Reading outside is one of my favorite pastimes. When I lived with my parents, I would read on the front porch or walk to a nearby park to sit at one of the open picnic tables. My first and third apartments featured a private balcony, one open to the Cincinnati sky and the other shaded by the balcony above. Having this secluded, shaded space was a must-have when looking for a house. I spent 2 ½ hours today grateful for every little leaf and balmy breeze, even with the soundtrack of a nearby, busy road nearly eclipsing the bugs and birdsong.
In August 2020, I decided to change my daily habits. Many of my close friends and family are intimately aware of this already. Now, 9 1/2 months into this journey of self, I realize I am 8 months strong with improved nutrition and 6 months consistent in exercise, despite an illness and vacation. As most of my friends, family, and acquaintances know, I’ve also been reading more since the start of 2020.
However, my writing was intermittent at best and forgotten at worst.
As my last post indicates, I’ve been working myself up to writing consistently again. The practice of writing 1,000 words a day has been a much larger task than I anticipated, in part because of when I started. Surprise, surprise: I expected too much of myself. I haven’t creatively written consistently in years and I was still recovering from a mild bout of COVID when I decided 1k-a-day was the route to take.
In reality, I should have been leaning into my new and old good habits as I recovered, rather than starting new ones.
So, what has May looked like for my writing? Well, I wrote for a few days before ramming into a wall of my own making, hitting it repeatedly for longer than I’d like to admit. I firmly believe in the quote, “Unrealistic expectations become unmet expectations,” so I’ve reconsidered my own over the past week and realized I was in need of adjustment. Overall, I wrote little in those first few days, some 1,300 words I have since scrapped once I realized that newfound direction for my novel was several degrees off.
I’m always open to experimenting, to throwing out a plan and trying something different, but that new opening scene felt downright wrong. Its development revealed other considerations to me, which were worth considering, but that act of writing also thrusted me into what felt like outer space. I floated in this intangible anxiety, somehow too frozen to write yet grappling for answers.
Answers only I could give.
So I took a step back. I stopped writing. The guilt of stopping churned my stomach, my disappointment coating my tongue like ash, choking me up so much I couldn’t even speak of my own failure to write daily just days after declaring I would do so. This feeling festered, fermenting in my gut until I couldn’t take it, so what did I do? I willed myself to write.
Sometimes the laptop sat beside me, open and wanting like a neglected guest, whereas other times I managed to refine paragraphs I’d already written. I felt remarkably less nauseous after those moments of revision, small as they were. They built confidence in me that I had the tools to accomplish my overall goals if I could just write already.
This past week, I went from aiming for 1,000 words a day to not striving to achieve a certain amount, whether page or word count. I have noticed that I feel better for what I have written, but the inconsistency still grates me. This is not the writer I used to be. While I am well aware that I will never be that writer again, for good and bad, that doesn’t mean that this version of me is the type of writer I want to be.
I do not accept this.
Starting today, I’m focusing on keeping the habit. It won’t matter what’s produced or how it’s measured, only that I allow myself to write a little bit, every day, for the foreseeable future, until the very act of writing syncs with the natural rhythm of the other habits I’ve been keeping.
I’ll try the antithesis of my former approach, in the hopes of more positive results.
After all, in Atomic Habits—the open book pictured at the top of this post—author James Clear writes, “The task of breaking a habit is like uprooting a powerful oak within us. And the task of building a good habit is like cultivating a delicate flower one day at a time.” So deeply personal as writing is to me, I owe it to myself to slow down. I have been trying to uproot a forest of doubts, one that completely shadowed the flowers I’ve been planting.
Each doubt deserves my care and attention, just as the flowers.
“Words bounce. Words, if you let them, will do what they want to do and what they have to do.” -Anne Carson
I have adored the above quote since my high school days, nearly a decade ago now. It is also revisiting this quote that I have realized, once more, my words have stilled. Words contain an inherent energy to them—it’s that same energy that allows us to connect and identify with what they create—but a writer must provide that momentum, initial and continuous, for actual creation. For actual connection.
I lost my momentum as I grew older and my plate heavier. With hindsight, it’s easy to pinpoint when and why this happened. It slowed my senior year of undergrad, when I was working full-time in a high-stress but low-level management role, commuting to university to complete my double bachelor’s degree, and planning my wedding.
This linguistic stillness pervaded the summer after graduation, leading up to my wedding and graduate school. My master’s program was all-consuming, and I naively allowed it to swallow me whole, which left me all the more bereft upon COVID’s arrival three months before my graduation. For years, I focused my energy in all these necessary directions, and I know now that I did not use my time as well as I could have. My priorities were right, but still somehow wrong, all at the same time. I did not care for myself, and I rarely created anything. The novel and movie ideas slowed, but never stopped.
I just did.
I began a slow re-immersion into writing again, months after my 2020 master’s degree completion, but it was a hesitant endeavor. I tinkered with story ideas on scraps of paper and forgotten notebooks. I half-heartedly tried to listen to writing podcasts, but dropped those rather quickly when they failed to hold my interest. I wrote a little, here and there—poetry in my iPhone’s notepad or on throw-away napkins, perhaps a scene of a novel scratched hastily in a composition notebook. It was all patchwork inspiration, fleeting and revealing.
I realized that the same education which had pushed me beyond what I thought I could be, was the same experience I had allowed to hold me back from the very act of expression I loved so very much.
Imposter syndrome, so the saying goes. A(n unwritten) tale as old as time.
Others may know it as the Dunning-Kruger effect, a psychology term I came across in the introduction of On Writing and Worldbuilding Volume 2 by Timothy Hickson. The general hypothesis is that those who know less about a subject think themselves more capable, even sometimes overestimating their capabilities, while those who know far more about that same subject consider themselves incapable. I liken it to a paralytic awareness. Instead of fight or flight, freezing in the face of whatever it is that haunts you.
I’ve spent over a year now working my way out of that paralytic state. In early 2021, I started with setting a goal for myself: read 52 books in a year. I aimed for what was realistic for me, and this proved effective in the wake of uncertain employment and my mother’s passing. A low goal was what I needed so the harder months didn’t crush my spirits. I knew, even if I didn’t reach 52 books in that year, that I would land on a number that would still satisfy me. I surprised myself by reading between 70-80 books by the end of the year. I remember being proud, posting about the achievement online well before the New Year, and thrilled at the support I received.
In the nature of transparency, though, I have to admit that I intentionally pulled a Randy Pausch: it was a literary head fake, designed for myself.
And it worked like a charm.
I was reading more, yes, but halfway through the year, I was writing more, too. Some poetry. A handful of new novel and movie ideas. Most of my time was spent pre-writing, though. I started circling the already written pages of my trilogy by heavily revising the plot and re-examining the characters. What surprised me most was the immediate clarity of what wasn’t working with the previous draft. This awareness wasn’t paralytic, though. It was energizing.
I rewrote the first few chapters of the aforementioned trilogy in September 2021 and quickly realized I wasn’t ready. There were too many questions of plot and character, for that first book and the two that followed.
I also didn’t feel ready, as swept away with inspiration as I was.
So I went back to the drawing board—notebooks, Google Docs, my home-office whiteboard—and leaned on a few of my writing friends. I had brainstorming discussions with one in particular, who helped me pick apart my new plot devices at every turn. As we dissected these new thoughts, I started putting together a list of books and articles I wanted to read before the holiday season crowded my schedule.
Come 2022, I knew I had to get the ball rolling once more. I refused to return to linguistic stillness, to that paralytic awareness that threatened to stop me from creating again.
I continued working on my trilogy. I refined my list of articles and blogs to read, also finding an impressive amount of academic articles that aligned with topics I was curious about. I even discovered new curiosities after stepping back and realizing my own lines of research. I let the curiosity push me further, buying a handful of books on writing that intrigued me--Outwitting Writer’s Block by Jenna Glatzer and On Writing and Worldbuilding Volume 2 by Timothy Hickson being just two—and rereading my favorite writing books from my teenage years, starting with Immediate Fiction by Jerry Cleaver.
My goal was to immerse myself in the craft of writing as I had been as a teenager, consumed by creativity and its possibilities. My books and notebooks were never far away at that age: reading novels on the bike at the gym, stealing classroom moments to write in the closest notebook, being overcome by a sudden muse while in the shower or taking a walk… It was that very curiosity which led me to my diverse studies in graphic design, rhetoric, and creative writing. I sought to rekindle this new flame in me by paying homage to the first; I respected the work I did then, how well it worked for me, but reminded myself of who I had grown to be. The two will never be the same, and I am all the better for it.
I’m still not ready to start writing again, but I know in my heart, it’s time. I want to draft all three books of my trilogy by the end of this year, and I cannot do that unless I move from pre-writing to actually writing. I have to conquer my fears and doubts to rebuild my creative confidence. Pre-writing has built some of this confidence back by reminding me that I have the knowledge and tools to solve the problems of my own making, but it’s not enough.
I have to face the page.
So this blog is my pledge, my official act of accountability, to solidify my intent to write 1,000 words a day starting today, May 1, 2022. Disclaimer: I will not be writing every day, but I will be writing most days. I have decided to set the expectation of a 75,000 word draft—50,000 words seems low given my genre, but 100,000 feels far too ambitious. With seven months left of the year, I have time to spare, so there’s no need to try to write each book in a month a la NaNoWriMo style. Instead, I’ve decided to allot 75 days—roughly two and a half months—for each book. Between books one and two, and two and three, I’ve planned for at least a week of rest and planning. I’ve captured those periods in the screenshot below.
In addition to creating this schedule, I have created an Excel spreadsheet to track my efforts: how much I’m writing, when I’m writing, my overall word count, and more. I imagine the last 75 days will be the hardest, since I will be writing the final book during the holiday season. Nevertheless, by December 29, 2022, I will have drafted a complete trilogy!
I hope to chronicle my experience on my blog, if only because I miss writing one. I may begin posting on social media more as well, with snippets of writing (my own and others') that brings me joy. I have a few other ideas in the works, such as bringing back my previous Word Wednesdays, but I’d like to first settle into this new writing routine before adding other forms to it. We’ll see what happens.
Like with my 2021 reading goal, I know even if I fall short, I’ll still land somewhere far closer to where I’d like to be.