)

  38. You know what? The best thing I ever did was set "writing hours." When I was unpubbed and not doing this for a living, I couldn't do a big writing session every day, but I spent one pure half hour on the wip. And then three times a week, I gave it three hours.

    Those were set times, like an appointment I had to keep. It helped me focus on the work and get a lot done, which made me excited to get back to the keyboard.

    My first and second books (still under the bed) took three years each I just wrote when I felt like it. The third book (also unpublished) took only a year when I had a schedule.

    Book number four took only six months to write (on a schedule) and that's the book that sold and launched my career.

    I've revised the schedule now that I'm writing full-time, but it is still one of those "show up and get it done" things. I don't do a certain word count (that totally locks me up), but I do live in the story and with the characters during that writing time. And then I don't feel guilty goofing around on Twitter or playing Sims for hours because I know I've given my time to the wip as well.

    Anyhow, that's what worked for me. Good luck!

  39. Angie, thanks for visiting and for your comments!

    There's a really good point here that no method is going to work for everyone. I had tried the "schedule a block of time" method in the past and it just didn't work for me. All too often that "appointment" would turn into something that I would put off because something else seemed more urgent. On the other hand, the word count approach doesn't work for you.

    That's a great thing for writers (heck, everyone!) to keep in mind. Just because someone says "Try this system, it worked for me" that doesn't mean you've failed if it didn't work for you. You might just need a different system.

    Great comment, Angie, and congratulations on all of your successes!

  40. Love the idea of a Mulligan! I also find that once I build up momentum, the writing comes easier.

    Great post!


  41. Storyqueen, sorry that it took me so long to get back here and reply! I'm glad that you enjoyed the post. I find that I'm guarding my Mulligan like Gollum with his "precious." Even with the water disaster at our house yesterday I still hit my 500 words!

  42. Hey, I just discovered this post! I've already been doing the chain thing, except - well, over at , we call them Consistency clubs - Consistent Writers Club for writing every day, Consistent Readers Club, Consistent Editors club, and so on. But they definitely have the element of not wanting to break the streak!

    And greetings to a fellow Campaigner!

  43. Kelworthfiles, thanks for the link. I'll have to check that out!

    I appreciate you stopping by. If you haven't seen it yet, I just posted my response to the Campaign's 2nd Challenge.

  44. What a great post. I am completely in the not-writing-begets-not-writing phase and I've been like, man, why are things just not flowing? Recently, with the blogging campaign I've been focusing on Twitter and blogging, and my poor writing has suffered! So you are completely right, I need to find a balance for those things! And I love the chain calendar idea. Thanks for sharing!

  45. Cortney, thanks for stopping by! I am very glad that you found this post helpful.

  46. Cara turned me on to this when I first started wip500 in January. Printed out the 365 boxes and instead of an X I write down the number of words written for the day. (WIP only, planning and blogging don't count) Of course, I also am working at so my words count has to stay above 750 to 800 per day for me to feel like it counted there. That makes for an easy wip500.

    I'm with Cortney though. I had to find a balance, especially with my July deadline looming in the nearer distance and the music and the art, oh, and then the day job that takes most of my time.

    Sounds like you've been making some good progress though, keep it up man!

    1. Thanks for your comment and your encouragement!

      Good to see you around here.