For a while, I swore by a daily stream of consciousness writing exercise. Every day, for sometimes 500, maybe even 1,000 words, I would just carve out some time to crush the keyboard and knock out SOMETHING. The goal was two-fold; I would create a routine that forced me to write every day and hopefully, somewhere in that sea of mostly word vomit, I would find a nugget that could be the beginning of something. A new pitch for an online article, maybe even an idea for a novel, could be birthed from this simple writing exercise, I thought.
Then the months past and the exercise turned more into a therapeutic diary session than any meaningful writing exercise. I spent most of the time talking about all the things I wanted to write about, without actually writing them, because I was so busy knocking out this exercise every night. Each post was more ambitious than the next. This week I would start my novel. The next week I would knock out a book of poems. Success would just flow so naturally now that I was dedicating time every single day to writing. That was, after all, what all my teachers told me in grad school. If you want to be a writer…then write!
But success never came and my frustration mounted. I was finally doing what I had neglected doing for years (writing every single day) and I found myself publishing less and writing absolutely nothing of value for months. So I decided to take a step back and write less. I would read more, and read more carefully. I would focus on pieces that I wanted to write, in publications I wanted to be published in. I would carefully craft pitches and ideas with precision, instead of hoping that through a series of rushed writing exercises a fantastic idea would just find itself hiding in one of my rambling sentences.
It’s a delicate balance, especially when you aren’t a full-time writer. You work all day, come home and then the work really begins. You need to unplug from your day job and focus on doing whatever it takes to get your writing where it needs to be. It’s a daunting task, one I’ve neglected for quite some time. But this approach, when done thoroughly and consistently, seems to be working for me.
I compare my old daily writing exercises to streaming songs on Spotify. There are millions and millions of songs on these streaming services right at your fingertips. It’s beyond overwhelming. I find myself switching songs before they’re even halfway over because I’m so ready to jump to another song I haven’t heard in a while. There are songs I’ve long since forgotten, songs I haven’t had access to since my mom through out a bunch of my old CDs years ago, or old classics that bring me back to the old days when my friends and I were coming up. But jumping from song to song doesn’t help retain any of the words. It doesn’t establish any connection. I’d rather sit with an entire album, front to back and learn all of its nuances. Truly great albums, ones that are personal classics to me that have withstood the test of time, are ones I can play front to back any day.
I’m trying to adopt that classic album approach with my writing. Less streaming, more crafting. Less skipping, more focus. Less clutter, more clarity.