Every writer procrastinates in their own way. Some tidy. Some research. Some booze. Some employ themselves to write for other people.
My style of procrastination? Helping other writers write.
In 2019, one of my goals was to start a revenue-generating, soul-enriching side project. My editor friend Parul and I knocked our heads together and came up with an idea: London Writers’ Salon – an interview series with accomplished writers focused on their craft and careers.
We surprised ourselves with how quickly we got traction. Not rocket ship startup traction, but the old-fashioned bootstrapped kind. Thirty people came to our first event. We were revenue generating from Day 1.
Week by week we trudged along, picking up tasks here and there in between our day jobs to keep the project moving forward. Each month in 2019 we held at least one event. It became both a deeply satisfying project and a nice source of side income.
When lockdown happened, most of my facilitation work evaporated, and with it, my primary income stream. Everything with the Salon was in question too. We prided ourselves on creating quality in-person experiences. Digital was an afterthought. COVID-19 challenged that.
We brainstormed ways to transition it online. Late one Sunday evening, we came up with an idea: Writers’ Hour.
Each weekday morning from 8-9am, we’d open up a Zoom meeting, invite others, and together we’d write. We’d create a space to help writers get their work done and connect with each other during these uncertain and confusing times.
We’d start by checking-in: What are you working on this morning?
We’d end by checking-out: What’d you get done?
And in between, we’d write. For 60 focused minutes, we put our butts in chairs and follow Neil Gaimon’s writing rule:
“All I’m allowed to do is absolutely nothing, or write.”– Neil Gaimon
On Day 1 of Writers’ Hour, we had 10 people. By Day 5 there were 30.
This morning there were 100.
Over the last eight weeks, hundreds of people across the globe have joined us to write. And with them, thousands of words have been written, screenplays sketched out, PhDs progressed, short stories started, morning pages scribbled, and blogs published.
Which brings me back to my procrastination.
After each Writers’ Hour, Parul and I stick around for a few minutes to chat with our writers. One morning this week, one of our most dedicated writers, Nicolas, shared that he was was reading my blog and told me how much he was enjoying it. With a few simple words, he reminded why I write. And he reminded me of what I was not doing: writing and publishing.
My procrastination is other people’s productivity.
The most prolific writers I know put themselves on deadline. They act like columnists, like a David Brooks or Seth Godin. They act as if they’re paid handsomely by the world’s top publication to to ship and publish their work, whether they are or not. The posture comes before the paid position.
I’ve realized that one thing keeping me from shipping my work is being unclear about my terms of engagement.
My friend Anne runs a Write Your Own Rules workshop where she helps people write their own guiding principles. It’s inspired me to think: If I were a columnist, what would be the guiding principles, rules, and deadlines for this blog and newsletter? Here’s a stab:
- It must be less than 1,000 words. It can be 10 words, 200, 500 or 999, but if it’s longer than 1,000, it must cut down, split up over multiple weeks or linked to a full post.
- It ships by Friday at 5pm.
- It’s allowed to suck, be self-indulgent, or sent as a joke.* My goal of course is to create something wonderful, valuable, and seriously intentional. But that bar of perfection can become an excuse for shipping.
*Another writer Anna shared with us that she won the Costa Short Story competition after submitting her story “as a joke.” Whatever it takes to get the thing out the door.
These rules got me here, shipping this piece. Let’s see if I can keep it going.
✍️ Written during Writers Hour. Join me on the next one.