Don't Break the Chain

Published by: Skylark on 25th Feb 2015 | View all blogs by Skylark

Don't break the chain...

I've been a bit absent from the Cloud of late but it's all in a good cause. The WIP is making excellent progress: it's heading towards 70k and I think I may have just caught the first tiniest glimpse of the end peeping out at me over the horizon. But, sssh, don't let on, because it's a timid beast and if it knows I'm looking, it may take off in fright and give me another 10k to add onto the end. I don't really know how long it's going to be but the one thing I'm certain about, it's that I will get to the end of it this year. No more excuses. No more time-wasting. No more panicking about whether I can do this or whether it's good enough. I've set myself a real-proper deadline of the end of the Easter holidays to finish the first draft so I can spend the summer term re-writing so that I've got something concrete-ish to take with me to York this year. And this isn't one of those wussy deadlines that get shifted around depending on my productivity, oh no! This is a set-in-stone, You're-Not-Going-To-York-This-Year-If-You-Miss-It kind of deadline. (Slightly scared myself, tbh, with the severity of the talking to that I gave myself.)

In the meantime, it didn't pass by Skylark Husband unnoticed that I had spent much of the Autumn term wallowing in Youngest-Child-Now-At-School self-pity and not getting as much writing done as I should have been considering how much time I now had at my disposal. (And, yes, I did spot the irony of having spent the last few years looking forward to this time only to start desperately back-pedalling when it arrived.) So he got me a bunch of writing-themed Christmas presents as his way of gently kicking me up the backside: a writing mug, a word-game and a word-processed chart he made and printed off for me. The first got the laugh it deserved (and at the rate at which I break mugs, a new one is always handy) and the second turned out to be an excellent writing warm-up/brain break/relaxation tool, but it's the chart that's really pushed me out of the doldrums and got me writing at a pace I've not come close to reaching in a long time and one I thought was worth sharing in case it works for anyone else.

It's a simple idea. At the top it says, 'Don't break the chain' and underneath are 365 boxes numbered from 1-365. All I have to do is write every day and colour a box in every day that I write, and what I must try not to do is break the chain. When I say 'write every day', it doesn't have to be for long and there is no word limit. I've set myself the goal of writing for at least half an hour a day - though on my dedicated writing days I often manage to fit in several hours - but even if I only manage ten minutes, and I've added some new words, I get to colour the box in. (Interestingly, having allowed myself the possibility of only writing for ten minutes, I've only fallen back on that once since I started. Every other writing session has been half an hour or more.)

To maximise the chances of this strategy succeeding, I sat down before I started and drew up a timetable of exactly when each day I could feasibly fit the writing in. Some days are timetabled down to the very last millisecond because there's so much else going on and that's the only way I can make sure that the writing gets its slot. Other days, like my two precious, dedicated writing days, are more flexible and if I'm on a roll, I can write for four-five hours - bliss! Some days, like my teaching days, I have no choice but to leave the writing until after the kids are in bed (phone reminder set to alarm so I can't forget after a busy day of doing non-writing related things). What I found, though, was that once I committed to finding the time, it wasn't as hard as I thought and most of the time it's been easy to stick to the routine I've set out for each day. Every now and then a day comes along that messes with the routine or is just so stupidly packed that the only time left to write is either ridiculously early in the morning or ridiculously late at night and it requires a fair amount of internal bullying to sit down and open the laptop. But even then, I've found that once I get started, I can produce a useable chunk of around 300 words, which is better than none and adds up to a significant portion of the overall word count over time.

I've often advocated the idea of trying to write every day, even if it's just with the intention to write one sentence (because a sentence can lead to a paragraph which can lead to a page which can lead to two pages and so on) but this is the first time that I've sustained the 'write every day' habit for more than a couple of 
weeks at a time because it in the past it has been soooooo easy to make an excuse when something big comes along to get in the way. And then 
once you've made the excuse for something big, it's easier to make an excuse for something medium sized, and then you make an excuse for something little, and then something tiny, and before you know it, you've not opened the WIP in a month. So why does the 'Don't Break the Chain' chart work for me where simple self-motivation doesn't? I think, first of all, it's the visual reminder of my 'chain' - it's stuck to the side of a cupboard in the kitchen where my keys also hang so I see it several times every day and it reminds me to write and it reminds me how far I've come since Day 1. Secondly, I'm quite a competitive person, but not really against other people, more with myself. I like the challenge of setting myself goals and then seeing if I can beat it the next time. Like when I took up mountain biking two years ago and determined to get to the top of the very steep lane outside my house. It took me just over a year of aiming for the next lamp post, the next tree, the next drain cover, the next telegraph poll - and never allowing myself to take a step backwards, always matching or bettering the landmark I'd reached the previous week - before I finally made it to the top without stopping. The chart taps into that competitive streak - you've made 10 days? Well done. Next goal 20 days. Now a month. Now 50 days.

I've now written for 52 days in a row without breaking the chain and it's getting easier every day, partly because I've got so far in I really, really don't want to break the chain, and partly because it's now firmly imbedded in my weekly routine, but most of all because of the creative benefits I'm now reaping as a result of writing every day. I never lose my place in the WIP, never have to waste time refreshing my memory or working out where I was planning to go next. My characters are fresh in my head, I'm living with the story all the time and that's making me more creative in between the writing sessions in terms of dreaming scenes and characters and plotting ideas, and that in turn makes each writing session more meaningful and productive, which keeps me eager to write more because I know it won't be as hard as sitting down with something I've not looked at in weeks.

My next goal? 75 days. Then 100 days. By which time I will be extremely close to the scary Not-Going-To-York deadline...but if I've managed not to break the chain, hopefully I'll also be extremely close to finishing the first draft. Yikes!

Keep on writing, 
keep on writing...



  • Pinkbelt75
    by Pinkbelt75 3 years ago
    Hi Skylark,

    I had a similar epiphany at new year. So I set my self up a little group on the cloud and give myself a target to write every day. So I decided to develop my Kansas story into a novel. After a shakey start I am up and running. It's working too in the last four days I've wrote about 3000 words.

    So good luck to you and keep writing.


  • Squidge
    by Squidge 3 years ago
    Sky, I'm SO pleased! To hear that *whispers* you're almost at the end of the story is fantastic. And what a clever yet simple way to keep motivated. It's all too easy to procrastinate and put the writing off - I'm fighting ot stay on track with things myself. Might have to give Mr Skylark's chart a go myself...
  • Fanny Alexander
    by Fanny Alexander 3 years ago
    Thank you for this, Skylark! Great blog; lovely husband. This is just the kind of optimistic, inspiring blog that I needed to read this morning with a full day of writing available to me today. I like the idea of something visual to keep me focused. At the moment it's Lego: every time I write/work on the wip, I add a brick or two (it's not an exact science!) to what will eventually be a house - instead of the pile of rubble that it still resembles! If I neglect the wip for a couple of days, I make myself remove a brick - it hurts to see the house deteriorate!

    Don't break the chain. Good luck.

    Pinkbelt, I keep seeing references to Kansas. Is any it posted anywhere? I'd love to have a little look. And well done on the 3,000 words. Must crack on myself instead of hanging out here....

  • Newbie
    by Newbie 3 years ago
    Inspiring indeed, Skylark. Well done, such tenacity deserves to bring its own reward.

    A clever idea of yours Fanny A: to build or not to build...

    I used to bribe myself with chocolate - not hard to do...
  • /
    by / 3 years ago
    I am astounding and I think (and have been told several dozen times by medical professionals) there is something wrong with me.

    You can write every day? I go days without words, then stay up all night laughing to myself and writing like a mad thing.

    I tip my beer mat in your direction.

    Enjoyed this and flinched for you at the empty nest part. Her-indoors was inconsolable.

    Anyway, good to hear/read from you. You have been missed...
  • Caducean Whisks
    by Caducean Whisks 3 years ago
    I'm like you, Prop - a feast or famine writer. I do admire those (like Skylark) who write diligently each day, but I can only keep it up for a few days or couple of weeks, before I've run out of words and need time to brew some more. But when they're all nicely steeped, there's no stopping me.
    Horses for courses, and delighted that you've found a method that suits you, Sky. Excellent. Keep going.
  • Janeshuff
    by Janeshuff 3 years ago
    I'm like you Skylark. A write everyday sort of person. Except I can't when we have visitors. Don't know why but the presence of anyone except my husband in the house stops me dead. Even if they keep out of my way. And as for the empty nest thing - just wait until they leave home ...
  • Dr J
    by Dr J 3 years ago
    Inspiring Skylark! I've been in the doldrums a bit recently - lots of excuses not to have time to write, leaving WIP for months and then feeling overwhelmed by how little I've done and how rubbish it is and how there's soooo much work to do!
    Anyway I am going to give your method a go - even if its only a sentence at least I'm remembering to think about it! Life has a habit of getting in the way!
  • Flickimp
    by Flickimp 3 years ago
    Work has been my enemy with writing time recently.
    I just aim for a minimum of 2 chapters a week now.
    It doesn't matter if they're long chapters or short - as long as they get done.
  • Loretta Milan
    by Loretta Milan 3 years ago
    OOOH! I'm loving the idea of a 365 chart. Going to make one tonight and hold myself to it! Well done on making so much progress - it's inspiring.

  • Hil
    by Hil 3 years ago
    This is so inspiring, Skylark. I KNOW I would benefit from this. It really struck a chord with me - the bit about not losing your place or having to refresh your memory. And even if it's only a few sentences, the chain isn't broken. And, yes, what a lovely thing for Mr Skylark to do. Good for you and keep going. You will. So, dare I start?
  • SecretSpi
    by SecretSpi 3 years ago
    Good on you - and I liked the idea of the Lego house, too from Fanny Alexander. But tell me one thing - do you write when you're away on holiday, too?
  • Skylark
    by Skylark 3 years ago
    Ah, I love the Cloud! Thanks for all your lovely comments :-)
    Pinkbelt, I'm so pleased to hear that you're expanding your Kansas story into a novel - I thought when I read it that it had more of a story to tell. Good luck with it! My WIP also started life as a short story that wouldn't go away when I tried to return to other projects.
    Squidge, I can email you a copy ;-)
    Fanny, I *love* the lego brick idea. Fantastic! Hope your WIP continues to go well :-)
    Newbie, I very much hope that my renewed determination gets me there - it won't be from lack of trying! :-)
    Ah, thanks, Prop. I've missed the Cloud! I thought I'd be relaxed about my youngest going to school and was knocked a bit sideways by how hard it turned out to be. But he's getting on fine and so am I now :-)
    Whisks, I think that naturally I am a feast or famine writer but when the kids came along I had to learn to take any opportunity going because of the unpredictability of when the next opportunity would present itself. So my habits have changed over time and in the last 52 days I've realised I really can write anytime anywhere, though it may be rubbish!!
    Janeshuff, that will be my biggest challenge - I've always found it near impossible to write with visitors in the house or while at other's houses, especially my Mum's and my in-laws. So far in the last 52 days, it's not been an issue....will be interesting to see what happens the first time it is!
    DrJ, that's exactly what I get like. One of the best things about the last 52 days? NO WRITING GUILT! :-D Good luck with the chart - hope it works for you :-)
    Flick, as always, I am in awe of your drive. I'm managing about half of your output at the moment - but seeing as you normally quadruple my efforts, I call that progress on my part ;-)
    Thanks, Loretta, and good luck! Hope it works for you :-)
    Hil, go for it! You won't regret it :-)
    Spi, sometimes I write when I'm away on holiday but it depends very much where I am and who I'm with. Mostly, it falls by the wayside. In the last 52 days, I've not been anywhere except a couple of brief overnight trips and on both those occasions I wrote before I went and wrote when I got back. Also not had anyone staying. The next time we've got anyone staying or we're going anywhere is, I think, around Easter so I'll let you know how I get on. By then I'll have even more reasons not to break the chain so hopefully that will make it easier to do it.
  • John Taylor
    by John Taylor 3 years ago
    Skylark, knowing Mr Skylark as I do, I think he will bend over backwards to make sure you complete that chart. My writing suffers every day I don't write, and 'don't break the chain' could be my motto, but sadly, there are some days when I do break it. Sometimes when I can't write, I just read some of my own work and a sentence or two will sneak up on me. I LOVE the idea of the Lego house, Fanny, especially as lego bricks (stood on in bare feet) on the floor are a recurring theme in my WIP!
  • Skylark
    by Skylark 3 years ago
    :-) :-) :-)
    I've got a challenge coming up on Wednesday. My normal routine would be getting up at 6am to leave the house at 7am for work, returning around 6pm, dinner, exercise class and then an evening of writing from around 8pm onwards. But this Wednesday, I'm leaving school with my choir at lunchtime to go and take part in Young Voices at the arena in Manchester and I'll be lucky to get home before 11.30pm. So where to fit in my half hour of writing? At 11.30pm after a very long, exciting, exhausting day? Or get up at 5.30am (*wince*) and slot in half an hour before breakfast? I am known for my early morning writing sessions but they normally start with a 6 not a 5!! Determined not to break the chain though!!
  • Fanny Alexander
    by Fanny Alexander 3 years ago
    Uff! A challenge, indeed, Skylark. Wow. Neither of those ends of the day sound particularly inviting...On the coach? Locked in the loos at the arena? I don't know what to suggest - but I have faith and I look forward to hearing how you choose not to break the chain!

    Thanks, John Taylor. Standing barefoot on Lego bricks a recurring theme? Intriguing!
  • Skylark
    by Skylark 3 years ago
    Skylark the Youngest clearly felt he needed to help me with this particular challenge. My alarm was set for 5.15am and he gave me an early 'bad dream' wake-up call at 4.50am!! (This from the child who wakes in the night about once every six months!) By the time he was settled, I was wide awake and it was just after 5am so little point in trying to get more sleep. Out came the laptop and 45 mins later, I've written 700 very serviceable words. Job done; box coloured in! Now off for a very long, very exciting day without the niggle at the back of my mind that I still have to write. Hooray! My only challenge now will be staying awake for it all....
  • Skylark
    by Skylark 3 years ago
    Day 100 without breaking the chain and....*drum roll*....I've just FINISHED THE FIRST DRAFT!!

    How do I feel? Right now, complete and utter relief that a) I do actually have the ability to get to the end of another novel, b) I don't have to carry out the threat of not going to York (which is a jolly good thing seeing as I tempted all fates by booking it the other day because I couldn't afford to pass on the 20% discount offer)

    A darkened room beckons for the next few weeks and then it's rewrite time.

  • John Taylor
    by John Taylor 3 years ago
    For those who are not in the know, Skylark has not just finished a first draft. She has finished a draft that takes an author to the extreme, in her challenging choice of subject, in her uncompromising approach to the subject, and in the extraordinary voice she is writing it in. The book is so challenging, that I have it on good authority that it broke Microsoft Word. I am letting out one almighty CHEER!!!!
  • Noodledoodle
    by Noodledoodle 3 years ago
    Wow! I may have to follow suit :) Huge congrats, Sky. Now sit down and have a glass of wine x
  • Jenni Belsay
    by Jenni Belsay 3 years ago
    Well done, Skylark! Bask in the moment.
  • Skylark
    by Skylark 3 years ago
    Thanks, John, though you may want to wait and see what I mess I've made of it first ;-) Noodles, that's my plan as soon as I can get the kids in bed. I may pretend it's later than it actually is... Thanks, Jenni, I am :-) And John's right, I did break Microsoft Word. "There are too many spelling and grammatical errors in 'Jesika First Draft.docx' to continue displaying them." Haha!
  • Squidge
    by Squidge 3 years ago
    Hooray!! Jesika's story's done! *raises celebratory glass to you whilst doing a happy dance*
  • Caducean Whisks
    by Caducean Whisks 3 years ago
    Well done Sky, sterling effort. How many words did it come in at?
  • Skylark
    by Skylark 3 years ago
    Thanks, Squidge and Whisks. It came in at 85k which seems short but felt right. I knew by 50k that it was was going to be between 70-80k so I wasn't far off. It'll be interesting to see if the rewrite adds some, as I think there is some sub-plot development needed....
  • Hil
    by Hil 3 years ago
    I looked back at this blog because I'm taking the plunge and creating a colour-in chain for myself. And I see that you've done it, Skylark! I missed the 'announcement'! Glad I've caught up - and congratulations. Hope the rewrite is now going well.
  • Hil
    by Hil 3 years ago
    (Your birth of first draft announcement coincided with my birth of granddaughter announcement, which is probably why I missed it!)
  • Skylark
    by Skylark 3 years ago
    Thanks, Hil! I've not started the rewrite yet (been taking a break) but I have managed to keep writing every day doing Cloud comps and a short story and I'm now up to something like 125 days. It's completely changed my writing habits for the better :-) The rewrite starts next week - eek! I'll enjoy it once I get going but getting butterflies when I think about the state I'm going to find it in.... Good luck with your chart - and wonderful news about your granddaughter - I think I said that at the time?
  • Hil
    by Hil 3 years ago
    Yes, you did say that!
    I'm sorting out some probs with my first chapter at the moment, procrastinating writing the next new bit... But I have a good bit of time free over the next few days, so I have high hopes.
  • Jen
    by Jen 3 years ago
    I think I desperately need this 'Don't break the chain' box thing myself!! Well done Skylark, that's so good. It's so hard to find the momentum and the will to keep going. Well done on finishing the first daft - that has got to feel amazing! And then you'll be on track for York, well done lovely Skylark :)
  • Skylark
    by Skylark 3 years ago
    Sounds great, Hil :-)

    Thank you, Jen :-) The chart helped with will and once I was past the first few weeks, the momentum took care of itself. Give it a go! :-)
  • Hil
    by Hil 3 years ago
    This is the bit that really made me want to do this:
    I never lose my place in the WIP, never have to waste time refreshing my memory or working out where I was planning to go next. My characters are fresh in my head, I'm living with the story all the time and that's making me more creative in between the writing sessions in terms of dreaming scenes and characters and plotting ideas, and that in turn makes each writing session more meaningful and productive, which keeps me eager to write more because I know it won't be as hard as sitting down with something I've not looked at in weeks.
    It's nearly ten o'clock, but I'm going to do half an hour (I'm a very earlier nighter, normally...)
  • Hil
    by Hil 3 years ago
    There. 300 done today.
  • Squidge
    by Squidge 3 years ago
    Oh Hil - I read that as 300 days done and though blimey, that was quick! *slaps forehead at own daftness* 300 words a day is good - even 100, if it means everything heads in the right direction. I'm finding I can do about 5 or 6 days consecutively, skip one, then I'm back on. Perhaps I'm finding a natural rhythm where I need to give myself a short break from the WIP...?
  • Skylark
    by Skylark 3 years ago
    That would be quick! I'm up to 129 days now. I've not touched the WIP since day 100 - been writing a short story and a couple of cloudie comps. Now I'm gearing up for the BIG REWRITE which I will be starting tomorrow. GULP! So pleased that this method is working for others. Squidge, that does sound like a natural rhythm and if it's working for you, stick with it! It's all about accept, adapt, reject, after all :-)
  • Hil
    by Hil 3 years ago
    Ha! Not 300 days! But I'm pleased with my 18 days of not breaking the chain. I have many times resolved to write every day, but it's the COLOURING IN that has made the difference! Such a simple thing. And not wanting to break the momentum. Because of this, I feel I have got the balance back between planning and pantsing, too. I have made an outline plan, but ideas pop up and develop as I'm going along, BECAUSE I'm going along. I'm also fully aware that this is very much a first draft. But I know it will get the story out, and then I can sort it out. Maybe finally do the self-edit course...
  • Skylark
    by Skylark 3 years ago
    Only just spotted this, Hil - yay! I agree, it's the colouring in that does it for me too. So simple but I'm still going. Not one break since Jan 5th :-)
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