Friday, January 13, 2012

The Seinfeld Chain Revisited

This is going to be the 100th post on my blog and I thought it would be a good time to look back at one of my most popular posts "The Seinfeld Chain."

If you're not familiar with the concept, the idea is simple... You set a goal for something that you're going to do every day. In my case, that's write 500 words. Then, each day when you meet that goal, you put an X on a calendar. After a few days, you have a chain. And then, in the words of comedian Jerry Seinfeld, your job is simple. "Don't Break The Chain!"

I officially started my chain on September 1st, 2011. As you can see below, I've been able to keep the chain going on a regular basis. Each box through yesterday has a nice little X in it. (EDITED TO ADD: Someone asked me in the comments where I get the calendar templates. I get them from this site:

134 days and counting!
More about how I use the Chain past the jump...

One of the most important things when you set out to use the Chain is to choose your goal wisely. If it's something that you have good reason to believe you simply won't be able to do every day, then it might not be a good candidate for the goal.

The best decision I made was to have a broad definition of what counted as "words" for my chain. My 500 words can be new words on a fiction project, blog post words, even words that go into a critique for a fellow writer. All three of those are things that I believe keep my writing progress moving forward, so none of them feel like a "cheap" option. But there are certainly some days when mentally it's easier for me to work on a blog post or a critique than to try to press forward with a fiction project. Having that ability to let my fiction-writing brain "rest" has been very valuable.

I've thought a lot in the past about whether I wanted to try to add an editing/revising metric to this. For now, I'm going to stick with not adding such a metric. Editing and revising is important, and I may yet decide at some point to modify my daily goal to give revisions as an option. Most likely that would happen if I determined that was going to be the only way I was going to be able to reasonably devote enough time to revisions on the first draft I completed during NaNoWriMo.

For now, the metric I'm planning to add to my overall goals from month to month for revising will be an "hour count" goal. So, I might say that I'll spend four hours per week on revisions or something of that sort. I think that I would be able to keep myself rather honest there and not spend those four hours "revising" but really playing around on Twitter. Of course, if I tried that for a month or two and it wasn't working, I could change course again.

In the end, I think that's what I've learned. Set a realistic goal. If you're giving it an honest try and it's not working, don't be afraid to adjust. Find what works for you.

Thanks for reading this post and the 99 which have come before it. I'm looking forward to sharing the next 100 with you!


  1. Congratulations on keeping the chain alive for over 4 months! I definitely like this idea a lot.

  2. This is such a great idea...I might just steal it :)

  3. Oh wow what a fabulous idea. I love it. Where can I get the calendar template to cross off?

  4. Thanks, all for your comments.

    Madeline, I get the calendar templates at this site:

    1. A better link for getting to the whole year's worth of calendars is

      I print mine landscape, for what it's worth.

  5. Michael, enjoying your blog and your Twitter posts. I am doing the WIP500 (but I just started in January, congrats on 4 months!). Reading your thoughts on what constitutes "words" has really allowed me to pull my head out from under the looming guillotine of pressure. (I'm a newbie blogger and just did my first Nano novel in November - so daily writing is pretty new for me). I have been including editing/revising in my WIP500 count if I haven't been able to accomplish anything else that day, but it is hard to know exactly how many words I wrote while doing that.

    Keep up the great work and thanks for the encouragement!

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Janie! It sounds like you're finding what works for you which is a really great thing. That to me is the ultimate key here: Be honest with yourself about what's a reasonable commitment to make that allows you to grow as a writer without driving yourself crazy on a regular basis. Putting the pressure on without letting it crush you.

      There's definitely a similarity between what I'm doing with the Seinfeld Chain and the WIP500 project (which I'm also participating in) but there are also some differences. My perception, at least, is that WIP500 is more about *averaging* 500 words a day than about absolutely getting to 500 each and every day. At the same time, I think that the founder of WIP500 only intended for works-in-progress writing to "count."

      Averages, for me personally, are a temptation to slack of with the idea that "I'll catch up soon." Except then soon never comes... That's why I hold myself to a daily word-count routine even if not all of the words that *I* count for my Chain are WIP500 words.

      So, if I write a 500-word blog post, that meets my Seinfeld Chain commitment to myself but I don't count those words towards WIP500. On the other hand, if I were to not write anything at all on a given day, I could "make it up" the next day for WIP500. For my Seinfeld Chain I'd have to take my "mulligan" (described in the original post linked in the first paragraph).

      Revisions I only count for either if I'm writing a whole new chunk of words like adding a scene or completely rewriting a scene from something close to scratch.

      OK, so that's a lot of words about counting words. (And none of these words are going to count, darn it!) ;-)

      Remember that these are all tools and while some pressure is good, if you've gotten to the point where it really feels like a "looming guillotine" (and it's not just a bad day or two) maybe an adjustment is in order.

      Best of luck and I hope that things that I write here and on Twitter continue to be of interest and use to you.

  6. Yay for meeting goals :) What a cool writing idea.


  7. I love the Seinfeld chain idea and yours is impressive. Maybe I should get a calendar to see how I do. :-)

  8. That's awesome. In those 134 days, how many words did you wind up writing?

    I keep reminding myself that consistency is more important than quantity.

  9. Thanks, Donna and Misha. If you're looking for a way to try to keep yourself accountable for writing every day, I think it's a fantastic method.

    Emily, beyond "did I hit 500 or not" I didn't keep track of word totals until this month. (I have a 250,000 word goal for writing new fiction during the year, which is why I started.)

    But I was curious, so I went through and tried to estimate it just now. I came up with 135,000 words of fiction. I've got roughly 56,000 words of completed or in-progress short fiction during that time. My NaNoWriMo first draft was about 57,000 words and there are about 22,000 words in projects I'd consider to be "on hold."

    I'd estimate somewhere around another 40,000 or so words for blog posts and 5-7,000 in words for critiques for other writers.

    That's a lot of words. :)

  10. That is Amazing, Michael! I'm so proud of you. I am about to link to this post in my #writemotivation post for tomorrow and talk about my consecutive days too. It's only 16 days. But I've never written consecutively before and I'm so elated! Thanks for this! Although I haven't been doing the Seinfeld chain, per say, I have done something like it! Thanks for the help in motivation!

  11. just thought I'd re-introduce myself :)
    Sorry about that. But this is LadyJai. I've changed the link to my blog so that's why it looks funny when I comment now LOL

  12. Hi, LadyJai! I saw your post today. You're off to a great start this year. Congratulations!