The Calendar System (aka Chaining)

If like me, you’re primary activity isn’t writing (ie you’ve got a day job) then finding the time, and the motivation, to get words down on paper can be a real challenge. Writing a novel is essentially a second job so after a day lost in the office often the last you want to do is sit down in front of a computer screen again. To help improve this situation I’ve found ticking off the days on a calendar to be an excellent motivator.

I first heard this method referred to as Chaining by Jerry Seinfield to keep himself motivated when writing. You get a big wall calendar and everyday you write you put a big red cross on that day. Once you’ve gotten through a few days then you’ve made yourself a chain of crosses, a visible indicator of your progress – the task then is to not break the chain, forcing you to write every day. I’m sure he wasn’t the first person to think of this and the idealogy can be applied to almost anything be it running a business or quitting smoking.

It’s not rocket science, it’s not brand new but it does work

My method, while inspired by Chaining, is slightly similar. Get yourself a calendar – it doesn’t have to be a big wall calendar but it has to be one that you can put somewhere visible and which you aren’t going to use for anything else. Personally I like to use David Seah’s Candy Bar Calendar as I can customise it before printing it out and see multiple months on a one sheet of paper. Once you’ve got your calendar get yourself a pen – red or black, the thicker or the better. Place this next to the calendar – this is your Day Crosser. Use this pen only for crossing off days on the calendar (and nothing else) the uniformity will help convey your progress and using the pen exclusively for this task will using it in a minor, but frequent, reward. Now go write. Once your done, cross off the day. Only put down a cross if you actually wrote something – research doesn’t count. Thinking about your novel doesn’t count. Editing – hmmm if you get a lot of it done then I guess that count but as a golden rule, you only get a cross if there’s new (or better) words on the page. I also have a minimum requirement of 30 minutes spent writing to merit a cross – you want to put this up or down for yourself. The next big difference between my approach and Chaining is, well, chaining. I don’t do it. Obviously I try to get as many crosses on the calendar as I can but I’m not too worried about chains. Realistically I’ve got too much else going on to be able to write every day so constantly breaking chains would be too demoralising for me. Instead I use to keep track of how many days within a week I’ve written. I try to aim for at least four crosses a week and absolutely no more than one missed day in a row.

So there you have it, the Calendar System. It’s not rocket science, it’s not brand new but it does work. If you’re struggling to commit to your writing then I highly recommend it, obviously what works for one person won’t be universal so feel free to tailor the rules to own style (but don’t be too easy on yourself). Give it a couple of months and you should have a very rewarding record of your progress offering both incentive to keep pressing on and, most likely, some reminders of periods where you’ve not been keeping up the pace. Good luck!

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Published in: on April 3, 2010 at 1:42 PM  Leave a Comment  
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