Daily writing practice —consistency breeds success

Some people practice yoga. Other people practice their golf swing. Me, I practice writing. Every day for the last 511 days (as of yesterday). That’s what you call a daily writing practice.

Why is a daily writing practice important? Two reasons:

  1. Consistency and
  2. Consistency

First, consistency: a daily practice makes you better at whatever you’re doing—the old 10,000-hour rule. I’ve written about this a lot (here and here, among other places) so I won’t revisit the discussion.

The second point of consistency, though, is not for you. It’s for your audience. You might call that the Field of Dreams rule. And my friend Melissa Smith is a shining example.

Daily writing practice leads to 1400% more readers

daily writing practice
Daily writer Melissa Smith

Back in March, her blog had about 250 subscribers. She says she remembers the date well “because that’s when I was sure it couldn’t still be just family and friends.” Six months later—with zero marketing—she’s at 3600. That’s more than 1400% growth. With—did I mention?—zero marketing.

Melissa says:

“When people ask why I have been having success with my blog I tell them the single biggest reason is because I write and publish every, single, day. They would rather me give them magic answers, tips, tricks, and awesome SEO. It’s so much easier and so much harder for them as well.”

I added the emphasis there: Every. Single. Day. No, it’s not magic; just work.

If you show up, people will show up with you. Of course, then they’ll expect you to keep showing up. Meet their expectations and you’ll develop a relationship with your followers, sustained by your daily writing practice.

Melissa runs ThePVA.com—an excellent matchmaking service for VAs and employers like me—but it’s not her work blog that’s attracting so much attention. Melissa is documenting her year as a “Roamer,” a group of entrepreneurs settling in a new country every month. It’s not shiny travel porn, and that’s key to its success. Melissa is a real person writing about her real life. The homesickness. The joy of discovering new places, new pursuits. The friendships she’s forming. It’s like a one-woman Amazing Race.

I don’t know what Melissa plans to write about when her year of Roaming ends. But I do expect she’ll be writing. Once you’ve seen what a daily writing practice can do, there’s no going back. That’s why I hit Day 511 yesterday and why I’ll do all I can to make sure I hit 512 today.


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Why write every day? Quantity breeds quality.

“Quantity is how you get to quality.” I heard someone say that on a podcast recently—I’ll tell you more about that in a minute. But the quotation resonated with me because that’s the whole point of this blog. I was going to save this rumination for a milestone—maybe Day 500, which is tantalizingly close. But let’s eat dessert first, shall we?

write every dayI sell the daily practice to my writers by telling them that when you write every day, you increase your skills. And that’s true. But no one can turn out brilliant work every day. So in addition to teaching you to write better, a daily practice also teaches you to accept imperfection.

And—and forgive me if the point seems obvious at first—it forces you to write every day. Even when you think you haven’t got a single idea in your head.

If I weren’t committed to write every day, I might skip those uninspired days. But many of those “idea-free” days have produced some of my best work.

If I wrote, say, three days a week, those posts might be more narrowly confined to my so-called field of expertise—business writing. It’s much easier to turn out three posts a week on business writing than it is to turn out seven. But because I write every day, I wander out of my field and digress sometimes.

This—my most-shared post to date—began as a digression.

So do most of my Story Safaris. Like this one, and this one, and this one.

My “uncomfortable conversations” posts—part one and part two—those are personal stories. If I didn’t have the space to fill, you might not have gotten to hear them.

Write every day—quantity matters

I promised to get back to you about the quotation that set me off here—”quantity is how you get to quality.” That’s not an quote from the podcast guest, or from the original coiner of the phrase. It’s from prolific director and guy-who’s-made-my-skin-crawl-for-decades, Woody Allen. Increasing the skin-crawling factor, at first the only similar quotation I could find was about sex, from his movie Love and Death:

“It’s not the quantity of your sexual relations that count. It’s the quality. On the other hand, if the quantity drops below once every eight months, I would definitely look into it.”

But I finally found a quotation that fit the context in which the podcast guest quoted him. It’s from a documentary about Allen:

“I’ve been working on the quantity theory. I feel if I keep making films, every once in a while I’ll get lucky and one will come out OK. And that’s exactly what happens.

That “quantity theory” is exactly what’s at work when you write every day. So write. Every day. You’ll be amazed at what happens.


Write better when you write more often. Join my 5-day writing challenge: Write for 15 minutes a day and I’ll donate your registration fee to a global literacy nonprofit. More info and registration link here.

Keep going — Confucius meets SEO

"It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop." Or, Confucius meets SEOI wanted to open with this indisputably wise quotation from the Chinese philosopher Confucius. But what happens when Confucius meets SEO?

“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop”—SEO hates negative keywords. And you can’t get much more of a “stop word” than stop. But translated into a positive frame, the wisdom turns bland and boring, essentially:

“Keep going.”

It’s a good thing for all of us that Confucius never had to deal with SEO. And yet, somehow, his work has gone viral enough that’s still being quoted more than 2500 years after his death. Now that’s genius.

Of course, his name wasn’t really Confucius. Wikipedia notes that as a Latinization of Kǒng Fūzǐ (孔夫子, if you want it in the original). Over the centuries the philosopher has picked up a number of posthumous nicknames,. My favorite is the first, coined in the first century AD: “Laudably Declarable Lord Ni.” May we all be “laudably declarable,” lord or not.

But I digress

Whew! Almost went down a rabbit hole there. I’m sure there’s many a good story safari to be had in the life and wisdom of Kǒng Fūzǐ. But I’m more interested in this particular piece of wisdom:

“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”

I always feel like I’m going too slowly. I’m rarely satisfied with my own progress. My patron saint is St. Hurry-Up. Well, St. Expeditus—Santo Expedito in Portuguese. I first discovered him in Brazil, though why he’s not widely worshiped in New York remains a complete mystery to me.

So I feel like I’m never going fast enough. And yet to my clients and friends, I seem to be in constant motion—thinking, creating, shipping (to use Seth Godin’s term). No matter how gummed up I feel inside, I make sure Ship Happens. I’ve even set goals for my vacation. Not work goals, but still—goals.

Hey, at least I’m taking a vacation (next month!). That hasn’t happened in—wow!—probably a decade, since I went to Brazil and discovered St. Hurry-Up. So I’m, um, slowly making progress on slowing down. I guess I should count that as a win.


If you’re secretly attached to your files full of unfinished writing …if you enjoy collecting rejection emails…if you worry that effective marketing would generate too much income for your business DO NOT register for my VIP class on Revision. Starts June 22nd!

#WhyIWrite – When every day is National Day on Writing

Did you know about the National Day on Writing? I just found out about it. And why is it not “National Writing Day”? Perhaps to give the editors something to do on National Editing Day. Anyway, you know it’s a real thing because there’s a hashtag: #WhyIWrite.

#WhyIWrite

I wrote “National Editing Day” as a joke but then I figured I should check the Google machine. No, there’s no National Editing Day. But there is a National Proofreading Day (March 8th). Mark your calednars.

The National Day on Writing comes to us courtesy of the National Council of Teachers of English. I’m sure they’re fine people—two of my favorite teachers taught English—but they really ought to meet up with the National Council of Copyeditors. (Sadly, that doesn’t exist either.)

#WhyIWrite Every Day

The official National Day on Writing is October 20th. But longtime readers know that every day is Writing Day here at Bennett Ink. And it has been for the last 440 days.

I could offer a million reasons #WhyIWrite. But I hate lists, so I’ll just give you a few.

Because my clients pay me. But the truth is I write even when I’m not getting paid directly—I just get to choose my own topics and deadlines. Still, I love my clients. And (mostly) the topics they speak and write about.

Because it helps me think. For the past couple of months I’ve been working my way through Seth Godin’s Marketing Seminar—there’s a summer intensive starting soon and I highly recommend it. When I get to the questions at the end of each module, my first reaction is, I have no idea how to answer these questions. Then I copy and paste them into a Word doc and start typing and it turns out I do have answers to those questions. Sometimes pretty good answers, too.

Because I love surprises. I love helping my readers shift their perspective and see things from a different angle. And my writing students discover their skills.

Because I have things to say. Since I started posting daily about 14 months ago, many readers have told me that my writing has made a difference in their lives. It’s also made a difference in mine.

Because every time I do it, I get a little better. Not that everything I write is a gem, but bit by bit (byte by byte?) the bar gets higher every day.

Because it keeps me sane.*

Why do you write?

*within normal tolerances


If you’re secretly attached to your files full of unfinished writing …if you enjoy collecting rejection emails…if you worry that effective marketing would generate too much income for your business DO NOT register for my VIP class on Revision.

Why am I not a superwoman? — Frequent Questions

Q: Why am I not a superwoman?
A: It’s not for lack of trying.

Today’s question doesn’t come from a reader. Well, I guess technically it does: I read each post thoroughly, right after I write it.

It’s past 10 pm and here I am, at my laptop. Normally, that wouldn’t be notable. Sunday I worked ’til 11 (well, okay, I took a couple of hours off in the afternoon to watch the Mets game).

But this particular 10 pm comes at the end of a day during which I was not stationed at my desk. I was packing and hauling and unpacking and…all I can think of is the old line Channel 5 used to run just before its late night newscast: “It’s 10 pm. Do you know where your children are?

In this case, it’s 10 pm and I’m not quite sure where my brains are.

It’s Day 428 of my writing streak. And more than a year into blogging daily. Hard to let go of either habit. But, I thought, as I trudged upstairs to set up my computer in its new temporary home, perhaps I’m not a superwoman after all.

The Not-A-Superwoman Challenge

I tell the folks in my writing challenges: You don’t have to write well every day; you just have to write. I’ve gotten that part down pat.

So maybe it’s time for a new challenge, a personal challenge. The “You Don’t Have to be a Superwoman Every Day” challenge. Recognize how hard I work, how many plates I keep spinning at once, and let one fall every now and then.

Well, I have let some things fall. I’m more than two weeks behind on Seth Godin’s marvelous Marketing Seminar. I see the empty check boxes next to his name on my to-do list and feel guilty. I know I’m missing some great wisdom. And I want it all. Now.

And I’ve got more to say on this subject, I’m sure. But my 15 minutes are up for today.

Signing off for now.

S


Want to communicate more courageously? Click here to get my e-book Do It Anyway: Tips for Courageous Writing

Tailwinds, tutus, and a marathon commitment

They say “never say never,” but I feel confident you will never see me run a marathon. It’s not that I lack stamina; my writing streak stands at 426 days as I write this on Sunday afternoon—surely that counts as a marathon commitment. And while some days it feels like a walk in the park, others it feels like the Ironman with a couple of extra sports thrown in for good measure.

massive commitments
One of the rest stop volunteers during this year’s AIDS/LifeCycle ride

My friend Marcia has taken on several endurance rides and races. Last week wrote about the most recent—a week-long, 550-mile bike ride down the California coast, raising money for AIDS/LifeCycle.

During that long, hot bike ride, Marcia discovered many natural wonders: tailwinds that pushed the riders up steep hills; curves that revealed sudden, breathtaking views of the Pacific; volunteers at the rest stops wearing sparkly rainbow tutus.

She also discovered something wonderful about herself:

“…eventually, you don’t even feel it as your capability is massively enhanced. Tailwinds combined with graham cracker crunch bars and electrolyte drinks roughly every 20 miles made the whole 550 miles to Los Angeles about as effortless as a long ride could be.”

The 90-Day Writing Challenge, another marathon commitment

Marcia’s story arrived in my email as the writers in my 90-Day Writing Challenge are rounding a curve that reveals a breathtaking view of their finish line: the Challenge wraps up this Friday. A remarkable number of the writers who started it are on track to complete this marathon commitment, either writing for the full 90 days or just on the weekdays. I feel certain the writers would want me to add quotations marks around that “just.” Nothing feels simple when you’re struggling to make words come out of your fingers to meet a midnight deadline. But they’ve done it. And that’s an amazing accomplishment.

So what’s gotten them through it? Many of the same things that sustained Marcia, though with less sweating and (I’m guessing) less latex, or whatever space-age stuff they use in those bicycle suits.

Marcia had a team. It included her sister and several friends actually doing the ride, plus dozens of others who took on the very strenuous task of pushing a button to donate online. (Hey—I’ve put in a lot of hours of training to use that credit card at my peak performance level.) Plus the hundreds of volunteers supporting the riders in the field.

My writers also had a team: each other. When someone posted that she (no male writers in the challenge this time) felt she’d written poorly, the others provided strong tailwinds by reminding her that the challenge was not to write well; it was merely to write at all.

The writers shared their work in our private Facebook group and in person (well, via Zoom video calls) in a writers’ group. They loved the writers’ group so much that they insisted on meeting every week. And they plan to continue meeting even after the Challenge ends.

We had sparkly tutus, tu—er, too. I sent the group two writing prompts every week and made sure to include fanciful assignments like this:

marathon commitment

Even though most of my writers are business-oriented—writing blogs and website copy—it’s good to get out of your lane for a bit. Especially when you’re in the midst of a writing marathon.

Marcia and her teammates raised something like $30,000 for AIDS/LifeCycle. The 5-day writing challenges I’ve run to date have raised nearly $2,000 for Room to Read—with, as I’ve noted, much less sweat. The writers who complete this first-ever 90-Day Challenge will earn up to $150 apiece for their favorite charity. Those who put together shorter streaks during the challenge period will earn smaller donations.

How have you challenged yourself lately? My next 90-day challenge begins on Saturday. Stock up on graham cracker bars and electrolyte drink and join us. Sparkly tutus optional.

Drunk on creativity — another 5×15 Challenge in the books

I got drunk yesterday. On creativity—it would have to be creativity since I don’t drink alcohol. (Well, the occasional sip of a fine Champagne if it’s on offer. I mean, you’d have to be crazy to pass that up. But anyway, the creativity. It wasn’t mine—not yesterday. It was my writers’. And that was even better than Veuve Cliquot.

I spent yesterday morning in two private coaching sessions, working with writers on pieces so beautiful they brought me to tears. One was literally gut-wrenching, a powerfully emotional experience for both writer and reader. And then I went right into a webinar to celebrate the 5×15 Writing Challenge that ended yesterday. That session turned into an impromptu writers’ group—a taste of some of what we’ll be up to in the 90-Day Writing Challenge beginning July 1st.

And after two hours of emotions seesawing between the sadness and anger provoked by one writer’s piece and the joy of seeing the creativity unleashed by this group of writers—after two hours of that…what can you do?

What I was supposed to do was dive into my corporate speechwriting; I had a ton of work on my plate. But much as I love my clients, their content can’t compare with an emotional punch in the gut. Clearly I needed to sober up before I could work.

Creativity detox

In a perfect world, I would have been able to take the rest of the day off. Sit with some of the emotions my writers stirred up. Celebrate their accomplishments. Savor the small role I played in facilitating them.

But the “perfect world”—at least my perfect world—bans all deadlines. And, alas, the world I currently live in does not.

So I took the dog for a walk and I took myself out to lunch. I drank lots of strong, hot tea.

But great writing doesn’t just vanish because you’ve upped your caffeine intake. It hangs around. Hangs…yes, I suppose I had a creativity hangover.

I did eventually get my writing done and delivered. I’d promised it to my client by close of business—and warned her that it might mean close of business in California. Or someplace in the Pacific. I got it to her before 5pm in L.A. Not ideal, since my client is on the East Coast. But if she’d heard the things I heard yesterday, she would have been drunk, too.


Write better when you write more often. The Bennett Ink 90-Day Writing Challenge—it’s time to get serious.

Aaaand they’re off! The 5×15 Writing Challenge returns

What’s the most important part of the 5×15 Writing Challenge?

5x15 Writing Challenge
Feedback from the very first writing challenge

Is it the donations the writers earn for charity? Our first three challenges have raised about $1,200 for Room to Read, a fantastic nonprofit promoting global literacy.

Is it the discipline of developing a daily writing practice? Many veterans of the 5-day challenges are on track to finish the more daunting 90-day challenge that finishes on June 30th. (And yes, there’s another 90-Day Challenge right behind that one, starting July 1st.)

Certainly both of those are important outcomes. But my favorite parts of the 5-day-long challenge are the discoveries people make along the way.

Challenge writers push through their fears and discover that when you push through your fears often enough, they go away. Or at least subside long enough for you to write.

People who haven’t written for pleasure in years—or perhaps ever—discover the joy of being creative. Being silly, even. And people who write for a living use the challenge to dig into those memoirs they’ve been meaning to write.

Entrepreneurs who know they should be blogging bank some blog posts. One participant this time has committed to writing that five-email sequence she’s been meaning to create for her new followers.

Challengers have written satire, fiction, odes to their pet gerbils. I’m inspired by their creativity. And humbled by the care and generosity they demonstrate in our Facebook group.

I’ve said often that the 5×15 Writing Challenge may be the best idea I had in all of 2016. I’m excited to see how it’s flourished—this round has the highest enrollment yet. And I can’t wait to see what’s next for these writers.


Writing is just the first part of the process. Revising—that’s the secret sauce that gives your writing zing. Join my free webinar on revising.

My voice, my voice. Where’s my writer’s voice?—Frequent questions

Q: How can I find my writer’s voice?
A: Keep writing.

No one wants to be derivative. So I understand my writers’ eagerness to find their own voices.

writer's voice
Finding your writer’s voice is not like searching for buried treasure

Unfortunately, there’s no shortcut, no Geiger counter you can wave across the sand of your creativity searching for buried treasure.

So how do you find your writer’s voice?

Keep looking.

That’s one reason it’s essential to write every day.

When your writer’s voice starts whining

We’re in the home stretch of my first 90-Day Writing Challenge and fatigue has set in. I hear things like, “I’m tired of writing.” Or “I can’t wait to take a break.” I hear you. I’ve gotten out of a nice, warm bed to write when I realized I’d forgotten to do it earlier. That’s how you make it to 412 days (as of June 11th). And 412 days—and 413, 414, you get the idea—is how you get to be a better writer.

Still whining or not, a whopping 50% of my writers are on track to fulfill their complete commitment, either by writing Monday-Friday (earning $10 a week for their charity) or by writing every day. Yes, for 90 days in a row. That feat earns a donation of $150. And writers who hit smaller milestones earn donations too.

Remarkably, people who’ve broken their streaks start right back in again the next day. That’s dedication.

Some of the challenge writers have also been studying with me—we’re on the second of two 12-week-long courses—and especially with these writers, I can see the beginning of a consistent voice. But it’s hard. It’s frustrating to plug away at something day after day and feel like you’re still not where you want to be.

It’s even more frustrating for smart people who are used to picking up new things easily. Finding your writer’s voice isn’t something you can learn in three easy lessons. Or even 30. Your writer’s voice will emerge when it’s good and ready. On its time, not yours. And all you can do is let it know you’re there, ready to welcome it in with a hug and a warm cup of tea.

Invite writer’s voice to set a spell

And how do you let your writer’s voice know the kettle’s on? Uh-oh, I hope you’re thinking, I know what’s coming. Yep:

You write.

Every damn day. Which also happens to be the name of the publication I started on Medium to showcase my writers’ work.

Have you got what it takes? We’ve got another 90-Day starting up July 1st. But test the waters with a 5-Day challenge starting June 19th. Join us.

I’m beginning to hate writing. What do I do? — Frequent Questions

Q: I’m beginning to hate writing. What do I do?
A: Keep writing, of course.

One of my writers got frustrated the other day. We’re past the halfway mark in the Bennett Ink 90-day Writing Challenge and finding something to write about for 15 minutes every day was becoming a slog.

I congratulated her.

Congratulated?

Yes, because she’s exactly where she’s supposed to be as she establishes her daily writing practice. As Seth Godin reminds us in his brief but wise book The Dip, everyone who tries to do something different goes through a rough patch. Those who persevere will eventually climb out of it; those who don’t get stuck.

Godin isn’t the first person to articulate that concept of the Dip. Writer John Bunyan wrote about it in his famous Christian allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress. Wikipedia tells us that the book, written in 1678, “has never been out of print”—quite a publishing feat. Bunyan called his version of the Dip “the Slough of Despond.”

hate writing? keep writing
The Slough of Despond, in the last third of the first panel. See? Fixed borders. From an 1821 edition of The Pilgrim’s Progress, Public Domain

So just what is this “miry” place, the Slough (rhymes with “cow”) of Despond?

“…it is the descent whither the scum and filth that attends conviction for sin doth continually run, and therefore is it called the Slough of Despond: for still as the sinner is awakened about his lost condition, there ariseth in his soul many fears, and doubts, and discouraging apprehensions, which all of them get together, and settle in this place; and this is the reason of the badness of this ground.”

I added the emphasis there. Does that feel like anyplace you’ve ever been?

Now, Bunyan was talking about Christians’ doubts about their faith—marketing to his niche audience, if you will. But Godin argues—and (big surprise) I agree—that everyone trying something new travels through that dark, discouraging place. The trick is to keep traveling. That’s what Bunyan’s Pilgrim did. And that’s what we need to do too.

Hate writing? Keep writing

So you enjoy writing enough to want to do it every day. Maybe for your own enjoyment, maybe to meet a business objective. You start out full of enthusiasm and then, little by little, you realize the joy has disappeared. Some people will give up.

Other people may get confused: “Didn’t I use to like doing this?” Their memories of past enjoyment may keep them slogging through a little longer. But when the “fears, doubts, and discouraging apprehensions” stick around, they might just give in and give up.

The trick is to know that the Slough of Despond has fixed borders. Keep plowing through and you will get to the other side. Eventually. I promise.

You just have to keep doing whatever it is that landed you in the Slough to begin with. If that’s going to yoga classes every day, then get out of the damn bed and grab your mat. If it’s writing every day, then—love it or hate it—you write every day.

And celebrate the heck out of it when you do.


Write better when you write more often. Join my 5-day writing challenge: Write for 15 minutes a day and I’ll donate your registration fee to a global literacy nonprofit. More info and registration link here.