To write is hard; it’s like a relationship. There are good days, there are bad days, but most days are uneventful.
I’ve been writing on and off most of my life but I until I started this blog, I was never consistent. Inspired by the World Cup soccer tournament for example, I would write about the games and how vibrant the fans are, or become enamoured by a movie and write a quick essay on it. Then I would put it away in the deep throes of my digital files only never to be seen again, or it would disappear if my computer caught some horrible virus that wiped all my data.
When I decided to make a transition into the creative space, I thought it was time I tackle this demon of inconsistency. No way I was going to make it as a writer if I couldn’t meet even the most basic deadlines. I’ll admit I can meet other people’s deadlines if they set them for me, but my own? Yeah…no. I’m my own shittiest boss, so I knew nothing bad was going to happen if I didn’t get the work done.
Last summer of 2021, I decided to draft almost every day. At that stage, the challenge was showing up to the keyboard (as it usually is for most writers). I didn’t wanna worry about coming up with something original or earth-shattering. Grammar wasn’t a priority, and I didn’t want to fuss about editing, which can all be dangerous in the early discovery process. In her book Writing Down the Bones (which I highly recommend), Natalie Goldberg tells her students to just write. Write like no one’s going to read your work, which will allow the mental blocks to dissolve. So I wrote.
What To Write About
I have what I call a Discovery List. As of now (June 2022), it’s about fifteen pages of bullet points of topic ideas, and I added to it frequently. One thing I’ve learned about this Discovery List is to also keep medium in mind. For example, it might be easier to do a YouTube video on makeup, rather than write a book on it. One bullet point can be a quick quote on Instagram for daily inspiration, some can be a long essay, and some really should not see the light of day because they were passing thoughts that don’t warrant anything further (I call these dead ends).
For the ones that make the cut to write about I called an exercise in improvisational writing. For one, when I write a bullet point (example, Chef Life Chef Wife, which was about my experience dating a chef), I start with a sentence and see where it takes me as I write. Sometimes the bullet point is spot on, and the piece is clear and self-explanatory. But more often, it’s about something quite different. It evolves in a different way, often tangential. And that’s where you discover what your creative mind is trying to release.
Many artist friends tell me that a painting they had in their head turns out differently once on a canvas, or a novelist who doesn’t write with an outline goes on a wacky mental adventure while putting their story together. This phase of creativity, I gotta say, is my favourite. It’s probably why I love brainstorming so much. You give your imagination permission to expand.
Getting Set Up
I heard about a website called 750words.com . You get an account and type 750 words a day. 750 words is a decent amount of words to write to get your juices flowing. Your page locks after the day is over and you can no longer add to what you wrote.
On most days, I would write around 1000 words. Depending on the topic, 750 words was usually not enough, and anything beyond the 1250 range was too much. Some days I hit 750 to the T. Other days I went about 1600. But I got.it.done.
Good Days, Hard Days, and Uneventful Days
The good days were probably about one in seven. I would wake up and be inspired to write. Usually, this involved a large cup of iced coffee, a sunny day and a topic I was drawn to. For example, I wrote the first exciting draft of hostel cake on a good day. I had also taken the day off from work to enjoy a staycation. On this day, I also came up with about three or four more bullet points to add to my Discovery List. When you’re inspired, you can crank out work quickly, putting you in a state of flow.
The hard days are when you know you have a good idea but the words don’t seem to come together. You know your concepts are connected, but when you write they seem disjointed, erratic and clarity eludes you. These are the days that make you to a. want to stop and b. make it harder to show up the next day. Also, something in your life can be distracting you, whether it’s a fight with your partner, a problem at work, or a shiny object you want to pay attention to instead of spewing out words. The key to the hard days is to simply write them off as hard. Tomorrow will not necessarily be the same. It could be better.
The uneventful days is when you question whether you’re creative enough. It’s when you look at your discovery list and/or your draft and think, everything in this list is shit. SHIT. Who would want to read this? Why am I even doing this? It’s boring.
The goal was to write every day from May to August. I missed quite a few days but showed up about 90% of the time. I kept going in September but wasn’t as consistent. It worried me that I stopped for three weeks, and when I picked it back up, writing felt harder like a muscle that atrophied. After three or four days though, I was somewhat legible again.
I was reading a lot around the same time and like any writer will tell you, it’s important to read more pages than write. My vocabulary was larger and I felt my ability to express ideas was stronger. I also discovered that just because a writer was technically good didn’t mean their material was engaging. I so wanted to like Lucia Berlin for example, but couldn’t bring myself to finish A Manual for Cleaning Women.
To get to good writing, you have to write badly for a while. There was a stretch of a week when nothing seemed to stick, but after writing about seven thousand words of mediocre work, something magical emerged. And it wasn’t something I expected. At all. It’s fascinating what your subconscious can bring out.
Sometimes when you’re writing and thinking “gosh, this is just awful”, the next day you re-read it and realize it wasn’t half-bad. This is an encouraging thought because it’s way easier to fix something bad than have a blank page and a blinking cursor; bad writing is a starting point. This is a godsend for me, as I always have a tough time starting anything. The tangibility of having something to work with was a step towards clarity.
Writing: A Wonderful Vehicle For Creativity
I love that I can write from anywhere. I just need a laptop, my brain and my heart. You can write poems, micro-blog an Instagram post, an advertisement, a long-form essay, or a technical manual. It’s a limitless outlet. And the dopamine hit you experience after having written can be so fulfilling. Is it hard to show up most days? Yes. But I always think of how good I feel when I’m done. It contributes to creative growth I can control.