NON FICTION: The Case For Writing One Sentence A Day

Fountain pen and cursive writing

Photo: Alvaro Serrano

Think about getting off your chair right now and doing thirty minutes’ worth of bodyweight exercises. Think about writing a book. Think about picking the salad instead of that pizza you were craving.

Chances are, you probably have a long list of things you’d rather do, and why shouldn’t you? None of those ideas seem like fun, even if they’re already part of your routine.

Yet these are the types of tasks we wish we could do to replace our Netflix binges and nights out drinking. They’re just boring as hell to get started on.

So let me offer you a way out.

Instead of an entire bodyweight routine, how about calling it a day after twenty push-ups? Maybe just write a sentence instead of that entire article. And I bet a handful of cherry tomatoes sounds a lot better than having to chomp down on an entire salad.

“But Stuart,” you might ask, “who even writes just one sentence a day?”

The person who’s currently writing zero words per day, that’s who.

“How am I supposed to improve with just one sentence though? Why should I even waste my time?”

Because you’re already spending more time flicking through your Insta feed, so why not dedicate a portion of it to something you actually benefit from?

Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity.

—James Clear

Person writing to-do list

Building habits, no matter how small the tasks, is seriously underrated. Photo: Glenn Carstens Peters

First you build the habit

… then the habit builds you.

While it’s good to have goals, it’s much better to have a process, and working towards your goals should be something you enjoy doing, both on the good days and bad.

Let’s focus on writing for the sake of this article. What is it about the craft that makes you happy? Is it the likes you get on social media? The idea of creating something out of nothing? Because you want to be rich and famous?

Really think about it. Have your reason? Good.

Now, would you still choose to write if there were no guarantees that you could ever realise your vision? After all, you could write your entire life and still be poor, unknown, disliked.

“People actually do things without the guarantee of success?” you may ask.

Well, yeah. Plenty. Lots of amazing guitarists, gamers, skaters, dancers, and programmers started off practising their craft for the sake of love for the process instead of their desire to be number one.

Why is it that we understand playing the cello will require work, but we attribute writing to the magic of inspiration?

—Ann Patchett

Alex Honnold is well-known for his climbing feats today only because he made it a point to practice as much as he can. But many tend to overlook the decades he’d spent honing his craft and the sacrifices he’d made just so that he could live closer to the rock.

He had lived those years in relative obscurity, only getting recognition 17 years after being in the sport, living in his van so that he could do nothing but climb all day, every day. What about you? Would you cut back on the fluff so that you could focus on your passion?

You, too, can be the Alex Honnold of writing. You just need to dedicate enough time into the craft. For many of us, that means the unavoidable—and dreaded—act of actually sitting down to write.

And if you haven’t been doing so, yet you’ve harboured dreams about creating wonderful things through writing, then I guess you better start with writing one sentence a day.

Girl holding Eiffel keychain in front of real Eiffel tower

Start small so you can go big. Photo: Cederic X

The benefits of starting small

We’re so quick to discount the minimal effort we can put in to achieve our goals that we end up doing nothing for years, only to look back and wonder where our time has gone and why we haven’t even taken the first step in achieving our goals.

There’s this saying that goes: “People often overestimate what they can do in a day and underestimate what they can do in a year.” And that’s exactly what you’re doing when you think you’re too good to be writing just one sentence a day.

You think you can—and should—write more in a day to make things worthwhile. But that often turns into a year’s worth of not writing. I know because it’s exactly what I’d done for almost a decade, and I’m sure there are people among you who’ve done the same.

Toddler in Snow White costume

Sometimes the smallest steps are all it takes. Photo: Haley Phelps

My own baby steps

I had taken this advice a year back, and it felt stupid in the beginning too. What use did one sentence make in the big picture? And that’s exactly it. Once you put one sentence down, you’ll be tempted to type another, and another. Try it and see for yourself.

My own routine quickly turned into 250 words a day, where it had remained for the past six months. It’s a target that’s challenging for me, yet easy enough to fall back to even on my worst days. Often I end up producing 500 words, and that excludes my novel work, writing exercises, and journalling.

As an avid procrastinator, I’m surprised that I find it hard not to write now, and I’ve never skipped a day of writing ever since I’d started on this routine.

What I’ve learned is that the dread of writing lies not in the actual work, but in the act of getting started, and that’s where setting achievable goals help tremendously. Because the act of writing consistently will take you much further than writing intensely, and even that, as the cliché goes, begins with a single step.

A baby step.

7 thoughts on “NON FICTION: The Case For Writing One Sentence A Day

  1. An excellent article and SO true. I taught myself to swim just like this and now swim laps as my exercise (well I did for the last 20 years before all the pools closed). I also try to write something every day and I read EVERY day which is also practice for writing. You really nailed it with this article. Habit is EVERYTHING.

    • I learned to juggle and am currently learning Chinese this way and have found the method super effective, though none of my friends really do things this way, so I’m real glad that you share the sentiment. Thanks for the kind words, and yes, writing and reading every day, no matter how little, works wonders for the creative muscles!

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