Failing to build a habit to write every day? Try a system instead.
In the early 1980s, the carrot business was stagnant and wasteful. Growing seasons were long, and more than half of what farmers grew was ugly and unfit for grocery shelves. But then in 1986, a carrot farmer Yurosek, itching to find a way to make use of all the misshapen carrots, tried something new. Instead of tossing them out, he carved them into something more palatable.
At first, Yurosek used a potato peeler, which didn’t quite work because the process was too laborious. But then he bought an industrial green-bean cutter. The machine cut the carrots into uniform 2-inch pieces consistently, the standard baby carrot size persists today.
Yurosek had figured out a system for baby carrot production. To be able to write consistently, writers need a system too.
Most newbie writers struggle to write every day.
I know I did, for many many years. To me, the idea of writing every day was not only incomprehensible but fanciful. And yet the daily practice is a must for every writer. Read about any successful writer and you will find how religious she is about her daily writing.
But getting to that stage is not easy. We know from personal experiences, that building any habit is hard, let alone writing, for which resistance comes in many forms. Procrastination, self-doubt, lack of ideas, getting stuck, limited vocabulary, imposter’s syndrome – all are waiting to bounce on us unsuspecting well-meaning writers making us give up our dreams of becoming a writer.
That is when a system comes to rescue.
A system is a set of procedures to do something efficiently and consistently.
Nature is full of systems. Think of the solar system, ecosystem, cellular system, digestive system, circulatory system, photosynthesis.
Learning from nature, we humans have built ourselves numerous systems. There are systems to building software, systems to transport, systems to govern a country, and believe it or not, a system to do your daily cooking, cleaning, and any other household chores. You follow the system when you go to the gym, do yoga, or play basketball.
Anything hard to do has been converted into a system.
Building a habit is hard but following a system is easy.
The reason I struggled to write daily because I lacked a system. A system not only helps get the work done but also helps build habits.
When I took to writing, I thought I would sit down with a pen in hand, and beautiful prose will flow out of it on the paper. It didn’t happen.
I tried getting up early (because this is what serious writers do), make myself a cup of tea, and waited for the words to come. They didn’t.
I tried morning pages, filled out diaries and journals, participated in the November Novel Writing Month challenge. But I remained sporadic and irregular.
I was disheartened and frustrated and was on the verge of giving up when I discovered the three-bucket system of writing.
The three-bucket system did to my writing what competing in MasterChef does to cooking enthusiasts.
hose new to cooking think of it as a one-step process. Ask any chef, and he will tell you that preparing a meal is a three-step process — shopping, preparation, and cooking.
If you want to cook dinner, you will not first go to the shops, buy the ingredient, come home, do all the preparation( cutting, chopping, soaking, marinating), put the dish together, and then place it in the oven to cook.
Chances are you already have done the shopping. You might have started some preparation too (soaked the lentils a night before, marinated the meat, or have chopped the veggies during the day). So when the time came to cook, you put all the ingredients together and put them in the oven.
Writing is like cooking too. It is made up of three distinct activities:
- coming up with ideas
- turning those ideas into drafts
- editing and publishing
You can’t do them all in one step. You got to separate them, and you got to do each activity every single day. If you can do that, you have a system.
A system doesn’t have to be complicated or confusing. It just has to work. Three-bucket-system is repeatable and straightforward.
What is the three-bucket system?
I first learned about it from Jeff Goings. Three-bucket-system is exactly what the name suggests. Three buckets. Each with a label on it — IDEAS, DRAFTS, and EDITS.
Your job is to add something to each bucket every day.
It doesn’t matter how much. You can add just one idea into the IDEAS bucket and only one paragraph in the DRAFTS bucket and EDIT something small, but you mustn’t miss any of the buckets. Soon you have a system going. You will never run out of ideas. You will have plenty of drafts ready to edit.
Ideas can come anytime.
Our job is to capture them whenever they come. Otherwise, they will disappear and never come back. I have a notebook dedicated to ideas. Even if I capture them on the back of an envelope or a serviette, they go in the notebook at the end of the day. So when I sit down to write, I have a whole list to choose from.
You can record them on the phone or in Evernote. The tools don’t matter, as long as you are capturing them.
Set a specific time for first drafts
For me, it is the mornings when my mind is fresh. I don’t set up any alarms to wake up at insane hours. But between waking up and having breakfast, I get my writing done. It’s insanely easy because I have a collection of ideas to choose from, and I know I am just writing the first draft, which means it doesn’t have to be perfect. I will be editing it later at least two or three times.
Afternoons are perfect for editing.
This is when I pick up something I have written the previous day or before and polish it. I do it for just half an hour. No more.
There it is, the three-bucket system of writing.
Just like baby carrots transformed the way people think about carrots, the three-bucket system has changed how I feel about writing.
Try it. You will surely benefit fit from it. Just like I did.
Just like baby carrots transformed the way people think about carrots, the Three-bucket system has transformed the way I think about writing.
Try it, you will surely bend fit from it just like I did.