Things I learned when I stopped writing every day
Awhile back, I used to write and publish something on Medium every day. The idea was to ideate, draft, edit, and publish in about 30 minutes. It was enough time to formulate some thoughts beyond the most surface layer of a topic, but not so long that sitting down and doing it felt too arduous to actually do (usually). I’m lucky to be a pretty quick writer so it usually meant I could crank out a couple hundred words without breaking much of a mental sweat.
Eventually I decided to stop that practice because it felt like it was potentially keeping me from writing something more “worthwhile” or “substantial.” Most days my only writing would be that thirty minute article that was drafted, edited, and published in the same sitting. Part of me felt guilty for not using that time to work on articles that can’t be written in one session. That I wasn’t building the muscles necessary to grab ahold of a more difficult or obscure topic and run it to ground over several, or many, writing sessions.
I have several pages of notes and ideas for articles and writing projects that can’t be tackled in the span of a thirty minute writing session. I hoped that relaxing my daily writing schedule would provoke me toward making meaningful progress on these projects.
The truth, is that I havne’t been working on any substantial piece of writing. The time that I freed up by not writing and publishing every day has gone everywhere except toward writing more substantial pieces.
I try to treat everything I do like an experiment but somehow this experience has felt more like a personal failing as an aspiring writer and intellectual. I’ve been embarrassed to not publish anything for this long. And the longer I went without writing the more important it became in my mind to write something worth the delay. Which only raised the stakes which only made me less likely to actually write. Hello, negative feedback loop.
But a slight shift in mindset helps me realized I’ve learned some things:
- Writing, like most things worth doing, benefits from momentum and momentum is more about frequency/consistency than quality. It’s impossible to write the best thing you’ve ever written every day, but even writing something so-so every day has residual effects that spill beyond the boundaries of that individual writing session. I stopped writing every day because I felt like I was “using up” time and words that could be better spent on tougher pieces of writing. Turns out when I stop doing that I tend to stop writing entirely.
- Writing is part of my identity and when I don’t do it I don’t feel like myself. I’m decidedly average at a lot of different things that are relevant to my professional life. Writing is one of the few things I can point to and say, “You are good at this.” So when I don’t do it I’m basically handicapping myself in my quest to make a positive impact in the world.
- Writing generates more ideas. Somebody who doesn’t write frequently might think that writing consumes ideas but my experience is the opposite. It’s a very rare writing session where I don’t add two or three topics to my “spark list.” Writing prepares my mind to have ideas and make connections. I start seeing creative ideas and concepts everywhere. When I’m writing and publishing everyday it’s like they know they have an avenue to being made real so they pop into existence easily and in high numbers.
- Much of my work requires wading through ambiguity and uncertainty. Working with clients on a day-to-day basis, often in highly emotional contexts, means that a lot of my work is amorphous and hard and its hard to feel a sense of progress. Writing is a process with a beginning, middle, and an end. It starts with nothing and results in something. When I’m not writing I don’t get to feel those I-made-something-feelings very often. Those feelings feel good. I need them.
I feel like I’ve written a version of this article before and I’m sure I’ll write another version of it at some point in the future. I don’t seem to be the type of person who can learn a lesson once and have it really locked into my psyche from then on. But that’s okay. I’m a slow learner.
These daily(ish) articles aren’t going to follow a specific format or theme any more than my mind and daily life seems to follow a specific format or theme. The barrier for inclusion will be low because I want to be able to successfully write about anything and make it interesting (as long as we’re comfortable with a very liberal definition of interesting).
Forgive me this self-indulgent foray back into being a writing person and I’ll do my best to prevent this little project from veering into such navel gazey territory in the future.
You gotta cut me some slack, though — it has been awhile.