It's now been three months since I started trying to write every day. Unfortunately a handful of 3am starts -- and one hangover -- prevented me from hitting the 1,000 word goal I had set for myself on every day of the quarter, but of a potential word count of 91 thousand words, I'm pretty pleased that I managed almost 86 thousand in the first three months of the year. By way of comparison, that's more words than are in the first two Harry Potter books, The Catcher in the Rye, or Brave New World.

Aside from making steady progress on my novel, I've also written eleven blog posts (including one that garnered over 60,000 views and became one of the top 20 most recommended articles on Medium that day), fifteen short stories (the first of which I published the other day), a couple of film reviews, and a handful of pieces of short-form flash fiction.

I'm going to call that a successful first quarter.

A few things I have learned about writing and about myself

It's impossible to write a thousand words every day for three months and not learn something about what it takes to motivate (or de-motivate) yourself. Here's what I have found out so far:

  • I need music to write. Without some sort of aural distraction, my mind wanders, usually in the direction of social media; a nice long playlist of vocal-free tunes (like this one on Spotify) is necessary for me to focus. I tried brain.fm, a sort of intelligent white-noise generator, a couple of times, and that seemed to work reasonably well too, but not enough to make me want to pay for it. I should probably try one of those apps that prevents you from accessing the internet for a period of time.
  • It's very easy to make excuses. It was relatively rare for me to write less than 1,000 words in a day -- I either hit my target, or didn't manage anything at all. The days that I skipped writing altogether were the ones that started out badly, rising at 3am to catch an early flight, or were interrupted by unplanned social events. But in pretty much every case, it would absolutely have been possible for me to write if I had not been too eager to give myself permission to fail. I need to get better at forcing myself to write, no matter what obstacles life places in my path.
  • Nothing feels better than being done by lunchtime. On the rare occasion that I met my target before late evening, I felt great. If I could do that more often, I'd be very happy.
  • It's good to experiment. Writing in different styles and genres is a great way to discover your own voice, and find out what you feel most comfortable writing. I've written fantasy, sci-fi, horror and comedy (as well as what is generally termed 'literary fiction', i.e. none of the above) over the last three months.
  • Don't forget about your main project. There is always going to be one particular thing that is a lot easier to churn out than anything else you might work on, but don't let the ease with which you can produce bad poetry or Harry Potter fan-fic distract you from your primary goal, whatever that might be. For me, it's a novel, so I'm trying to make sure that at least half of my time is spent working on that.

We are what we repeatedly do

I've had the above quote, attributed to Aristotle, on my personal homepage for the last year or so, and it's certainly the case that it doesn't take much to engender a new habit. I don't think I'm capable, any more, of simply forgetting to write on a particular day.

Hopefully this new assiduity remains constant throughout the rest of 2016.

Matthew Pennell

Designer, developer, writer, runner, gamer, devil's advocate, INTP. Senior designer for Booking.com. Founder, Refresh Cambridge.