The Dark Side of Streaks

Hey Folks,

I talked here awhile back about the power of streaks. A “streak” means repeatedly hitting a certain regularly scheduled goal without missing. When you miss, the streak ends.

For example, say you are determined to write 1000 words per day every day. The more days you do that in a row, the more powerful the streak becomes because you won’t want to miss. As a nice aside, and if you did do that for 100 days in a row (just over 3 months) you would have written a 100,000 word novel, or two mid-sized novels, or three or four short novels or novellas.

But I digress.

It’s true. A streak is very powerful, and for the most part, that’s a good thing. The longer your streak goes, the more it drives you to keep it going. In that way, it feeds on itself and your word count (or number of published short stories or novels) climbs astronomically quickly.

But that’s all the good stuff. It’s time to acknowledge that there’s also a dark side, a considerable downside, to streaks. The fact is, the streak is jealous. Once you break one, it’s extremely difficult to get a new one going.

Sometime last February or March, a professional writer announced that he planned to write 30 stories in 30 days during the month of April.

The assumption, and he mentioned nothing to derail that assumption, was that his challenge would consist of at least one story per day, every day for 30 days. He’d done that before, but never while doing something as involved as moving his entire household from one state to another. That was the kicker, the big part of the challenge.

Then someone commented on one of his posts, asking whether he might write 30 stories in 30 days, but not necessarily a story every day. I doubt the commenter realized he was giving the writer an “out.” But that’s exactly what the commenter did.

Unfortunately, the writer took it. He responded that if he decided to do that (that “if” is what doomed his challenge), he’d try to put a story or two in the bank. In other words, he’d try to write more than one story on some days going in.

Only he didn’t. He wrote 12 stories in a row, one per day, then broke the streak on Day 13. Then he missed Day 14. (When this happened to me, that was my “What’s the use?” day.)

Then he wrote two more stories, one per day, and missed again on Day 17.

When I broke my streak of writing a story per week (at 72 weeks) I did the same thing. Missed a couple of weeks then wrote a story or two and finally gave it up.

Same thing when I tried to write one story per day for a month. I made it for 7 or 8 days, then missed. At that point I told myself “Well, I could still write 30 stories in the month. I’d just have to double up on one day.”

But it doesn’t matter. It’s like the old joke about women winning every argument. She wins because if the man says anything else, it’s the beginning of a new argument. (grin)

It’s the same with streaks, and that’s the takeaway here: You can’t miss a day and then keep going on the same streak. When you start again, it’s Day 1 of a new streak. If you keep going.

So what happened in the professional writer’s case?

In My Opinion, which has zero basis in fact (other than the numbers and my own past experience), he fed his critical mind just enough ammo to stop himself.

This particular writer knows better than anyone how powerful a streak can be. For that reason alone, I suspect he went into the challenge planning to write one story per day every day of the month.

But when someone offered him a slight safety net (he could write 30 stories in a month, but not one per day) he was tired and he took it.

He’s still way ahead. If not for the challenge he wouldn’t have written over 32,000 words in the first 12 days of the month. And if not for the sputtering restart, he wouldn’t have written two more stories for a total of almost 37,000 words on the month.

My hat’s off to the guy, maybe even moreso because I’ve seen critical voice slap him around a few times recently, and that means it doesn’t only happen to me. Plus he’s my mentor, so that adds a whole new twist.

I hope he finishes out the (slightly altered) challenge successfully. Problem is — again, IMHO — the alteration is what sabotaged the streak. I hope he finds a way to write the additional three stories while writing one story per day for the rest of the month.

Unfortunately, I don’t think he will. But the guy is a warrior of the written word. I think he’ll stagger to his feet and write one or two more stories, then miss another day and end it with an acknowledgment that he failed to success.

I hope I’m wrong.

Lest you think this is much ado about nothing, have you tried keeping a streak alive? How did it go? Or how is it going now? I wish you every success.

Happy writing!


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4 thoughts on “The Dark Side of Streaks”

  1. Another fabulous post, Harvey, that cannot be ignored. As I read, I remembered some fragment of pop culture that says “nothing lasts forever.”
    Creative joy and determination are not always friends with one another. Our conscious mind makes promises that our creative joy refuses to honor.
    In that case, there is a reason why. We are creatures of change, we covet variety, once and done is a comfortable place. If we put something down, not knowing if we will ever pick it up again, that is who we are.
    We choose to be grit-responsible in some areas of our life, but we also find ourselves flighty and inconsistent and trying hard not to feel guilty.
    Right now, today, this is just who we are. No one has a bad day on purpose. Creative people can be their worst enemy via the conscious mind! You keep trying to teach us that, and I may have learned it somewhat. NAN

    • Thanks, Nan, but I’m not wild about that “nothing lasts forever” thing. I could’ve sworn I had that beat. (grin)

  2. Luckily for him, you were wrong in your predictions, and in the end he did manage to write 30 short stories during the month. But only someone like him could do such impressive catching up (3-4 stories a day for several days in a row at the very end of the month!).

    For us mere mortals, your point is very valid: don’t break a streak, otherwise it’s much easier to just let yourself go than to get back to it.

    • Thanks, Céline. Yes, I should have come back and added that into the post. He did suceed with writing 30 stories in 30 days. But not in a streak as he originally intended. So yes, once a streak is broken, certainly a writer can create a new challenge and succeed at it.

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