Start Small, Start now

There’s a joke that goes something like this:

Stopping smoking is easy. I’ve done it a hundred times.

At first, people react with confusion, then they laugh. I love the joke because it applies to anything. Like my writing.

A woman is lighting up a cigarette. Start small is powerful even when unconscious

I’ve always wanted to write. Every year or so I’d make up my mind to put pen to paper and write at least 3 pages a day.

A week later I’d fail and forget about writing for another year, disappointed in my lack of perseverance. I was the smoker who sneaks out to inhale a cigarette, four days after going cold turkey.

Starting to write is easy. I’ve done in a hundred times already.

It never occurred to me that I might have raised the bar too high. It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I tried a different approach.

Instead of starting big, I decided to start small.

I promised (myself) to wake up, go straight to the desk and write a minimum of 250 words for an entire month.

Words, not pages. That’s less than half a standard page. Start small.

I also decided I would not wake up to do good writing, only that I would write. As long as ink came out of my pen in the form of words and sentences, it was enough. There’s no one to impress, only a promise to keep. Start small. Keep writing.

I started the following morning. Ten minutes later, I was done.

A week passed. I was still writing. Sometimes I’d write more than 250 words, but never less.

I held on to the promise.

The results of "start small"

Thirty days came and went and I burned to continue.

First, I bought a few beers to celebrate my small success with a few friends. It’s important. Then, I decided to write for another month, only this time it was to be 300 words a day. A small increase. Going from the atomic level to the level of bacteria.

It’s enough.

Today, five and a half years later, I write about 400 – 600 words a day. Writing is a fundamental part of my life. Like a limb, or an organ.

Out of my pen came essays, novels, short stories, articles, and poetry. I’ve had people thank me for helping them through a hard day and sleepless nights. To tell me they’ve shared something I wrote with siblings, parents, friends, partners and “enemies”. I made them laugh, or think, or curse out in disagreement.

It all grew out of a small promise to write 250 words a day.

So, how do you start something?

You start small.

Very small.

Tiny, in fact. Smaller than that, even. Microscopic. Get in there with the bugs. Start on the scale of the bacteria, or the virus.

Baby, go atomic.

Just start.