Written by Chloe Higgins – Author and Writing Coach
Recently, my dad started to write his own book. He has been steadily following and building a regular writing routine and has even joined my accountability program, ‘10 thousand words in 30 days’, pumping out at least 500 words per day for a month. This is the main thing I have been teaching him: a writer writes, every day.
But even with all this dedication and structure, a couple of weeks ago both my dad and I had a ‘zero day’: a day of not getting any words on the page. Zero days are inevitable, and so it’s important to accept them without guilt and recover quickly.
We were in Queensland when we had our zero day. A mini cyclone almost destroyed the shelter on Dad’s caravan. Water came in everywhere and the bedding was soaked, so he didn’t get much sleep. As excuses go, I think this was a pretty good one.
Dad said that he felt strange not writing on the Monday after the cyclone, but in his mind, he justified this with the fact that he’d already written on the Saturday and Sunday (days he would usually take off).
Usually, when a student of mine skips a day of writing, it can lead to a lot of mental angst and guilt. In the worst cases, it can lead into a spiral of not writing for a couple of consecutive weeks—and that’s when routines get shattered.
Building a writing routine is like any other habit. It takes time and dedication to establish. Shit happens, and you miss a day. It happens with everything from breaking addictions to building an exercise routine—you’re not the first person to fall off the wagon.
But falling off is not the problem. Like with any habit, what matters is what you do next. The real problem arises when you don’t show up the very next day to get yourself back on track.
Dad felt strange, but made peace with his zero day. He moved on and jumped straight back into it the next day, getting into the rhythm of things again and levelling himself out. There were two things he said that showed how his routine had served him so he could have a zero day when he needed it:
1. He had already spent Saturday and Sunday writing. Dad doesn’t usually write over the weekend, but he had found the time because he was in the rhythm and his routine was working.
2. Dad has in mind a ‘200 word’ goal for each day. Sometimes he writes 1,500 words, sometimes he writes 700, sometimes he just scrapes in 200. Most days, however, he’s ahead of that goal. Which means that when a zero day comes along, he can allow himself to feel that he’s already out in front.
When zero days strike—and they will—it’s easy to feel guilty or frustrated that you didn’t get anything down. But snapping back into your routine as quickly as possible is important and any effort you put in today will serve you tomorrow. They key? Don’t let one missed day turn into one missed month.
Find Chloe’s previous pieces attached below: