Magic Spreadsheet: Don’t Break the Chain


I honestly don’t remember when I began work on the Redemption manuscript.  I know it took a very long time, an embarrassingly long time to complete.  I also know that, on more than one occasion, I considered giving up altogether.  It’s true.  By my count, I did no fewer than three complete rewrites.  They were all entirely necessary and all because, when I started the project way back when, I hadn’t the foggiest idea what I was doing.  Name a cardinal rule of writing and I’m sure I broke it at least once.  I made one critical mistake after another, and found myself wondering if I was really cut out to be a writer.  I suppose that particular debate has yet to be settled, but at least I can say I achieved my primary goal.  I wrote a book.  It wasn’t easy but I did it.  And, I now know I can do it again.  If I’ve learned anything at all from my numerous missteps, the process should be at least a little simpler the second time around.

Writing, like so many other things, requires self-discipline.  A certain amount of stick-to-itiveness helps as well.  That’s no problem when things are going well, but what happens when those creative juices fail to flow?  Where do you turn when inspiration is as allusive as the Golden Snitch?  There’s usually no one around to jab you with a flaming hot cattle prod to keep you on task.  You’re not always going to find the perfect word, the perfect phrase or the perfect transition.  Spewing page after page of crap is a far more common occurrence.    In other words, frustration happens.  Too often, though, those unavoidable pitfalls morph into something far worse.  You begin to procrastinate, and suddenly your whole day is shot to hell.  Rather than spending one more second staring at that blasted cursor, you might be tempted to check email, sharpen all your pencils, count dust bunnies, check email again, and see if you can still remember all the lyrics to “My Sharona.”  Then, when you realize you can’t, you’ll have no choice but to dig through boxes in the attic in search of your old Get the Knack 8 track.  Nothing good can come from that.

Allow me to introduce The Magic Spreadsheet.  I first learned about this on Mur Lafferty’s “I Should Be Writing” podcast.  Though designed for writers, the Magic Spreadsheet  could easily be adapted to exercise, work, or any other daily ritual you’d prefer to have no part of.  It’s a simple incentive regiment that feeds on guilt and your competitive nature.  Set a reasonable goal that you have to meet each day.  For writing, let’s say 250 words (roughly one page).  If you achieve that goal, you earn a point.  If you achieve the goal again tomorrow, you earn 2 points (for a total of 3).   The more days you write, the quicker your points will accumulate.  You can even have bonus points for exceeding your goal.  BUT, it you skip a day, if you break your chain, your next 250 words will again be worth just 1 point.  Does that mean you have to write/exercise/work seven days a week?  That’s up to you.  The key is to come up with a routine that’s comfortable and use The Magic Spreadsheet to help you stick with it.  And even though you’re only competing against yourself, once you achieve your goal for three, four or five days in a row, you may be surprised when you realize how badly you want to continue the streak.  If it will help, promise yourself a donut when you reach a certain number of points.  The original Magic Spread Sheet can be found on  Or, you might prefer to design your own.  Good luck.

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