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Ideas. Insights. Inspiration.

Lessons Learned

I never fail. I either succeed, or I learn.

In my last post, I wrote that my wife had decided to take our four children camping for four days and that I'd be taking a short break from writing this newsletter to focus on writing the book I've been working on for the past 3.5 years.

I spent a significant amount of time writing over those four days. That was a success.

I wrote that I was going to write 10,000 words each day, or 40,000 words in total. That was a learning opportunity.

I managed only 21,092.

But here's what I learned about myself over the past week, and how I'm going to use that to get better during my future writing sessions.

1. The Pomodoro Technique works... for a while.

I did attempt the Pomodoro Technique, writing for 25 uninterrupted minutes and then allowing myself a five-minute break. The problem? I could only do that so many consecutive times before a five-minute break simply wasn't enough. Eventually, I discovered that I could write effectively for three "tomato sets" before my mind needed a longer rest. That's really good to know because it means there isn't any point in trying to block off full "writing days" going forward; I'll make more progress on my book by blocking off two hours every week to write, and doing that consistently.

2. Try as you might, you can't force creativity.

As much as I tried, there were some periods where I just didn't feel creative. Full stop. At first, I forced myself to sit at the computer anyway, but when I did that, whatever I wrote was terrible. On a related note for all the marketers reading this, this is the reason why you need to build in lots of time for your creative agencies to do their job: it's extremely difficult to be creative on cue.

After a while, when I stopped feeling creative, I stopped trying to force myself to write. Instead, I turned to other writing-related tasks necessary to finish the book: planning, outlining, research. That allowed me to make progress and maintain momentum, even when my creativity failed me.

3. Don't accept advice (or pills) from strangers.

Last year, I met a very nice woman at a cannabis conference I was attending for work. When I mentioned I'd love to find something that would help increase my focus while writing, this very nice woman -- who worked for a very large producer -- gave me four yellow pills, and promised they would significantly increase my focus. I saved those pills and decided to take one on Sunday morning in an attempt to super-charge my writing output. The pill did make me focus... on four ice-cream sandwiches, a full bag of chips, and a two-hour mid-day nap. The lesson here is fairly straightforward, I think.

4. Accountability helps... a lot.

I may not have hit my ambitious 40,000-word writing goal, but more than a few of you sent me words of encouragement during my sabbatical, and that truly provided an incentive for me to keep going a few times when I wanted to stop... I didn't want to let you down. Also, my wife took our four children camping. On her own. And I said I would use the time to write. If I didn't make significant progress on my book, there's a fair chance she would have come home and murdered me. But fear also helps you be accountable.

5. Always reach for the Stars

Ad-man Leo Burnett said, "When you reach for the stars you may not quite get one, but you won't come up with a handful of mud either." If I would have set a 2,500 word-per-day goal, I would have hit it... and ended up with just 10,000 words. By setting a 10,000-word daily goal -- theoretically achievable, but extremely difficult to do -- I failed to hit my target... but achieved more than double what my conservative target would have prompted me to write.

On Sunday morning, I started with a blank document.

On Wednesday evening, when my family got home, I had 57 pages of single-spaced writing, along with detailed headings describing the exact sections I still needed to complete.

That's not yet a book, but it's enough of a book to be a real project instead of an idea in my mind.

- dp


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