If you’ve been reading here regularly, I’ve been writing a post per day since July 18th of this year, save my company meetup in October. This represents streaks of 86 and 50 days, good for 136 posts in 144 days.
But I’m giving up on posting every day, now. The point was never to post every day; the point was to write regularly, because I can’t be a writer unless I write. The streak is over for two reasons.
Firstly, it just started to feel too pressure-filled. I wasn’t enjoying it. If something is going to fill your time, you should enjoy it some of the time.
Secondly, the requirement to post every day had moved me towards link-blogging rather than, well, writing. I don’t have enough psychic space every day to write an essay, but that’s still what interests me.
I’m going to keep writing, but probably less frequently, and maybe not always here, either. Thanks for joining me in this experiment.
One of the hardest things in writing is deciding who you’re writing for. A pat answer is to write for yourself, and that’s perfectly valid, but every writer wants to be read more broadly than that. But trying to write for a broad audience is probably always a trap. Andy Weir, the author of the Martian, describes in an interview how he wound up with both:
I had about 3,000 regular readers that I’d accumulated over 10 years of writing fiction and web comics and stuff like that. I was really writing it for them. I didn’t have market appeal in mind when I was writing the book. I was thinking, I have 3,000 hardcore nerds that are my readers, because I’m a hardcore nerd, and I’m going to write a story that they’ll enjoy. So that’s why it was pretty heavy on the math and the science and the show-your-work kind of stuff, because that’s exactly what my readers like. I had no idea that it would end up being popular in the mainstream, and still to this day I don’t know what I did right. I don’t know how this story that was basically a prolonged math problem ended up getting so popular among people who aren’t that interested in math!
I love his confession of not knowing what he did right. Whatever he did to appeal to a broad audience is nearly impossible to pin down, but I’d say that what he did right was knowing his audience and writing for them unapologetically. The rest was just gravy.
A recent article on Medium quotes from a delightfully old Lifehacker article where a young Brad Isaac asks Jerry Seinfeld if he had any tips for a young comic. The advice is gold, and not just for comics:
He said the way to be a better comic was to create better jokes and the way to create better jokes was to write every day… He revealed a unique calendar system he uses to pressure himself to write. Here’s how it works.
He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker.
He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”
“Don’t break the chain,” he said again for emphasis.
What I love about this is that it’s what I’m trying to do every day on this blog: not breaking the chain. And then I thought that it would be cool if there was some type of visualization for this unbroken chain, and sure enough, WordPress.com’s Stats → Insights has me covered:
Skipping one day makes it easier to skip the next.
If you want to be a writer, you should be writing. Not tomorrow, today.
Ze is bang on here, as he so often is. It’s what’s prompting me to write on this moribund blog. I often think of myself as a writer, but I don’t write.1 It seems that I keep waiting for inspiration to strike, or a captivating topic, or, or, something. All the while, I know this is wrong, but the only way out of this trap is to write my way out.
There’s plenty of other great stuff in this video, like how at 4:24, Ze talks about how education towards a creative career doesn’t provide a clear path towards the creativity of learning to make money doing that thing. I really resonated with that too, as that was far harder to learn in my career compared with the actual technical skills of what I do.
Stop. Read that again. The key to writing is writing. Just doing it. There’s no particular technique that will help you to be a better writer than just doing it. Write all you can. Read all you can. Move the cursor to the right1. Make the clickety-clackety sound on your keyboard. When you don’t have anything to say, write about how you don’t have anything to say. When you have writer’s block, write about your writer’s block: its shape, texture and hue. And before you know it, you’re writing. Don’t question what comes out, like why I thought writer’s block has a hue.
Just write. It’s what it says in the WordPress fullscreen post editor. It’s what’s in your head when you despair that you don’t have anything to write about. You already want to write and you think that you need the conceit of an idea before you do so. Wrong. Just write, and you’ll discover that a certain type of thinking happens as you move that cursor along.2
Writing is a craft that takes untold hours to master. I’ve had the guitar explained to me similarly: very easy to pick up and string together a few chords, arduous to master. You only need to read social media or YouTube comments to see that anyone can string a few words together.
Don’t hold back: that’s what rewriting is for. Just flow, just keep going. Don’t stop. Just write.