I have been having many thoughts on my relationship with writing over the last year. I gave myself the goal of writing 500,000 words in 365 days. I wondered how this may change me as a person. How would this goal, this forcing function, change my habits? Writing has always come naturally to me.. However, I had never written with the intention of writing every day. This was a new level of commitment for me.
So far, the results have been interesting. I am definitely a better writer now than I was a year ago. My writing habit has made me more aware of the choices I make as a writer and has helped me to improve my craft. I have also found that my writing habit has had a positive impact on my life in general. I am more disciplined, more organized, and more productive overall.
I think there are two main reasons for this. First, the act of writing itself is therapeutic. It helps me to process my thoughts and emotions and to make sense of my experiences. Second, the habit of writing has helped me to develop a stronger sense of self-awareness. I am more attuned to my own thoughts and feelings, and as a result, I am better able to manage them.
The first problem I generally encounter when writing is what to write. So, it is important to have a strategy to constantly have new and interesting ideas and subjects to write about. This doesn’t happen by accident, it requires a significant amount of reading followed by discussions with real humans.
I then have a simple plain text file on my desktop where I add ideas as they come to me during the day. If I am on my phone, I’ll drop the ideas in my notes. I regularly go through all of these ideas, and one day the time is right for the idea. I have had enough time to think about it, read numerous books on it, and discuss it with various people. I now feel confident writing about it.
The second problem I have with writing is planning. I take two approaches to this. I either plan, or I don’t. Planning is great when I want to create an exhaustive essay on a topic to cement the core ideas in my brain. But, sometimes I just want to do a brain dump of everything that I currently know on a topic and think about it deeply as I write.
I did this second approach with my essay on the Metaverse. I had been exposed to enough background noise regarding the Metaverse that I felt it was worth jotting down my thoughts, and I particularly love thought experiments. This is where I assume something is true in the future, and look at all the possible implications.
When I do plan, it is often just a simple bullet point outline of what I want to write about, and you can consider these chapter heading. This gives me an appropriate structure for my thoughts, and then I can have specific writing sessions for each chapter, instead of trying to tackle a 5,000 or 10,000-word essay all in one go.
The third problem I have with writing is, well, writing. I used to be very specific about where and when I could write. I did not have this luxury in the last 18 months as I was travelling the world, and so I often did not have control of my surroundings. I had to write in coffee shops, on trains, sitting on the floor of an airport, and when hungry, tired, or just grumpy!
So, I have started to be able to drop into writing mode immediately, regardless of where I am or how I feel. As long as I am sitting in front of my laptop with the full-screen text editor, I can quickly focus and start writing.
I have often felt that some type of skills, such as the ability to quickly focus, are not compatible with my level of ability. As if that is something for other people, not something that I can do. But, I think with enough effort and discipline, anyone can learn a surprisingly diverse range of skill sets. I’m not saying that anyone can become a world expert, but we can become far better than we think we ever could be.
The great thing about writing is that it is equivalent to thinking. There is no way to write thousands of words on a subject, and not take the time to think about it, develop your own ideas, and synthesize and absorb what you’ve read. Writing also causes you to focus your thoughts. It is very difficult to write about a topic without taking the time to properly think about what you want to say. This is different from just thinking in your head, as when you try to write down your thoughts, they have to be clear and concise, and this often leads to better clarity of thought.
I’ve taken the rather absurd approach in this last year of trying to write something that is meaningful and standalone each and every day. I am not sure this is the best approach, as I do often feel rushed to write something vs taking my time to write and edit over the course of numerous days or weeks, but it was a forcing function to get me to write (and thus think). I believe that once I have completed this self-enforced year-long challenge, I will then slow down my rate to once per week, and have a lot more depth and length to each essay (perhaps 5,000 to 10,000 words on average). Eventually, this may then move onto bi-weekly or monthly essays with even more depth, and eventually, I hope to write a book — but I don’t have a clear idea on the topic. Perhaps that will be something that emerges from this daily writing!
The fourth problem I have with writing is related to the previous point, in that it is often hard for me to know when something is good enough. I style my daily writings as “notes of everything” to remove the pressure of perfection, but this is something that still plagues me in other areas.
I think a key question to ask yourself is: “Is this good enough for the current audience and situation?” If the answer is yes, then publish or release it. Don’t worry about whether it is good enough for all time, or for posterity. In fact, if one is slightly embarrassed about the writing from years ago, that is a sign that you have developed as a writer and that your evaluation skills have grown.
It is also worth noting that, as with most things in life, progress is not linear. There will be some days or even weeks when you do not feel like you are making any progress at all. And then, all of a sudden, you will have a breakthrough, and everything will start to click into place.
The editing process has become far easier in the last ten years that I have been writing, mostly because of the technological advances, and I do not consider this to be at all a problem. Tools exist that automatically correct advanced grammar and style, and then I also try to keep my ideas simple where possible. I often wonder “is there a better way to phrase this?”. Reading text out loud, or explaining it in discussion with someone else, often helps to clarify the phrasing.
The last problem I have with writing is that it can be quite a selfish act. In this respect, it is similar to meditation or prayer, in that the focus is very much on oneself. And while there is nothing wrong with that — after all, if we do not take care of ourselves, then who will? — it can lead to a feeling of isolation, or of being disconnected from others.
This is why I try to write about topics that are of interest to me, and that I think might be of interest to others. I want to share my thoughts and ideas with the world, in the hope that they might help someone else, even if it is just in a small way. I also think that writing and being curious about everything in the world helps one to become a better conversationalist. Unfortunately, I had to wait until my late twenties to understand that the secret to good conversation is listening, not speaking. But, it is difficult to listen if you are not interested. I used to often get bored when speaking to people, but now I have learned to ask the right type of questions to get people to go deep into what matters most to them, and then suddenly conversation does become interesting.
In conclusion, I believe that writing is something that everyone should do, even if they do not publish their thoughts and ideas. Private writing is, essentially, a journal and it is a great way to view your life from a vantage point above yourself. You look down on your own actions and situations as if you’re an outsider, and this can often lead to a better analysis of your life vs trying to analyze things from within.
I would encourage everyone to at least try writing, even if it is just for themselves, and see if they can find any benefits. I have found great benefits in terms of the quality of my thinking, and I hope that others can too.