The first thing I learned after a week of writing every day for 30 minutes is that while I want my writing space to look like this photo of a woman sitting in a cafe with the perfect cappuccino and serene mood lighting, I can write almost anywhere. I mean, I wrote in a moving car that was transporting two jabbering kids and blasting Nirvana. This was an important practical lesson for me because one of my main excuses for not writing has always been lack of a clean (quiet) well lighted place. Once I realized I could actually make the writing happen, I learned a few other things worth mentioning.
- Writing is hard. “Well, no shit, Sherlock,” I hear you saying. And truthfully, I already knew this. If it were easy, I wouldn’t have these dry spells where I dread writing so much that I can’t make myself do it unless I invent a writing challenge and then announce on the damn internet that I’m going to write every day for 30 days. But here’s the thing about doing hard stuff. We don’t do it because it’s hard and we are masochists. We do hard things when there is some sort of reward at the end that is worth the effort, and there are definitely rewards for sucking it up and doing the work of writing. If we are really lucky there’s the reward of publication and getting paid for our work. But even after a week of just free writing for 30 minutes a day, I have been reminded there are smaller, personal rewards to sitting down and exploring an idea through written language. What follows are four of those rewards.
- I’m happier when I write. I’m not happier while I’m writing because see number one, but I am definitely happier when I’m done. My mind is clearer and I feel a sense of calm. I’m better able to focus on the rest of the day, or if I write before bed, I fall asleep faster because I’ve worked thought my thoughts for the moment and am ready to let my mind rest. I don’t resent the housework or the errands or the thousand other things a have to do to call myself a responsible adult. Well, at least I resent them less than when I don’t make time to write.
- I learn about myself when I write. In just this past week of writing I’ve had moments when I wrote a sentence and stopped cold because I didn’t know that was how I felt about something. It’s a weird moment where I feel like I’m meeting myself for the first time immediately followed by a deep sense of connection with this me I have just discovered. She was hidden somewhere inside just waiting for that moment when I would sit down and allow her the space and words to speak. Maybe this is why I’m happier when I write—because all of me feels valued and acknowledged, not just the parts I can acceptably express at the dinner table or while chit-chatting with other parents at the playground.
- There’s some truth in the saying “write drunk, edit sober.” Truth be told, I have never written drunk, but there were times when a glass of two of wine helped quiet the doubts in my head long enough to get some words on the page. When I was writing my dissertation, I was consumed by the anxiety of what my advisor would think or whether my arguments were good enough to be published in some academic journal that four people would read. It was exhausting, and I needed to let go in order to get the writing done. I was writing with an editor and a critic in my head, and they needed to shut the hell up,so I plied them with wine. This writing challenge has helped me achieve that open state of mind without the booze. The key has been setting no guidelines about what to write. All I have to do is set my timer for 30 minutes and start writing. I have no obligations to readers, editors, or teachers. I am just exploring an idea to see where it goes. If it sucks, I can hit the delete key later. That’s what the sober editing is for.
- Sometimes I write some good shit. No really, it’s true. It’s so easy to get fixated on the hot mess that is a first draft we forget that if we look hard enough inside that mess, more often than not, there lives a witty turn of phrase or a perceptive analysis of a political or societal issue. Anxiety and self-doubt make us forget we are human and know how to use language. Writing helps us remember.
If you’ve been writing with me this week, let me know how it’s going. What have you learned about yourself and your writing process? And if you haven’t been writing, join in at any time. Even if you only do it for a week, I can promise you won’t regret gifting yourself those 30 minutes of writing each day.