I’ve always been obsessed with the idea of writing every day. I go through spells where I do write every day, but that’s more coincidence, it’s never a religious kind of discipline so much as a bit of a productive spell.
When I read about Jack London, who had a mad and varied life, writing 1000 words every single day in order to hone his craft, I really admired that level of dedication. But I’ve never been able to stick with it. I’ve always written, I’ve always got one piece of writing or another on the go, but I’ve never made sure to sit down and get it done every single day.
I recently visited the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. There was a section featuring just his pencil drawings, and there was a quote on the wall from him that said “Drawing is the root of everything, and the time spent on that is actually all profit.” I loved that. The museum was full of the paintings that eventually made his name – but to him the root of it all was these drawings, just practising his craft, flexing his creative muscles to get better and better, even if those drawings didn’t amount to anything directly. It was all still profit for his creative bank account.
I decided that I didn’t need to divide all my writing into either poems or working on my next novel – that I should try writing regularly just to keep my internal writing machinery from getting rusty. Rather than 1000 words every day, I settled on 500. It seemed more attainable as a starting point.
But still, even with a lower word target, I knew it wouldn’t be easy. If I can find a way to get out of doing work, I will. I had to come up with a foolproof system. I’ll share it with you now just on the off chance that you, like me, have always wanted to try writing every day, but felt like you didn’t have the discipline. Or maybe you just find the pressure of working on your ‘proper novel’ every day too much pressure, especially if you’ve recently hit a big wall in terms of where you think it should go next.
So, this is my system: I made a big list of things I know inside and out. Events, places, people, things that have happened to me, things I have opinions on etc. For example, the top of my list was ‘going to Amsterdam, Manchester United, Tom Waits, meeting my girlfriend’ etc. Really basic. Really broad.
Each day, I sit down at the computer, look at the long list, and choose whichever one feels easiest at that time. Then I start typing. It doesn’t matter if I stay on topic, it doesn’t even really matter if it makes sense, it just matters that I’m keeping the writing part of my brain active. I usually hit 500 words pretty quickly – and often fly past it without even thinking to check the word count. Granted, I’ve only been doing it for a couple of months now, but I keep thinking of things to add to the list of ideas, and so far it’s been my longest sustained run of writing every day. And as far as I’m concerned, as someone who wants to write for a long time, and wants to get better and better at it, that’s all profit.
This post is brought to you by Jared A Carnie.