I’ve been excited about sharing this post for a long time. I didn’t write it though, except for this little introduction. It’s a guest post from my friend Bradley Charbonneau, and it’s been a long time coming.
I woke up this morning and thought about how I could explain the way it feels to publish this… because, it’s a pretty big deal. It’s basically a superhero story. Basically.
I thought about just telling you the story, trying to sum up the way it started, with three guys talking in a cafe in downtown San Francisco back in November of 2012.
Bradley runs a web development company and is a sort of business partner to me, but I always knew he had a secret past life as a writer. Sometimes he would talk about his writing days, about magazine articles and publishing his first book a decade earlier, about that other book, the “real” one in the drawer that just needed to be dusted off. He always lit up when he talked about writing, about how he’d like to do it more, get back into it and be a writer again. Most people stop there. They reminisce, talk about what they’d “like” to do differently, but nothing really changes.
Sitting in that cafe, Bradley said something really important. “A writer is someone who writes.”
I was really excited about doing monthly experiments to create new habits, so, I challenged him to write every day for a month to see what happened. He said he’d do one better, he’d write AND publish something every day for a month. We left the cafe and he got to work.
“So here we go, it’s November 1, 2012. I’m hoping, I’m even smiling to myself (no, really) that I’ll look back on this day with pride and say that was the day that it all began. Whew, exhilarating.” – Bradley Charbonneau, the unstoppable writing machine.
I honestly don’t know how to describe what happened next because it’s hard for me to believe it, but it’s one of the best things I’ve ever had the privilege of watching. Bradley wrote and published something every day for a month. I saw him start to change right away. He was excited and energetic. He’d say things like, “I’m feeling like a writer again” and “writing is bringing me closer to my kids” and “I’m falling back in love with writing.” He didn’t stop when the month was over.
He kept going.
He wrote and published something every day for 100 days, then 200, then 300, then a year, then 500 days. He wrote and published a book with his kids on the 10-year anniversary of publishing his first book. Then he did it again a year later. He became unstoppable. Today is his 1,000th post in a row. I asked him to publish it here.
And so, here it is…
What began as a 30-day writing experiment has transformed into a 1,000-day, life-altering way of life.
1,000 posts ago, on November 1, 2012, I took up John Muldoon’s Write Every Day Challenge. The challenge was to write every day for 30 days. I decided to take it a step further and publish each post that I wrote. I hit 30 days and was thrilled! I did it! But it was so exciting and felt so good that I kept going … and going … and going. It wasn’t magical, 1,000 days didn’t happen in a day. Every hundred was a huge milestone: 100, 200, 500, 800 … It actually took all of those days: one day at a time.
I just had a look at that first post I wrote on that very first day and these are the first few lines:
I suffer from the typical writer’s block. I see a blank screen and want to run. I think of editing some old work and cringe. I’ve been wanting to write on a regular basis for, oh, a decade. Not ten days, not ten months, but ten years. When oh when will that day come where I learn to write on a regular basis?
Today, June 24, 2015, I look back and I wonder who that person was. I don’t even know that person anymore. I even feel sorry for that guy as he’d been suffering for so long. Wanting to do something, wanting to be someone that he hadn’t been. Today, I see a blank screen and there is no fear. If there is hesitation, it’s only about which direction to start. The blank page is my friend. In fact, we’ve become good friends.
I’m going to make a statement here that I classify as 100% Cheesy, straight out of the self-help books, heard in the hallways of overpriced and overhyped power weekend seminars, but I’m going to say it anyway:
John Muldoon’s Write Every Day Challenge changed my life.
Gag! Ugh! Barf! Blah!
I get it. Go ahead and heave your lunch. I’ll wait. But there’s no other way I can describe it that doesn’t lessen the impact. It has transformed who I am. It’s the perfect example of how small change, bite-size change, one-day-at-a-time change can lead to Big Change. It didn’t happen after one day, I don’t know if it happened after 30 days. I don’t know when it happened. But that’s both the easy part and the hard part: it just happens because it becomes a habit, it becomes what you do, who you are. You no longer think, “Oh, I should do that thing, I’m supposed to being doing that experiment I signed up for.” You just do it because it’s now not only a part of who you are, it is who you are. You don’t worry about yesterday or tomorrow, just today.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. — Lao-tzu
I know, I know, I hear you, “Dude, just tell me that you made a million dollars and have movie deals lined up and how you did it so we can also do it.” I get it. Here you go. I’ll give you one word that I (re)found having now accomplished this marathon feat. It may be hard to grasp and not quite as tangible, but you’re going to have to believe me that this is better than a million dollars and a movie deal, it’s more powerful than a gazoollion Twitter followers and a hack-a-moollion Facebook likes. But here’s the catch: you won’t believe me if you don’t yet have it. If you do have it, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Here’s the more-than-million-dollar transformational word:
You see, before November 1, 2012, I didn’t have much of that. Well, actually, I had plenty, but not in areas that I terribly cared about. Rereading those few opening sentences above makes me feel like I possibly didn’t have any. That’s not a fun place to be. In fact, it’s a scary, depressing and powerless place to be. It also just sucks.
One day at a time. Through sick days, bad WiFi, low batteries, a creative mind full of zero original ideas, I made it through. Kids who want to play basketball, clients who need PHP upgrades, wife who needs me to get out the door for dinner, my brain done for the day hours previous, even just minutes left before midnight. But I got it done. It just became what I got done on a daily basis. Brushing my teeth, writing my post. Simple.
As John has noted in many of his experiments, the original goal of the experiment might become less important as other elements come into play. Here are some “side effects” of my daily postings that I had not expected, not even dreamed of. But now that I understand how they came about, it makes my daily post all the easier.
Was it a success? That’s an easy one. My only goal was to get back into the writing habit. I can confidently say that I have that back. But the bonuses that came on top make even that lofty goal pale in comparison. Here are a few.
Cherries on Top
- Improved relationship with my family: huh? Through telling stories of adventures with the kids, I learned more about them, about our relationship. I learned some things that weren’t working so well and it was easier to work on them.
- Wrote two children’s books: related to the improved relationship with my family, my two young boys (9 and 11) wrote two books together (The Secret of Kite Hill and The Secret of Markree Castle). We’d talk about the story, put together a post, publish it, then read it aloud the next day and create the next chapters. They’re the creators and the stars. Book #3 is in the works.
- Future books: in 1,000 posts, there are also several other books just waiting to be cobbled together: parenting, WordPress, raising bi-lingual kids, Home Exchange 101, etc. It’s just a matter of collecting and promoting. That’s going to be fun.
- The only true accountability you need is yourself: you can take courses, follow gurus, and use the best tools and tricks. But there’s only one judge who really matters, only one you need to please.
- Writing improves memory: it’s a bit of the chicken and the egg here, but do I remember more because I wrote it down or did I write it down because I remembered it more? In any case, there are details of moments that would long vanished from the quicksand of my memory had I not recorded them for eternity.
I could list more. In fact, lots more, and I will, but I’m going to dwell on it.
What I’m both surprised and not surprised about is what’s next. You might think, “Whew, after that, I bet you’re ready for a break!” or maybe, “Man, take it easy for a while!” But I have something of the opposite. Somehow, I feel like this was just the warmup, this was little 5k Fun Run before the marathon. But I’m in such good shape that it all sounds easy. Writing more? Putting together books? Easy. Here’s the thing: I’ve built a machine. I’m a human conveyor belt. If you want something done, just put it on the belt and it will get done. Daily. Without question, without delay. The best part? I like doing it. I can’t not do it. I don’t want to not do it.
For your fitness fanatics out there, it’s similar: you might not feel like working out, but you’ll do it because you know how much better you’ll feel once you get started. Then the big bonus is how much better you’ll feel after you’ve finished. Your only guilt is with yourself and you’d rather just do it than feel the guilt.
But my more rational or logical plan is really to get my writing “out there” more. Out of just my hands and into others. It’s an entirely different world and that’s exciting and daunting. But hey, remember that I can do anything? I have no fear and if I just treat it as experiment, then I can’t fail.
Today is the new beginning. If November 1, 2012 was the birth, this is my 21st birthday when I become an adult. Now the real fun begins. It won’t be easy (did I ever say it was easy?), but it’s what I want to do, what I was meant to do, it’s who I am. I’m ready.
People have asked me to list some favorites from the 1,000. Here’s a list in no particular order.
- How I Secretly Get My Kids to Eat Greens: Please don’t let your kids read this. Or at least, if your kids might remotely know my kids (or any kids), don’t let yours tell mine. Thanks.
- The Best Gift for the Person Who Has Everything: Warning: they might not recognize the full potential of the gift for some time.
- An iPad for Oma (Grandma): how certain technology can change people–and your relationships with them.
- Pretend You’re Oprah: Pretend every post you write will be read by millions. Every product you endorse will become a huge hit. Every philosophy, diet plan, or dog bowl will be the New New Thing.
- Can We Strengthen Our Memories? “The pure, true, and unconditional love I felt towards my son at that moment was greater than an emotion I knew I had.”
- Stilo Campo: Do you ever want to move to a city … just for a restaurant?
- Dropbox filling up your hard drive? Selective Sync to the rescue. I was surprised at how extremely popular this post has become (traffic wise).
- This Is My Last Chip: a letter to my dad. I cry quite a bit when writing … just as a warning.
- No parking any time … except 12 to 2 on Wednesday: easily a contender for a photo book about ridiculous signs.
- Become a Different Person … For a Weekend: Would you like to change your personality? Forever? Or just for a weekend? This will be part of my upcoming book on Home Exchange.