A long post today, so you might want to grab a beverage. (grin)
Topic: The Power of Streaks Revisited
I talked here awhile back about the power of streaks. A “streak” means repeatedly hitting a certain regularly scheduled goal without missing. When you miss, the streak ends.
For example, say you’re determined to write 1000 words per day every day. The more days you do that in a row, the more powerful the streak becomes because you won’t want to miss.
As a nice aside, and if you did do that for 100 days in a row (just over 3 months) you would have written a 100,000 word novel, or two mid-sized novels, or three or four short novels or a bunch of novellas and/or short stories.
But I digress.
It’s true. A streak is very powerful, and for the most part, that’s a good thing. The longer your streak goes, the more it drives you to keep it going. In that way, it feeds on itself and your word count (or number of published short stories or novels) climbs astronomically quite quickly.
But that’s all the good stuff. It’s time to acknowledge that there’s also a dark side, a considerable downside, to streaks. The fact is, the streak is jealous. Once you break one, it’s extremely difficult to get a new one going.
Sometime last February or March, a professional writer announced that he planned to write 30 stories in 30 days during the month of April.
The assumption, and he mentioned nothing to derail that assumption, was that his challenge would consist of at least one story per day, every day for 30 days. He’d done that before, but never while doing something as involved as moving his entire household from one state to another. That was the kicker, the big part of the challenge.
Then someone commented on one of his posts, asking whether he might write 30 stories in 30 days, but not necessarily a story every day. I doubt the commenter realized he was giving the writer a conscious-mind “out.” But that’s exactly what he did.
Unfortunately, the writer took it. He responded that if he decided to do that (and that “if” is what doomed his challenge), he’d try to put a story or two in the bank. In other words, he’d try to write more than one story on some days going in.
Only he didn’t. He wrote 12 stories in a row, one per day, then broke the streak on Day 13. Then he missed Day 14. (When this happened to me, that second day was my “What’s the use?” day.)
Then he wrote two more stories, one per day, and missed again on Day 17.
When I broke my streak of writing a story per week (at 72 weeks) I did the same thing. Missed a couple of weeks then wrote a story or two and finally gave it up.
Same thing when I tried to write one story per day for a month. I made it for only 7 or 8 days, then missed. At that point I told myself “Well, I could still write 30 stories in the month. I’d just have to double up on one day.”
But it doesn’t matter. It’s like the old joke about women winning every argument. She wins because if the man says anything else, it’s the beginning of a new argument. (grin)
It’s the same with streaks, and that’s the takeaway here: You can’t miss a day and then keep going on the same streak. When you start again, it’s Day 1 of a new streak. If you keep going.
So what happened in the professional writer’s case?
In My Opinion, which has zero basis in fact (other than the numbers and my own past experience), he fed his critical mind just enough ammo to stop himself.
This particular writer knows better than anyone how powerful a streak can be. For that reason alone, I suspect he went into the challenge planning to write one story per day every day of the month.
But when someone offered him a slight safety net (he could write 30 stories in a month, but not one per day) he was tired and he took it.
He’s still way ahead. If not for the challenge he wouldn’t have written over 32,000 words in the first 12 days of the month. And if not for the sputtering restart, he wouldn’t have written two more stories for a total of almost 37,000 words on the month.
My hat’s off to the guy, maybe even moreso because I’ve seen critical voice slap him around a few times recently, and that means it doesn’t only happen to me. Plus he’s my mentor, so that adds a whole new twist.
I hope he finishes out the (slightly altered) challenge successfully. Problem is — again, IMHO — the alteration is what sabotaged the streak. I hope he finds a way to write the additional three stories while writing one story per day for the rest of the month.
Unfortunately, I don’t think he will. But the guy is a warrior of the written word. I think he’ll stagger to his feet and write one or two more stories, then miss another day and end it with an acknowledgment that he failed to success.
I hope I’m wrong.
Note: I wrote the above with the notion that it might be instructive for you. Please don’t share any of it with Dean. Trust me, he doesn’t need any negative input right now.
Rolled out late this morning at a little after 4. I knew from past experience trying to catch up with my usual schedule would only make things more hectic, so instead I got my coffee, settled in at the business computer, and screwed off for awhile. Including writing all of this.
Now it’s a little after 8:30. For various reasons, my trip to the Hovel was delayed. But finally I’m headed out to work on one WIP or the other. (grin)
If you’d read what I’ve already written for either of these WIPs you’d know why I said I’m going to work on “one WIP or the other.” It’s a very nice problem to have.
One (Versailles) seems to be shaping up as a war novel, and it’s very Hemingway-esque. The other one is a Stern Talbot, PI novel. It isn’t anything-esque. It’s just plain ol’ me. Very different, but both are a ton of fun.
Well, it’s the Stern Talbot novel. Added 1100 words in the first session, then up to the house for a break. (Frankly, I think my subconscious chose this one because it would be really cool to have finished my 31st novel by the end of April.)
I’d kind’a like to switch back and forth on the two WsIP, but the voices are just too different. Then again, y’never know. Like I said, it’s a good problem to have.
Well, I kept allowing myself to be distracted and wound up with fewer words on the day than I would have liked. Then again, the story hasn’t really taken off yet.
See “Another Miss… Down Three” at https://www.deanwesleysmith.com/another-miss-down-three/. And bless his heart for baring his soul.
On a lighter note, see “In-Person Workshops Moving to Las Vegas!” at https://www.deanwesleysmith.com/in-person-workshops-moving-to-las-vegas/.
Fiction Words: 2884
Nonfiction Words: 1230 (Journal)
So total words for the day: 4114
Writing of Pulp 9 (novel, tentative title)
Day 1…… 1926 words. Total words to date…… 1926
Day 2…… 2884 words. Total words to date…… 4810
Total fiction words for the month……… 24064
Total fiction words for the year………… 137605
Total nonfiction words for the month… 8160
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 41920
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 221305
Calendar Year 2018 Novels to Date………………………… 3
Calenday Year 2018 Novellas to Date…………………… 1
Calendar Year 2018 Short Stories to Date……… 0
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)………………………………………… 30
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)……………………………………… 5
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)……………………………… 182