Don’t Break the Chain!
Before I knew The Seinfeld Method (a.k.a. Don’t Break the Chain!) was a myth, I tried it on for size.
As legend has it, Jerry Seinfeld’s big secret for writing better jokes was to write jokes every day. He motivated himself to write these jokes by getting a large paper calendar and marking off every day he wrote with a big red X. (Again, this is not true.) The longer the chain of Xs, the less likely you are to skip a day, Jerry (denies ever having) said one time after an open mic night in NYC.
When I tried Don’t Break the Chain I didn’t know it was a myth. All I knew was that, because I was so lazy, this was going to be a simple way to hack the motivational center of my brain. So, after several months of marking red Xs on one of those calendars that shows the entire year on one page, I stepped back and, rather than swelling with the pride of my accomplishment, rows and rows of unbroken chains of Xs, I zoned in on the handful of days I didn’t work and fell into a pit of despair.
I guess I should quit since I’m way too lazy to write a novel.
Obviously, not the point.
What happened to me is an utterly laughable example of my negativity bias (the brain’s default mode of giving greater attention to the negative-the gaps in my chain) paired up with my confirmation bias (the brain’s tendency to confirm that which its operator has chosen to believe-that I’ll never finish because I’m lazy).
After a good deal of inner work, I realized that laziness is not what’s holding me back. It’s my lack of self-compassion. My rigid, unforgiving personality does not jive with rigid, unforgiving methods for tracking productivity. This is why I decided to use a different, more forgiving type of chain.
Enter: the paper clip.
Rather than mark Xs on a calendar, I give myself a colored paper clip every time I sit down to write. After I complete more than one writing session, the paper clips begin to form a chain. Each paper clip represents a different chunk of time (15 minutes up to three hours). On any given day I might add a handful of different colored paper clips to my chain. Or, I might add zero.
But, that’s the beauty of my paper clips.
At the end of each month, all I have is a chain showing me the number of hours I did work. There’s no evidence of the days I didn’t work, the result being one less tool I have for self-flagellation. As writers, we could all benefit from losing some of those tools.
Over the course of several months, I discovered another reason why my version of the chain works better (for me). My kids’ spring break was in March, so I didn’t have my typical daytime writing sessions (and was feeling bad about it, of course!). But, when I compared my March chain to my January and February chains, I was surprised to find I had written MORE in March than in either of the previous two months, even though I’d taken more than a week off. An undiscoverable detail if the ol’ Seinfeld Method had been my only productivity tracker.
To conclude, I agree with Jerry. Don’t Break the Chain is “the dumbest non-idea that was not mine.”
At least it is for me. It might work for you. And, in this wild and unpredictable writing journey, everything is worth a try.