When my fiancée and I recently moved from Washington, DC to Raleigh, NC, we wanted our lives to change. We yearned for tranquil days, a house with outdoor space, and some peace and quiet. For too long, we had been ignoring parts of ourselves that longed for expression, making excuses for why we weren’t taking action. Moving here, I wanted to change many things, but one was more important than any other: starting and maintaining a daily writing practice.
I’ve known for a long time that writing is an important part of how I want to show up in the world. I love books. They have been my constant companions since early childhood, and I have often been moved to tears or stunned with profound insight in the pages of a book. Each time that happens, I think I want to do this too. I want to inspire someone, to show them something that will change the course of their life. I see writing as a way to spread ideas, and few things are more important to me than developing and spreading worthy ideas.
I have written, at times. I’ve had a blog—or at least a website—for many years, but there have only been brief periods when I have posted consistently. I wrote songs and poems during a phase from my teens to early 20s in which I was convinced I wanted to be a professional singer/songwriter. When I worked with a career counselor a few years ago, it became clear writing was one of my top interests. However, I took little action in that direction.
When we moved, I wanted to change that. I started thinking about it in the days and weeks before we left DC. I came up with a plan for my ideal daily schedule, which included my writing time. When we arrived in Raleigh, I started writing within a day or two. In all the hubbub and work of moving, I carved out morning time to write each day. I started with a goal to write 1,000 words a day.
I typed whatever came to mind, stream of consciousness style. So if I thought “blah blah blah”, I wrote it without question. I have many entries that start with something like “So here I am again, facing the blank page. I’m not sure what to write.” But after 200 words or so, I seem to hit stride, honing in on a particular topic. This is often some form of journaling, a dialogue with myself to find out what’s on my mind, and to work through it in words. Even this morning, I wrote almost 1,000 words processing some emotions that came up last night in conversations with my fiancée, emotions which were still bubbling around my consciousness this morning.
In the early days of my writing habit, I found journaling to be extraordinarly helpful, and I still use it regularly when I’m not sure what I want to write about, or I need to sort myself out on paper. As time went by, I started to think more about writing for publication. After all, the goal is not just to write, but to communicate. I considered memoir or launching into some other non-fiction book project, but have decided blogging makes the most sense right now. Writing short articles helps me see what it is I have to say, and where my interests cluster, without committing to any one subject.
My goal, however, is to write books. Impactful and interesting books. To do that, I need to both develop my ideas and writing skill in a way that makes me capable of writing a book-length work. I need to know what subjects are worthy of me spending potentially years researching and developing them.
The problem is, my interests up until this point have been diverse and scattered. After letting go of a harmful religious belief structure several years ago, I felt like a newborn babe, fresh from the womb and fighting for any insight into the strange new world I found myself in. I grew up learning about why evolution was wrong and unscientific. Science itself was often ignored because it simply wasn’t as important as learning God’s plan for our lives. After dropping the dogmatism I was raised with, I had a strong sense of being behind my peers in many important ways. I didn’t understand dating, 90s TV and music references, and much of what passes for culture. I was curious, eager to learn, and lacking in worldliness.
To make up for the lost years—not entirely lost, but theology loses its charms when you no longer believe in a god—I have been in a deep learning phase of life. I have created very little in the last few years, and have absorbed much. That has felt right for a long time, but I am now wanting to create something of my own and give back to the community that has opened my mind to the value of reason and open inquiry. So for now, I’m writing whatever seems most interesting and natural, and allowing inspiration to take me where it will, until I hit on a subject I can really sink my teeth into.
Writing daily for the past two months has been one of the most important things I’ve ever done for myself. Developing this habit, and writing even though I often don’t feel like it, or don’t know what to say, helps me see that writing is hard work, and requires consistent practice to succeed. But I know that even if I write only 500 words a day (which I have probably done here in the last 10 minutes), that’s 60,000 words in four months. You can write a book in four months. Of course, that’s just a first, ugly draft. There’s editing and rewriting to be done. But you can finish a draft in a shorter amount of time than you think. The harder part is to know what you want to say in the first place.
Writers tend to say things like “I write to know what I think” or “Writing is thinking.” Putting your thoughts on paper—metaphorically, I don’t write by hand—is a way to ensure that you are expressing them in the most coherent way possible, and you are able to respond to what you write, as if you were hearing someone else speak it. Exploratory writing or journaling can be like having a conversation with yourself. In those conversations, you can figure out if you have anything to say, and if you do, what exactly that is.
I’ve been so pleased with my progress over the last two months of daily writing, and I can’t recommend this practice enough. Becoming a writer means writing, and the best way to ensure that the writing happens is by making it a daily practice. Writing is the first thing I do when I wake up in the morning, which means that nothing else can get in the way of it. Even if the rest of my day goes to hell, I can rest easy knowing that the most important thing got done. I made some progress, and little by little, each day, I am succeeding.