This past week I read an excerpt from a new book about the power of habits. It's not specific to writing, but I read it through that lens.
comes down to this: You have to show up. Today. Right now. You have to put your derriere in the chair.
Then you have to do it again tomorrow. And the next day. And the next day.
Showing up every day. Duh. That's not rocket science. But it's crazy-hard to put into practice.
In the book I read this week—it's called Atomic Habits,
by the way—author James Clear says the trick is to develop a "gateway habit." Like a gateway drug, but with a less sad and desperate end.
Gateway habits rely on the Two-Minute Rule, says Clear: "When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do."
So if your goal is to write a book, your gateway habit is to write one sentence, every day. His inspiration for that idea is from David Allen's bestselling book, Getting Things Done.
That's stupid, right?
Not really. Because sitting down to write one sentence every day establishes the ritual you need. It's a fun-sized goal. It's attainable.
Actually, it's also a good way to change any behavior you want to change. So if you want to run the Boston Marathon this April, your daily gateway goal is to put on your running shoes every day. Then step outside. Then run for two minutes. You get it.
At the start of 2018, I wanted to develop two big habits.
I realized as I read Clear's book excerpt that I've developed gateway habits to make both of these things fun-sized, too. Here they are:
First big goal: Write a regular letter to you.
Gateway habit: Write for 15 minutes a day.
wouldn't work if I waited until Sunday morning to start writing. I needed a way to train my letter-writing muscles so that, come Sunday morning, they are taut and toned and thrumming like a CrossFit disciple's.
I said as much in Everybody Writes,
quoting the tremendous Jeff
Goins: Habits practiced once a week aren't habits at all. They're obligations.
The key for me is a daily diary. I write on paper, in a notebook, with a Sharpie.
That might not sound like a big deal to you. But to me, it's huge: I've spent a lifetime failing as a journal-writer. I never had the patience or discipline or interest to write only
for myself. I didn't get the point.
(Simultaneously, I felt proud... and like a failure. Proud: Don't all writers keep a diary? Not this one, bitchez! Failure: All writers keep a diary. What's wrong with me?)
Anyway, over this summer I
reframed how I think of a diary. Now, every morning—before I crack open the fresh spine of my laptop or scroll through Instagram—for 15 minutes I capture things that happened the previous day: stories I heard, things I experienced, whatever I connected with or found inspiring.
In the back of my notebook, I keep a long, weird shopping list of things I might source from a Content Store if such a thing as a Content Store
existed: blog post ideas, speech or book ideas, books I want to read, words I need to look up later.
Some days I'm just not into it. I'm feeling emptied out or tired, or I have nothing to say, or I got up late and have an early meeting. That's when my 15 Minutes of Sunday drops to a Two-Minute Rule, and I write a single line.
Some days, that's all I can handle.
Second big goal: More pages, fewer screens. (More reading, less social scrolling.)
Gateway habit: Read one page of a book every day, with a pen in my hand.
Reading one page is an easy, doable goal. But reading with a pen adds another dimension.
"When you underline and circle and jot
down your questions and argue in the margins, you're existing in this interesting middle ground between reader and writer," writes Austin Kleon.
Reading with a pen in hand means, literally, using it to spontaneously write on the pages of a book: It's a useful way to notice not just the story—but how the story is told, and the language the writer uses.
It turns reading from passive
to active. It turns you from a spectator to a player. Or maybe a ref.
Underline sentences or words you like, words you don't know. Add comments when it reminds you of another writer or spurs another thought or elicits a question.
I do that, and then I fold (and refold) the corner of the pages so that I can find it again, later.
Some people really go bananas with this
practice: Marginalia describes the practice of making spontaneous notes in the margins of books. Google it, and you'll go down a deep rabbit hole.
My own practice is less aggressive. But, still, by the time I'm done with some books, they look like they've been through the ringer.
As Francis Bacon said:
"Some books are to be
tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested."
I suppose you could do the same with an e-book, too, rigging a system of cutting and pasting and capturing. But I like the physicality of pages and ink and the musky book-B.O. smell of old books, too.
* * *
And now I have a question for you, after that dropped dinkus
Those are my gateway habits. Now you: GO. Hit reply and tell me: What's your gateway habit been? Or what might it be?
Here are 6 things worth sharing this week.
Knife Is Good
I love it when I see marketing that feels special. Keep Your Hands Sharp is a beautiful, inspiring piece of storytelling from WR Case & Sons, a Pennsylvania-based knifemaker.
I love it because it exposes a fundamental truth about the world we live in: We've lost a connection to making things with our hands. We touch screens and keyboards and fidget spinners... but often not much else.
The 129-year-old company's first-ever integrated digital marketing effort celebrates the joy of making things, and it taps into the zeitgeist of an increasingly automated world.
I'm obsessed with this story because it's storytelling at its
🗣️"I already messaged my marketing colleague telling her it was one of the best webinars I've attended in a while and that she should definitely listen to the recording!"
That's not a sales pitch. It's a direct quote from an attendee of Michael
Brenner's webinar at MarketingProfs last week, How Content Marketing Is Driving the Future of B2B.
Andy Crestodina writes about how he structures his day to be most effective. He also talks about the simple but often overlooked stuff. See his advice
P.S. You can also take a peek at the thank-you note 💌 I drew for him after he invited me to speak at Content Jam, his agency's tremendous event!
🎃 Smashing Pumpkins
The world record for giant pumpkins has in the past several years soared from 800 pounds to 2,600 pounds. Could this explain the explosion of pumpkin spice everything...?
What's changed? The Internet, of course. Growers of these beasts
used to toil (literally) in relative isolation. Now they share secrets in fertile (sorry) online communities.
5 New (or New-to-You?) Content Tools
Why you might like it: Useful if you run an event and you want to embed coverage on, say, your blog.
is a tool that points out the language in your writing that readers might have a hard time understanding.
Why you might like it: It's a handy check on the curse of knowledge—a bias that has us that others may not have
the same knowledge we do.
✅ Headline Analyzer
will measure how well your headline triggers emotion in a reader. (Thanks, Scott Monty!)Why you might like it:
Writing headlines is
the worst. (Just me?) The Analyzer tells you how well your headline will resonate with other humans. Plus, I kind of love its weirdly clinical approach: The results are legit, but the copy around it reads like it was written by robots.
✅ The Library of Congress
recently made thousands of incredible photos, posters, and other images free to use
VOTE VOTE VOTE VOTE VOTE VOTE VOTE
Lyft created this mural out of unused ballots to visually convey the weight of the 15 million Americans registered to vote who did not cast a ballot in 2016. From the Department of Missed Opportunity: Why didn't Lyft title this Post-In Vote
Melanie Deziel and I talk about the strong link between public speaking and writing at The Speaker Lab