Today I’m excited to be interviewing Nikki Weston on a method called-Don’t break the chain. Having recently started this myself, I’ve found it incredibly motivating, and a great way of getting more words on the page. I imagine it could be used in several areas of your life as well. And plan to do that next, once I’ve got this down.
Tricia: Nikki can you describe to the readers what exactly is ‘Don’t break the chain’ and how you stumbled upon this method?
Nikki: Hi Tricia and readers! ‘Don’t break the chain’ is a tool that helps you build a habit, and it’s a little bit of magic! It is attributed to prolific comedic writer Jerry Seinfeld, and the idea for us writers is simple: you write every day—every single day—and cross out a day on a calendar. Wanna groan? I did. Let’s face it, writing every single day is a PAIN, right? Heck, sometimes writing at all is a pain, but it’s what we’ve chosen to do. What DBTC does is get you over that pain. And it eradicates the excuses that we tell ourselves (and believe!) to get out of doing our daily words. So day 1 produces a little X on your calendar, day 2’s X is another link on the chain, and so on until you have a proud and ever-strengthening chain of Xs.
Xs => Days => Habit => commitment to yourself and your writing => a manuscript you have some hope of submitting and, heck, maybe even selling 😉
DBTC is particularly magic for me. Not only can I dream up incredibly convincing excuses for myself, but taking a break from writing only makes it harder to pick up the pen again. Why is that? I’m not sure, but I have proven time and again that whenever I take a ‘break’ from writing, I CANNOT START AGAIN. Sorry for the shouty capitals, but ‘breaks’ from writing are an absolute kiss of death to a writer like me.
Tricia: I find I have the same problem. Even one day away from my writing can totally through me off my game. How has this changed your life?
Nikki: Honestly, it’s helped me turn a mental corner in my path toward publication. It’s made me serious. I mean, really serious, about making writing pay the bills. It has helped me focus on what needs to be done. It has reaffirmed my commitment to myself, it has proved to me that I have the time and energy to write every single day. I am a stay at home mom to two rambunctious and very beautiful boys aged 4 and 2, so it’s busy here 😉 I spent July at RWA Nationals, came home exhausted, disappointed from a pitch rejection, and incredibly angry that my career wasn’t where I wanted it to be. I needed a goal, but before that, I just needed a splinter of hope, some reassurance that despite my personal circumstances, there was perhaps some small thing I could do to progress.
When I started DBTC on September 1st 2015, I had childcare for just two hours a week, and those two hours were used to defrazzle ;-). These days, I have six (wow!) childfree hours to myself every week, but writing a good book demands more than that. Much more. It demands you make more time, it demands you push through fatigue, it demands sacrifice. Most of all, it demands you dismiss the mound of excuses us writers are so damn good at creating. Cos we believe them, don’t we? I know I do. Don’t Break The Chain does not eradicate excuses, but it does take away their power. If that were a pill, I’d be first in line.
Don’t Break The Chain means writing something—anything—every day. I’m talking 15 minutes, or 100 words, something to contribute to your work-in-progress and to prove to you that you can do ‘this’, whatever your ‘this’ happens to be ;-).
My favorite excuse is, “Haven’t I done amazing today? I really have done so much, and boy do I deserve a break”. Of course I deserve a break. I also deserve two weeks in the Caribbean, but that ain’t gonna happen sweetie ;-). So I use the old trick of rephrasing. Rephrasing appears in all parts of life (like, check out my many rejection letters LOL!). Seriously, rephrasing works hand in hand with DBTC. So I take my ‘excuse’ for not writing and rephrase it to something like “Haven’t I done amazing today? And now I WANT to do something for me.” Or “Gee, today was just too much on me, I’m completely overwhelmed, and in order to change this lifestyle, I gotta do some one small thing to help myself today and write.”
Yeah, it’s a pain in the ass, and yeah, it’s completely lying to yourself, but so are excuses. They are lies, and we love them. Thing is, loving something that is repressing you is not smart. And this chick has a brain and a big ‘un at that, and I cannot let me sabotage myself any longer.
Rephrasing in this way takes effort and a lot of honesty, and yeah, you do have to do it repeatedly to make it a habit. But like any habit, it gets easier with practice.
DBTC can help boost your sense of self satisfaction and self-esteem. My self-esteem fluctuates and this writing habit has helped normalize that part of me.
Pardon the practical, but here are some more DBTC truths: because my writing is daily, it is consistent. Because my writing is daily, the story stays in my head. Because my writing is daily, I feel that I am making progress every day, especially on the days when life has thrown at me more than I could handle. I can still always handle 15 minutes’ writing, or 100 words, or 500 words, or whatever I decide is my daily minimum.
Tricia: This is so inspiring, and sounds like you have really found the right path for your journey. Have you found yourself implementing this method in other areas of your life?
Nikki: I have tried a modified version of DBTC, and failed dismally. Stomach crunches for two minutes every second day for the first week, then 4 mins every day for the second week and….er…. well, that lasted only two short weeks. Maybe I went from small goal to too-big-a-goal too quickly, maybe it was down to skipping a day, LOL! Either way, my goal isn’t to have a flat midriff anytime soon, it’s to write a great book and submit it by March 31st, so that is where my energy goes.
So if you’re considering starting a chain of your own, here are some key points:
– Start small. Like, crazy small 😉 I wrote a minimum of 100 words each day in September. It was doable. No matter what else was going on in my life, no matter how down I got, how busy I got, how incredibly awesome my excuses got. I did 100 words minimum, just so that I could build writing into my life, permanently. By the end of the month, I had 3000+ words AND a habit ;-). So my advice is to please don’t be tempted to run before you can walk. Remember: a little and often.
- The first three days are the hardest. Bear this in mind and keep the faith for those first three days. Keep at it long enough to make it a habit.
- Print out a calendar and put it up someplace. Yes, up and visible. Mine is a monthly one and it’s on the refrigerator door and it’s covered in ridiculous red Xs. After 5 months of extended family coming and going, not one person has ever remarked on it, and my family is the king of pass-remarkable.
- Make yourself accountable. That means telling someone every single day. I post a single line to my writers’ loop online, no one has to respond, it’s for me, so I know I’ve done my work and have ‘reported’ to my friends. Some people keep a diary, some text their friends. What will work for you? Find it and do it.
- So it’s day 3? 4? 18? And you’re still on the chain gang! Yay! But a word of caution! Listen to the excuses that you’ll STILL come up with. Mine was this: “Oh, you’ve written 103 words today Nikki, aren’t you awesome? That’s you off the hook for today!” Alert! Alert! Excusitis outbreak! I had hit my daily minimum goal, then talked myself into quitting? Where’s the sense in that? I got honest with myself, and pushed past that thought. Yeah, it took effort, but it worked. Once I stopped consciously counting the words, I got to 500 words daily with more ease than I ever thought possible.
- Maybe it’s day 35? Or even 64? Great, good for you, now might be the time to raise your daily minimum goal to something higher. Half-way through October, I was regularly sailing past 1000 words every single day.
- Reward yourself! I must admit I still struggle with this, but a weekly reward can provide strong motivation to write every day and make your daily minimums. Right now, I have my eye on a darling little daisy-covered tote!
- Think about how far you’ve come. This was the clincher for me. I would remember back to the disappointment and low times that were July and August. I realized that this chain represented me, my strength, my ambition. It was me who was making this progress, it was me who was making my dreams come true, it was me who was (finally!) proud and empowered enough to keep going, no matter what (Here’s a cheeky little caveat to the ‘no matter what’ concept: in my book, sickness is the one thing that will call for a chain rethink. Nothing but nothing comes before my health, mental and physical. You are the authority on you and your health.)
Now there are still days where I hit my minimum goal and no more. This past month due to Christmas, a month of heavy social commitments with visiting siblings, and considerable sickness that just.won’t.clear (grrr!), I brought my daily goal down to 100 words a day, or 5 minutes of work, whatever I hit first.
As of today’s date (17th January), I have written every day for 139 consecutive days. Cannot tell you the pride and self-satisfaction I feel, not to mention an ever-strengthening manuscript that is on target for my submission goal.
Tricia: Congratulations Nikki! Sounds like you have overcome the procrastination monster that seems to affect so many of us. I’m so thrilled you stopped by to share this system with us. So…would you like to maybe give us a hint on what your current work-in-progress is about?
‘Tempted by the Italian tycoon’ is a contemporary category-length story set in Italy. Luca DiMauro fights through throes of grief for ownership of a decrepit mansion that London student Stella Sullivan calls home. He’ll do anything to get Rosary Hall—including losing the woman he loves. But destroying the place can never destroy his pain of the present or the past.
Nikki that sounds like a book I would like to read, and I wish you all the luck with it. Your journey of DBTC has been both informative and inspirational, thank you so much for sharing it with us. Nikki Weston can be found:
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So this week I am throwing down a challenge. Whether it is writing or something else in your life to try DBTC, and let’s see how quickly we can meet those goals by putting in the effort every day.