Something small, every day, can turn into something big
It’s the rare Tuesday that lands on the first day of the month, so I wanted to talk briefly about one of my favorite tools: The 30-day challenge.
Someone once asked me to distill all of my books into one piece of advice, and, off the top of my head, I said: “Try sitting down in the same place at the same time for the same amount of time every day and see what happens.”
In Steal Like an Artist, I wrote about comedian Jerry Seinfeld’s calendar method of daily joke writing:
You break your work into daily chunks. Each day, when you’re finished with your work, make a big fat X in the day’s box. Every day, instead of just getting work done, your goal is to just fill a box. “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”
In Show Your Work! I suggested the day as the primary unit of time for the artist:
Building a substantial body of work takes a long time—a lifetime, really—but thankfully, you don’t need that time all in one big chunk. So forget about decades, forget about years, and forget about months. Focus on days.
The day is the only unit of time that I can really get my head around. Seasons change, weeks are completely human-made, but the day has a rhythm. The sun goes up; the sun goes down. I can handle that.
And in Keep Going, I quoted the classic AA advice to “take one day at a time”:
“Any man can fight the battles of just one day,” begins a passage collected in Richmond Walker’s book of meditations for recovering alcoholics, Twenty-Four Hours a Day. “It is only when you and I add the burden of those two awful eternities, yesterday and tomorrow, that we break down. It is not the experience of today that drives men mad. It is remorse or bitterness for something which happened yesterday or the dread of what tomorrow may bring. Let us therefore do our best to live but one day at a time.”
Take writing, for example: It doesn’t seem like that big of a deal to try to write one page per day.
But if you write a page a day for a month, and you have 30 pages. Enough for a chapter.
If you write a page a day for a year, you end up with 365 pages. Enough to fill a novel.
This is the best way I know to go from nothing to something.
Another way to think about it: To get good at something, you first have to be willing to be bad. So don’t practice to get good, practice to suck less!
November is a great month to attempt a 30-day challenge. It can be tempting when you want to start something to wait for the New Year. But the best time to get started on something is right now.
I made these calendars that you can download and print out and hang in your office or studio or wherever you do your work. I’m sending this email out to all subscribers today so everybody can get use out of the calendars — feel free to forward them to someone who could use them!
If you want to try a 30-day challenge but don’t know what to work on, The Steal Like an Artist Journal is full of prompts that make excellent one-page daily exercises.
Now I want to hear from you: Will you attempt a 30-day challenge this month? What will it be? Have you attempted a 30-day challenge before? How did it go? Tell us in the comments:
If you haven’t become a paid subscriber and joined our community in the comments, it’s hard to find a more interesting, kind, and supportive place on the internet right now.
PS. I forgot to mention the other variants I have to offer, so if you want more or less of a challenge, here are more links:
Well, for a number of years I tried NaNoWriMo and suck majorly at it every time - maybe three days? So instead I'm trying to sew for at least 30 minutes a day. I've been away from my art quilting since my husband died 18 months ago. I just spent an hour in the studio two days ago and it felt wonderful. Here's to 30 days of sewing and completing commissions!
I feel like this is what I needed this morning as well. Woke up with leftover feelings of dejection which isn't fun. I write scattered prose and poetry here and there but I might try to tackle writing this quasi autobiography/maybe self-help book idea I've had for a while about having Inattentive ADD not only when I was a kid but now as a young adult at 30. I've looked and looked but never can find a book that's not just for parents and also is funny & a relatable book that I'd want to read and feel comforted by. That or just a YA fiction book. Who knows? Anyway, thank you! ~