Alright, fine, I’ll do it. It’s 9:45am on a Saturday morning, and it’s going to be around 108º today. I’ll keep on drinking my iced Americano (second coffee drink of the morning) and I’ll make words happen.
Today is day 5 of 60 for making writing a habit. Yesterday was day 4 and I did a ton of writing. I can’t share much of it, however. A great deal of the writing that I did was for a business plan for a fundraising document. That type of writing, which is highly targeted and requires a certain amount of research, documentation, and voice, is certainly some form of writing, but it’s not the writing I’d like to be doing.
I did manage to bang out a haiku, which is something I’ve been doing almost daily for the last few weeks. Some of them are written specifically about my partner and meant for them to read. A lot of them are expressions of words and thoughts that first enter my brain when I wake up in the morning. I enjoy the process of getting some words out, being thoughtful, and restricting those thoughts and words to a particular pattern. I’ll be sharing a few of those as “Day 4” when I get through writing this piece.
What does it mean to “make words happen?”
The phrase “make words happen” came from my cousin, who has made a career of writing at numerous times throughout their life. They commented on my first foray into attempting to write for myself again:
How to Make Writing a “Habit”
An evidence-based look at making writing a habit for myself in 60 days because 21/90 doesn’t seem to be real
I believe that performing the action is a necessary part of any disciplined practice. This was certainly true when I was getting my theatre degree and pursuing an acting career in my twenties. You had to practice, hard, at memorization, movement, projection, and putting yourself out there to be torn down and apart by your peers, critics, and others, while looking for the applause and recognition that would lift you up and make it worthwhile. It’s an oft-repeated (almost ad nauseum) trope that in order to make things happen you have to actually do them. Put another way:
JUST DO IT
So here I am. I’m using my fingers to strike the keys to make the thoughts that are running through my head come out onto the screen and I’m “making words happen.” There are, of course, questions about this process:
- Are they interesting words?
- Will anyone read these words?
- Do either of those questions really matter?
Ultimately, if I am to commit to making writing a habit, I have no choice other than to, y’know, write. I have to devote some time during the day, however short or long, to the practice of “making words happen.” Anything less would be failing myself, which is not something I like to do or practice. I’ve got a few things I attempt to do daily:
- Meditate for 10 minutes using Calm
- Take a multivitamin
- Get a bit of outside time
There’s no reason at all that I can’t add:
- Make words happen
…to that list.
Why make writing a habit at all?
The comments from my cousin made me explore my intentions and desires for the ever-interesting “why” behind this particular endeavor. Why was I doing this? What was I hoping to gain out of it? Exploring the “why” behind things is something I’m constantly attempting to do. One of my favorite quotes from Michael Crichton’s lesser-known book Travels, adorns my email signature for this very reason. (emphasis mine):
“Although knowledge of how things work is sufficient to allow manipulation of nature, what humans really want to know is why things work. Children don’t ask how the sky is blue. They ask why the sky is blue.”
Here’s what I had to say in response to my cousin’s feedback that I think still holds true now a few days later after I’ve let my words sink in:
“I’m not sure how much of the writing I’ve been doing the last 60–90 days brings that inner joy I’m looking for at the moment. It’s all been pretty purpose-driven. Like an artist making a canvas for a hotel, or a potter making 100 of the same plate for a retail shop. Lots of business-based or legal stuffs; writing specifically to get recognized in a particular way.
I’ve literally not produced any new longer writing like this for a few years.
I’m hoping to find a happy medium where I can do both through this endeavor. I do enjoy the process and the practice.
I’d love to find my voice, find a process that lets me produce on a regular basis, and find a good rhythm in it that will be able to inform more professional or academic writing pursuits for the future.”
I think the big keys there that I’m starting to explore are:
- Finding my voice
- Finding a process
- Finding a good rhythm
- Finding joy from my own voice, process, and rhythm
More on “Finding my Voice”
I think that a big part of finding my voice is coming from a place of hoping to restore confidence in the thoughts, words, and expressions that I want to share. For a long time, I removed myself from the world to take care of my daughter as a single parent. I didn’t interact with my peers much in any professional capacity and left my career and industry behind. Being a single parent also didn’t give me much time to interact with other adults in a meaningful way either. I was so busy simply raising another little human that I lost my voice.
I lost my confidence that what I had to say, share, or feel was meaningful to anyone else other than myself.
That’s a big statement to make and a really hard thing to read on the screen, but it’s the absolute truth. Despite my successes in my life, and all of the life I’ve lived (I’m in the 24th place I’ve called home), I somehow found myself doubting whether anything I had to say was even worth saying.
I stopped writing. I stopped sharing. I stopped teaching.
I slept. Nurtured. Cooked. Worked. And slept again. For years.
I disconnected from social media for a long time during that process as well, and devoted all of my time and energy into one person that was not myself.
It wasn’t until COVID hit, and I was forced to spend a great deal of time with myself, that I realized I didn’t know who I was anymore. I didn’t know what I wanted to say, who I wanted to say it to, or whether anyone would care if I spoke or not. And it made me incredibly sad. So sad that I finally spent an entire day on the couch weeping because I felt like I had lost control of my life. The truth was: I hadn’t lost control of my life. I had forgotten who I was and what I actually wanted to do or who I wanted to be.
Because of that:
- I stopped trying.
- I stopped addressing my needs.
- I stopped listening to my own desires.
I made the decision that it was time to find my voice again. And the first audience for my voice, was myself.
The first step of that, for me, was resetting my brain and my life to a natural equilibrium. For that: I got completely sober. There wasn’t a precipitating event for this other than I wanted to find myself again. Not a version of myself, but just myself. In 4 days it will be 9 months since that decision — 273 days — and it’s definitely the best gift I’ve ever given to myself. I’ll write more about that later (maybe on the 9 month anniversary).
Edit — here’s that writing:
Okay, I can make words happen but how do I effectively use Medium to do so?
Another thing I’ve been exploring lately is how to most effectively use Medium and the formatting available on the platform to produce writing that is easy and, dare I say, “fun” to consume. I’ve noticed patterns of design and structure on successful Medium posts and done some reading on what gets a particular post read more often.
There are a few observations I’ve made about Medium posts that seem to do well and structures that seem to make a post readable and consumable:
- Utilize headers so that it’s easy to skim a post to get an idea of structure and content quickly. I’ve noticed myself doing it and I’ve read about this behavior in UI and UX design many times.
- Imagery and other formatting is helpful to break up giant blocks of text. If your post looks like it’s just a huge block of writing, then the brain turns off a bit and goes: “Oh boy, I’m gonna have to just read a lot of words for the next few minutes? I don’t know if I want to do that.”
- Writing in your own voice with your own opinions seems to produce the most successful (widely read) content. It seems that people are looking for hearing from a person, not necessarily reading about a topic.
I’ve tried to do a bit more of this for writing this piece. Using headers, using some different formatting like numbered lists or bulleted lists, breaking things up with the spacers, and imagery. I think that it works pretty well. I especially like using headers to sort of organize the writing into sections. That’s not only useful for the reader, but seems to be useful for me as a writer as well. It helps me ensure that what I’m writing in a particular place has a raison d’être for actually being there.
I’ve also tried a bit harder to use my own voice for this piece. I think it’s allowed me to enter “flow state” a lot easier as well. I’m pretty good at getting into this state in my professional and artistic life but it’s been a while since I’ve felt it very much for writing. I was inspired by a recommended Medium post, as a matter of fact, to attempt to enter flow state while writing instead of writing to do the act of writing.
I Procrastinate for 3 Hours Before Starting Work. Here’s How I Solved the Problem.
Steal my approach so you can get your work done faster.
I’ve now managed to complete this post in an hour and I feel pretty good about the place that it’s in. So I guess maybe using my voice a bit more is a good thing. I’m not sure how to measure whether it’s successful, however.
How do I know if I’m doing this right?
Figuring out whether my practice is successful is going to be a difficult thing to do. Measuring whether or not I’ve successfully written words in a day is something that’s pretty straightforward. But to measure whether I’ve been able to find my voice, process, rhythm, or joy is a little less straightforward. So let’s see if I can answer those questions now that I’m 5 days, or 8%, into the 60 days of creating a habit.
- Am I finding my voice? — Yes, I think I am starting to find my voice again. It started a bit with my previous piece on some words from Bruce Lee and it seems to be coming out more here as I feel like I’ve been able to successfully enter a flow state of enjoyment.
- Am I finding a process? — Maybe? I think that the process of creating this habit may be the very title of this piece: “make words happen.”
- Am I finding a rhythm? — Not yet. I still don’t know if I’ve found a particularly great time to explore this practice. I really enjoy finding time to do some slow writing, I seem to enjoy writing Haikus in the morning, and I really like spending an hour or so writing some longer pieces. But to say I’ve found a rhythm for this would seem kind of premature.
I can say that I’m enjoying what I’m doing so far. Hopefully I can find the discipline, time, and desire to keep on going.
For now, I’m going to actually finished my (now, watered down) Americano, take a break from flow state, do a bit of stretching, and then see about getting some of my Haiku’s published here on Medium to count for day 4.
Day 5 of 60 for developing a writing habit.
Day 4 of 60 for developing a writing habit:
Some Haikus I’ve Written Recently
Or at least, some poems that follow the 5–7–5 structure that help me collect my thoughts for the day
Day 7 of 60 for developing a writing habit: