Pen writing the words, "I am a writer."
I have something to tell you. Something really good. Something positive.
It is the nature of almost any group that the messages they put out are shaped symbiotically with the messages they most often receive. You can see this in everything from the knee jerk response to a sincere question by someone who regularly gets hate mail to the fact that feminists react especially poorly to "not all men do that" when they are critiquing a culture of masculinity and not every single man who wants to slip the noose of their social culpability.
You can see this when such groups begin to tailor their original thoughts with half an eye on the expected reactions or the most common interactions. Teachers who anticipate their most common questions. Politicians who speak preemptively to the arguments of their detractors. Or dispensers of advice who know what the most common complaints are going to be.
Thousands of working writers have had their words of wisdom shaped by millions of writers eager to emulate their success without reproducing their effort. They ask, "How can I be published?" "How can I make money?" "How can I write for a living?" "How can I be famous like you?" "How can I make it? How can I make it? How can I MAKE IT?" But they shrink away from the most common advice: Write every day; read constantly.
It is inevitable that, facing the teeming millions of lifestyle dreamers who don't really want to write all that much and would rather watch TV than read, our advice begins to take the shape of the reality hip check to all those fantasies of being a writer.
And that means we have a tendency to frame that narrative to the negative parts of not writing daily:
"You won't make it unless...."
"You can't expect to succeed until..."
"You'll almost certainly never make bill-paying money without..."
"How can you be a serious artist if you don't...."
So today I want to change that frame. Here's what you can expect if you DO write every day*:
1. You will improve. Quickly. There is almost no art or skill which can be improved so quickly and predictably as writing. Almost none at all. Learning curves for musical, visual, and performing arts are all far more capricious and riddled with frustrating plateaus. Physical skills require muscle memory and possibly metabolic shifts that can take weeks or even months. The technical knowledge required for most skills involves a painstaking learning/teaching process of years (usually with a mentor or tutor) rather than a simple feedback loop of reading and practice. While we focus so often on how quickly writers can get rusty if they don't practice, we seldom point out how fucking FAST they'll get better if they work every day. Many, many writers who delve into NaNoWriMo have a noticeable improvement in the quality of their prose at the end of the month from the beginning. That's only thirty days. Imagine what can be done if it's consistent.
2. You will notice so much more when you read (and probably read more). As you write more, you become aware of other people's writing. You begin to dissect the word choices and structure of things you once thought simply ineffable, and actually notice how the authors did what sounds so good. Which is vital if you want to reproduce the quality of prose (which turns out to be quite effable after all). You begin to read with much more deliberate energy which not only helps you write, but also increases how well you read. Every book of great writing becomes not only a great read, but a rich lesson. Reading will become more enjoyable and you'll probably appreciate it more and want to do it more...which will lead to more writing.
3. Your vocabulary will expand. Quickly. As you begin to notice every word choice, the words you read over will go into your lexicon. It may require reading something with a few words you wouldn't normally know, but when you're attuned to what words can do, it's easier to notice and incorporate them into your vocabulary. You will come up with new, enjoyable words. Words that are just PERFECT. You will delight in the subtle differences between a word and its synonym. Your lexicon will not expand superfluously and conspicuously simply for the sake of the three-dollar word (unless you want it to), but conscientiously and where their choice fits better.
4. Your writer's block will disappear. One of the main reasons the virtues of daily writing are extolled by so many professionals and famous writers is because so many people think working writers have some sort of trick or secret to keep the inspiration coming. In fact, it works the other way. As one sits down to write every day (especially if it's at the same time each day), the creativity begins to well up to meet the writer. The juices start to flow in a Pavlovian response to the thought of the keyboard. (Sometimes I catch my fingers moving as if I'm typing in the last ten or fifteen minutes before I'm scheduled to start.) Once you have tamed your muse–or whatever imagery helps you to imagine what is happening–you will find that it is extremely unusual for the words not to come.
5. You begin to write when you're not writing. Not only will you begin to relate to your experiences in terms of how you would linguistically describe them, which will help you describe complex scenes or emotions when you are writing, but you will also increase your capacity to write. If you are trying to write more, you will almost certainly find yourself stretching your session length, and looking for more time here or there to squeeze in a few words. You will find that when you aren't writing, you are composing sentences and putting complicated ideas into words for when you do sit down.
6. You increase the amount of time you can (and want to) write. As a corollary to number six, you will find your ability and likely willingness to write expands to essentially as much as you want it to. Three hours? Five? Ten? If that's what you want, you can get there by sitting down every day and cultivating the discipline. Whereas most people have about a fifteen-minute limit on the free flow of ideas, and can go perhaps an hour without a break, your daily practice makes you more like an athlete, able to push yourself to the limit. An athlete of words.
7. There are psychological benefits. Along with all the reasons to write daily that are directly beneficial to you as a writer, there are also a number of reasons to do so that are directly beneficial to you as a human. Even if you are writing fiction, you are likely to find your emotions more processed, your thoughts more organized, your life's memories burbling up more frequently and in fuller "chunks," your ideas more conceptualized into language, your speaking more eloquent and comfortable as you become faster and more confident reaching for words, and your expression more constructive and cathartic which makes for a better mood and lower stress. Writing isn't panacea of course, or every writer would be a super well adjusted extemporaneous speaker (HAHAHAHAHA!!!), but all these things tend to be a little better when one writes every day.
8. You will finish your shit faster than you thought possible. As long as you stick to something and don't switch projects every time you reach a mushy middle or a hard part, you might not be able to imagine how fucking FAST your shit will get done. Like a novel that took you years to tap out by writing a few hours every week or two when the spirit moved you will be drafted in only a couple of months. Time to revise already?
9. It will cultivate your writing discipline. Do you need to write 10,000 words in one day? Or maybe you have two months off (summer break) to draft a whole novel? Do you want to write a book from outline to final draft in a year? If you're a normal person, it's probably not going to happen. Not unless the stakes are awfully high and the motivation external (like a lot of money or important grades). But if you've been writing every day these goals are stretchy but plausible. They are doable. You'll have a good sense of exactly how much you can expect to be able to do in a day, a week, even a month of sustained output.
10. Daily writing will remind you of your writing dreams. If you want to be a writer, if you want to write something and publish it or even make money doing writing, it's easy to get lost in the daily bullshit that you need to do to feed and clothe yourself. You put your writing away for a few days, and suddenly it's a couple of weeks. And suddenly it's a month. And then you remember and it's been a year since you've written anything meaningful. Writing every day keeps you focused on that goal. It never lets you forget your ambitions. Every day, you remind yourself to keep your eye on the prize.
*Along with, of course, a steady diet of reading as well.
11. You will understand many other habits, regimens, and routines. Writing every day (and watching that pile of writing not only improve but just GROW) really gives you a keen insight into just how much a little daily effort can reduce daunting tasks to a matter of routine.
12. Success begets success. Write every day and you'll realize you got this. Fulfilling a goal (any goal) is deeply gratifying and hugely motivating. It makes the next goal feel that much more doable. In smashing through the small goals you will mold a psyche that is prepared for the larger ones.
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