Today marks the 15th day of committing to write daily for a month. I would like to use this post as an opportunity to reflect on my process and to share what I’ve been learning along the way.
Firstly, it has been pivotal for me to establish a routine that accommodates space to write. On weekdays, I have started waking up sometime between 4:30 am and 5:30 am. I set my alarm for 5 or 6 am, but I am usually so excited to write that I wake up before it.
I like this time for writing because I have always been more of a morning person. I have a full-time job during the day, and I know that I’ll be too tired afterward to follow through on personal projects that require concentration. I also appreciate that at this hour most people are asleep; even my family in Michigan is gearing up for bed at this point because it’s nighttime for them. Although I love connecting with family and friends, it’s important for me to keep a window of time reserved for myself. I find that the pull of the outside world is not so strong in the early morning, and as such I am more able to work with more focus and fewer distractions.
The first critical task of the very early morning is to make a single-serve french press full of coffee. Then I pour myself a cup, wipe the sleep from my eyes, and open my laptop.
On weekends, I give myself a break from waking up so early. I often opt instead to write in the afternoon, over a cup of milky, sugary, and cardamom-loaded tea at a cafe. This treat also gives me a break from the desk in my room and from being alone while I write. It’s nice to occasionally work in the company of others, and to allow pleasant distractions to replenish my spirit.
On the first day of endeavoring to write creatively, I took some time to research lists of writing prompts. I created a document for writing ideas throughout the month, and pasted my favorite prompts onto it. I also added around fifteen topics of my own that I had been yearning to write about on the blog before, but hadn’t yet made the time.
Most days, I depend heavily on this list. It’s hard enough to get yourself to wake up before most of humanity. It’s even harder to then come up with ideas and make decisions about your topic for the day while you’re waiting for your brain to turn on. The list reminds me of topics that interest me, and it keeps my mind subconsciously processing pathways to work through that topic. When I sit down to write, I am surprised to learn that I usually have somewhat developed ideas about where to take the prompt.
I often begin by writing a paragraph or two before I realize the core of what I am trying to write. I then start over with this clarity, but move the original paragraph to the bottom of the page just in case. I also often find myself going off on tangents that I later realize stand alone as their own posts. I will cut and paste those tangents into a new document with a title that matches the concept it represents to me, and return to it the next day to work out the details.
In this way, I am learning that writing is rarely a linear process. It is more helpful to conceptualize it as an iterative one. Repetitions of the brainstorming and writing sequence are required to bring us closer to the true story we were trying to create, and can even bring us in contact with new stories that yearn to be created.
On mornings when I feel hesitant to start, I remember the advice of a writing instructor from first year of university. He always told us: “Don’t be afraid of shitty first drafts.” He’s right. Although I don’t have time to rewrite whole drafts of my daily posts, I use his advice as more of a reminder to dive in. It gives me the fortitude to resist my tendency toward perfectionism.
I know that perfectionism is my biggest obstacle when it comes to writing; so I have added other little reminders to safeguard myself from it. I have a note on my mirror reminding myself that fear of failure is not allowed at my desk while I write. It helps me persist when I think that an idea might not be dazzling enough. It helps me press “publish” when I doubt the quality of what I have written.
Despite these moments of uncertainty, I find myself most days feeling proud of what I have written, even when I know it isn’t my best. I am learning to find satisfaction in the day-to-day process of writing. I am letting go of the final written product as my sole metric for success. I remind myself that I have always wanted the space to write; that I need to be kind and loving to myself as I do the difficult work of carving out that space.
I am finding that the habit of writing everyday not only affects my morning routine, but also spills over into the rest of my day. While walking to work or taking a lunch break, I am sometimes struck by ideas and feel an urgent need to take note of them before they vanish. I keep a little notebook with me during the day for this purpose. This also happens while at the gym, in the middle of running another mile, and I end up having to take notes on my phone.
I am excited to receive these ideas, and also a little crazed by the omnipresence of this new torrent of thoughts. I intend to incorporate more mindfulness exercises into my schedule for the next half of the month so that I don’t get pulled too far away from the present during the day.
Ideas did not just throw themselves at me before, and I used to often experience writer’s block. I am learning that habit and routine, despite their lack of glamour, are the true catalysts of creative thinking. Perhaps creativity is more a muscle that we develop through exercise, and less an innate talent only accessible to a gifted few.
The last comment I would like to share is my gratitude to those who have been joining me on this journey. Writing can be a very solitary act. For me, it entails hours of silence and solitude in front of a screen or a page. But what keeps me going is the possibility that what I am creating could really resonate with someone, or at least spur a few thoughts for them. It keeps me grounded to the conviction that writing is a deeply interpersonal endeavor, despite the individual work it requires. Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to let me know they are on the other side of the screen.