Back in October I did something rather rash. I committed myself to a 365-day challenge: fill a 3×5 index card to a one-word prompt every day, and post it here on my website.
Why? Several reasons:
- To prove to myself that I can sustain a daily practice.
- To test my theory that the more I do something, the better I’ll get at it.
- To desensitize myself to the terror of sharing stuff that isn’t perfect, and may very well be mediocre or even downright sucky.
- To scare away the gremlins.
- To encourage anyone who actually reads this to try whatever they might be afraid of trying.
- Because it’s fun.
Despite the tininess of the daily goal (filling a 3×5 card is pretty minimal, after all), I confess I have been tempted to quit on multiple occasions.
Doing this every day for a full year has proven to be more challenging than I ever expected. But then, that’s why they call it a challenge, I guess.
When I decided to take on this project, I had fantasized that several months into it I’d magically transform into the poet I always wished to be, and sadly, that has not happened. Sometimes it has felt utterly pointless to write yet one more mediocre, utterly pointless 3×5 card.
But then I’d have a day when a sentence, or a phrase, or even an entire card, would tickle me, and it would all seem worth it again.
That’s the power of commitment and persistence.
Other times I resented having to take the time to photograph the 3×5 card, email it to myself, post it to my blog, and send out yet another 3x5x365 newsletter. The whole process doesn’t take that very long, but it’s time I could use to do something else.
But then someone would email me to say how much that day’s 3×5 meant to them, and it would all seem worth it again.
That’s the power of community and accountability.
Even if nobody had emailed, though, and even if none of the cards delighted me in the least, I’m glad I’ve persisted.
Not only have I proven to myself that yes, I can sustain a daily practice, but I have to admit that this funny little project really has done a lot to desensitize me to the terror of sharing stuff that isn’t perfect.
Seriously, this crazy endeavor would be worth it for those two things alone. But it’s proven to be richer than that.
First off, check out that stack of 3x5s in the photo above. Impressive, no? Each one alone may be trite, mediocre, dinky, unremarkable. Taken together, though, they form a much larger work—one that couldn’t exist without the mass of all of them.
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
I’m toying with the idea of using the complete set of 365 3x5s to wallpaper my downstairs powder room. A single 3×5 glued to a wall is one thing; a wall covered with 3x5s is another thing entirely.
Whatever I end up doing with the final stack, though, without committing to this tiny-but-daily year-long project, I would not have this whole.
Second off, sticking with my commitment has led me places I would never have gone otherwise.
I’m on Day 315 now, but back on Day 303, utterly bored with what I’d been doing for the previous 302 days, I decided to try something new: instead of writing with my voice, about my life and my thoughts, I wrote fiction.
Not an entire story, mind you—just a story start—but fiction.
The first fiction I’ve written in twenty years, in fact; my first fiction since 1994, when I declared myself a crappy writer, and gave up writing altogether.
Suddenly, what had felt boring and stilted felt fun and exciting. The quality of my writing didn’t miraculously improve, but my enjoyment did, and that made me happy.
This is, ultimately, the most important reason to create of all: because it makes us happy to do so.
I have no idea where these story starts will lead, if anywhere. All I know is that I may never have re-discovered an interest in writing fiction had I not started this project.
And all I know is that it took 302 days, and digging myself into the boredom of a deep rut, for me to finally start looking around for a way out that didn’t involve quitting.
If I hadn’t been committed to keep at this for an entire year, the most obvious way out would have been to quit, oh, at least a hundred days ago. Maybe two hundred days ago. And I suspect I would have taken that exit route.
The reality is, if I hadn’t made a public commitment, and held myself accountable by posting here on my website, and sending out a daily newsletter, I doubt I’d be trying my hand at fiction again right now.
Commitment. Accountability. Community.
Over and over again these have proven to be invaluable tools in maintaining a consistent, sustainable, nourishing creative practice. So over and over again I return to them.
(And oh, I may ask you to slap me if I start talking about taking on another year-long challenge…. ;))
PS — Pssst! Know someone who might benefit from seeing this today? Pass it on!
Heads Up! Good Stuff Coming!
If you’ve been wanting a consistent, sustainable, nourishing creative practice, but haven’t been able to make it happen for yourself, stay tuned! Next week I’ll be opening up registration for my 30-day program, Get Sparked, designed to get you creating every day (even just a little), and to help you find joy in the nooks and crannies of your life. Registration will be limited, so sign up on my mailing list in the form below if you want first dibs.