The 500: A Challenge for the Year

About 25 years ago, I made a New Year’s Resolution never to make any more New Year’s Resolutions. Well, I’ve been pretty unsuccessful at a lot of things but on this one I’ve been spectacularly good. Of course, I appreciate the inherent logical flaw in this; succeeding in NOT doing something is tremendously easy, especially if you make the thing to be avoided especially obscure. Why, I could have been just as successful at, say, not joining the US luge team, not wearing my underpants over my trousers, or not eating raw caterpillars.

Picture of number 500

"The 500" in 2012

However, I did set myself a goal at the end of last year that may be construed as a New Year’s Resolution, and that was to read one book a week for the entire year. Well, slap me with a wet cod and toss me in a bucket of hamsters but I officially ended the year with a total of 66 books read. I know precisely how many because I also kept a physical list with completion dates – if only to prove to myself I could do it.

What I realized from this, apart from the fact that I was clearly wasting a lot of time watching TV rather than doing something a little more productive [1], is that given the will, and a method of measurement, it IS possible to modify my behavior without the need for a mentor, trainer, guardian angel, or Jiminy Cricket. Clearly, focused internal motivation can work.

So I’m setting myself a new challenge for 2012, which is sure to be a more difficult test of will: Every working day I will write 500 words about something. And by “something” I mean novel, creative, and non-essential stuff.  This therefore excludes anything I have to write that’s work related – including papers for conferences. But it will include blog posts for the Dudes, blog posts for my other ventures, articles for a local newsletter that I edit, articles for 3rd-party publications (sometimes I get asked to write stuff, and even get paid), or anything else that takes my fancy.

You see, one of the reasons last year’s 52-book target worked is that I allowed myself a totally free choice of books. Whether it was Andrew Marr’s A History of Modern Britain, John Lipski’s Varieties of Spanish in the US, or Katherine Neville’s The Fire, it was all grist to the mill. The point was to read, and keep reading, irrespective of whether the book was high brow, low brow, or even knuckle-draggingly puerile. [2] So I’m adopting a similar attitude to “The 500” – it doesn’t matter what I write as long as I write something.

And as with the books, I’m aiming for an average. There will be days when I’ll be too busy to create 500 words of anything, but others when I may be on a roll and do 1000 or more. [3] I also say “working day” so that I can, if necessary, have a couple of nights off during a week. For example, after doing a full day at last year’s ASHA conference, followed by drinks and dinner until 1:00 am, there was zero chance of writing 5 words, let alone 400. Building in some flexibility is critical.

Measuring progress should be easy. In the same way I logged the books, I’ll log the number of words per article and keep copies. Without instituting some form of tracking, I could easily convince myself I was “succeeding,” but feeling good is no substitute for hard data – and that’s why counting words is essential.

Let’s see how this goes. I’m worried I’ve set an over-ambitious target but then again, I thought 52 books was going to be almost unattainable – and I was gloriously wrong.

817 down; 129,183 to go!

Notes
[1] This isn’t to say that watching TV cannot be a constructive exercise. Nor that there’s anything wrong with taking pleasure from watching things like Family Guy, Nikita, or Bar Rescue. TV becomes more problemmatic when you find you’re spent night after night simply watching whatever is on because it’s too much effort to turn it off or go do something else.

[2] OK, so I will admit that I did pick up a copy of Tyra Banks’ “novel,” Modelland, but after a few pages it was obvious that there are, in fact, limits to what I can read before deciding that life is just too short to waste on total twaddle. The good news is that I really do believe Tyra actually wrote the book, because I can’t imagine a ghost writer could be that bad and still get paid.

[3] Contrary to the romantic image of the hack who hammers away on a typewriter into the early morning while consuming glasses of Scotch, I find that alcohol makes me less likely to write. Quite simply, I get tired after a few beers or a couple of shots of bourbon. However, I do like beer and bourbon so I need to allow for those times when I’m less than focused 😉

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One response to “The 500: A Challenge for the Year

  1. Pingback: Reading List 2012: Only Just Made it! | The Speech Dudes

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