These words aren’t going to be perfectly laid out, and I’m okay with that. Actually, that’s kind of the point. Here’s the deal (there’s always a deal): last winter I got into this amazing habit of writing 1,000 words everyday, rain or shine, in sickness or health, where ever in the world, or in Portland, I was at the time.
Sometime around March or April, I fell out of the habit. But not before finishing the first draft on an entire book and drafts on several shorter eBooks. One of those has since become an actual virtual thing: Kickstart Your Home Meditation Practice. I haven’t put much love into my full book since then, but I’m planning to kick off draft two this winter.
But more importantly, I’m committing to get back in the writing habit. Okay, fine, I commit to things like this all the time, and they don’t always stick. I hope this one does. In fact, I would love to have some accountability partners on this one to get it going again. Let me know if you’re interested.
So what got me back to thinking about this? I found this reddit post. Classic. It’s a nice description of what my work could look like right now if I had kept up the practice all these months. Hundreds of thousands of words. That’s an immense amount of practice. Sure, most of them wouldn’t be that good, but they do gradually get better and better.
This reminds me of a rather cheesy self-help book I’ve read, The Slight Edge. Let me sum up 150 pages for you in a few sentences: The only way to work on big things is little by little. If we do a little bit to reach our goals every day, we’re bound to get there. If we improve our life by a tiny amount each day, before long we’ll be realizing our greatest dreams.
Cheesy, but absolutely true. The reason we don’t often see these dreams realized is because we stop working on them. We allow ourselves to slightly decline each day, rather than growing. I have to say, it feels like that’s the direction I’ve been going over the past couple months. Wasting time, not keeping up with the things I do care about like writing, running, yoga, and art.
Do you want to be an artist? Do art every day and at some point you’ll have created so much art that some of it is bound to be good. You’ll gradually amass so much practice and experience that more and more of it will be profound and meaningful.
Do you want to be a yoga teacher? Do yoga everyday. I’ve done it, and it’s amazing. After three months of daily practice, you’ll be more than prepared for a Yoga Teacher Training. To be a good yoga teacher, at that point you’ll also have to add teaching every day (or close to it).
Do you want to be a writer? Well you’re probably getting the point here. Last year when I was writing 1,000 words every day, I started to feel like a writer. I started to say that I was a writer. I started to believe it. Now that I’ve let the practice languish, it feels less true. My LinkedIn page still lists it as a primary occupation, but my heart hasn’t been in it. The practice hasn’t been there.
So I’m back on it. Here’s the reality of writing 1,000 words. It takes between 30 and 60 minutes, unless you allow yourself to really get stuck on some wording or a specific idea. Sometimes the last couple hundred words feel hard to get out. But if you allow yourself to flow, eliminate other distractions, and just let your fingers type away, it happens fast and painlessly. It becomes wonderful and (often) easy.
And it adds up. Standard book-length is about 50,000 words. Taken as a whole, that feels insurmountable. Taken in 1,000 word chunks, in 30- to 60-minute increments, it’s less than two months of work for a first draft. That’s six books a year. From there, a whole other world of challenges opens up, but getting that draft done feels amazing. They might not be masterpieces. They might need a ton of work to even be readable, but they are all fantastic practice.
This is what I did last winter, and it’s my plan moving forward. I’m not sure if the writing will take the form of another book, or some shorter guides, or what. It doesn’t matter. I’m going to write so many words that I’ll be able to fill whatever kinds of pages I want.
A quick word on comparison. Ira Glass has some beautiful words on this. If we allow ourselves to compare our work to existing, published, vetted work by established authors, artists, etc, etc, we’ll become too discouraged to even start. That’s because our work is not going to be good. Their work is already great. And as Ira says, those masterpieces shaped our taste, so we know that our work is bad in comparison.
Guess what. That novel you read and loved that seemed so well put together, with such lovely language? That took a LONG time to make. It took so many drafts and revisions. Dozens, even. Literally written and rewritten over and over and over and over and over again. Years in the making. And it wasn’t only the author who did it. The agent helped, the editor helped, the test-readers helped. It was tried out and changed, and probably looks very little like the first draft from whence it came.
So be gentle! I know I need to do this. Not all my writing will be great. Some of it will be awful. That’s a great place to experiment. If it’s already bad, going off the deep end can’t make it much worse, right? Picasso produced more than 50,000 pieces of art. I guarantee they aren’t all good. And if you or I produced 50,000 pieces of art or writing or anything else, I also guarantee that some of them would be amazing. The trick is actually sitting down and doing it, every day.