Last week I urged you to write that thing that scares you…and to get started by writing three sentences.
Did you do that? Did you write those three sentences?
I did. I dove straight into the thing that scares me and wrote three sentences. Then three more. Then a whole paragraph. And another. I got going and didn’t stop for two pages. Then, okay, then I stopped because I started to feel a bunch of feelings sloshing around inside me and I was sitting in the library and didn’t want to slosh out a lot of tears in front of the librarian helping a woman search for a biography. So I stopped writing for the day.
The progress reminded me that a few sentences quickly grow to be a paragraph and another and next thing you know, you have a scene or a chapter. Committing to those first three sentences engaged my mind; once engaged, the ideas flowed. I would have continued had I been in a more private location.
Another way of looking at those three sentences is that even if I’d managed only three sentences and no more, I would have made progress.
The only way I won’t make progress is by not writing at all.
If I manage to write three sentences and stop, the piece has begun, ever so slightly, to exist and take shape.
Don’t underestimate the power of those first three sentences to get a project—especially a scary one—in motion. It’s like you’re committing to more if you get three sentences down and return the next day and add three more. In fact, next time, you might add four.
Author and speaker James Clear explores how small habits can change our lives.
In one article, he tells about Dave Brailsford, the General Manager and Performance Director for Great Britain’s professional cycling team, who started to train his team in 2010 using an approach he referred to as the “aggregation of marginal gains” which was “the 1 percent margin for improvement in everything you do.”
The idea was those small gains would add up and you’d meet your goal, over time. Their goal was to win the Tour de France.
They looked for 1 percent improvements in every aspect of these cyclist’s lives, from what they ate to how they slept. Brailsford anticipated they’d win in five years. Surprise! They won it in three years…and then they went on to dominate the 2012 Olympic Games, won the Tour de France again in 2013 with another rider on the team.
How does the Aggregation of Marginal Gains affect us today, as writers, writing three sentences a day?
James Clear says, “Almost every habit that you have — good or bad — is the result of many small decisions over time…And yet, how easily we forget this when we want to make a change.”
He did a “tiny gains” challenge with exercise, adding on a tiny bit of weight to his strength training program and encouraging others to add a tiny bit to whatever their exercise was, whether it’s squats, pushups, or walking.
In other words, tiny gains add up.
Three sentences per day on any project, whether it scares you or not, will add up. Start with three sentences, and to make tiny gains over time, try adding an extra sentence each week. This means you’d write three sentences every day the first week. The following week, you’d write four sentences each day, and so on. If you have a crazy week or day, revert back to the minimum of at least three sentences to ensure you’ll make progress.
But think of ways you can make tiny gains, because a few sentences will become a paragraph, a few paragraphs become a chapter. And a few chapters become a book.
Set out to write at least three sentences. And then the following week, try to make a tiny gain, whatever that means for you.
And sentence by sentence, you’re going to meet your goal, because tiny gains over time add up.
Listen for the full podcast.
- #32: What’s the Thing You Really Want to Write…That Scares You?
- #14: Progress, Not Perfection
- The 2015 Tiny Gains Challenge (James Clear)
- This Coach Improved Every Tiny Thing by 1 Percent and Here’s What Happened (James Clear on Marginal Gains)
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Is your writing life all it can be?
Let this book act as your personal coach, to explore the writing life you already have and the writing life you wish for, and close the gap between the two.
“A genial marriage of practice and theory. For writers new and seasoned. This book is a winner.”
—Phil Gulley, author of Front Porch Tales