Something that I recently read that I loved was Julie Zhou’s post about her writing journey since 2013. She first published something once a week. The next year, she published something once every two weeks, and then last year, once every three weeks. She’s continued that pace to this day — and her example inspires me because I am seeing someone else succeed, and keep succeeding, at a goal that I have for myself. And not just someone else, but an approachable someone else — approachable because she hasn’t swathed her work in a thick marketing cloud that makes me doubt whether I’m a reader of writing or a customer of something being sold.
When I read that yes, writing regularly DID change her life:
“…through the habit of writing, my thinking sharpened. I became a more curious and humble reader. I spent more time on reflecting and giving thanks.”
It makes me happy for her, impressed, and also encouraged to renew my commitment to my goal to journal/blog more often this year. My intention: write to reflect and think through things, and also share what I’m learning and find exciting.[aesop_image imgwidth=”80%” img=”http://blog.therightmargin.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/nature-forest-moss-leaves-large.jpg” align=”center” lightbox=”off” captionposition=”left”]
However, whether I’m writing for this blog or for my personal blog or in my journal, I still find it difficult to find a topic to write about. It seems like there is much to think and write about until I actually sit down to pound it out — at that point I’m either overwhelmed or have forgotten — and I appreciate that Julie speaks to that matter-of-factly:
“No matter who you are, I know… there is something you go to bed thinking about. That there is some experience you’ve had that not everybody has had…. That there is some version of the world you’d like tomorrow to be.” (Emphasis mine.)
I love that last sentence in particular. Part of the charm of San Francisco is that it’s known to be a city where everyone is welcome. Whatever, whomever, whichever, whenever — you can find your place here, even if it’s slow going at first. And when you’re surrounded by so many people from all walks of life — differing, strongly, over politics, culture, language, faith, values, class and worldview — you start to feel like hey, I do have something to say. My voice is not the same as the next person’s, and this is what imbues me with more confidence as I formulate my voice… because I can do so in response to the other voices around me.
As for whether or not you have the time to write, well, we humans tend to have time for the things we prioritize, and not have time for the things we don’t…. Really, what you are saying is While the idea of writing is interesting, I don’t choose to prioritize it over other things in my life. Which is perfectly fine. After all, we should all be doing the things we intentionally choose to do.
I completely agree with this and am glad for the reminder. I remember my undergraduate days at Wellesley… everyone seemed so busy, all the time. There was running commentary about it on campus:
“Why do we call everything a study break? It’s like saying we should all be studying, all the time, and that any time we’re not studying is a ‘study break’. That is so depressing.”
“Sometimes it seems like everyone is complaining or humblebragging about how busy they are and how hard they are working. Why aren’t people bragging about their amazing time management and the many hours of sleep they got because of their time management skills instead?”
The culture of busy-ness, of everyone seemingly doing everything, made the general atmosphere extremely competitive and derailed my personal peace of mind because I would feel like I was failing at everything, not good at anything, and unworthy. In retrospect, it would have been better to say to myself, While C, D, E and F are interesting, I choose to prioritize A and B. And that’s ok. Instead of believing, Everyone is able to do A, B, C, D, E and F and so I will do A, B, C, D, E and F too… but I am so tired and overwhelmed that I can only do C, which I don’t even like as much as A… I suck! Anyway, you get the idea. And Julie affirms this too:[aesop_quote type=”block” background=”#ffffff” text=”#000000″ width=”80″ align=”center” size=”2″ quote=”… holding yourself to some lofty standard when you are just starting out is like blowing a deathkiss to your chances of success.” cite=”Julie Zhou” parallax=”off” direction=”left”]
What I most take to heart from Julie’s tips and reflections about her writing journey is that I should first view progress, and success, in terms of doing, often — not in terms of quality or amount. And actually, a prime example of someone demonstrating this is my coworker, Art.
One of my goals every year since 2012 has been to run more often. As in, run so often, so regularly, that I become a ‘real runner’ — my definition of someone whose day is incomplete unless I’ve gone on a run (unless it’s a rest day.) But I defined “run more often” as running 3-4x a week, for 2-3 mi minimum per run (because that’s what I saw my lifelong runner friends doing)… and unsurprisingly, going from running not-at-all to running 6-12 miles a week has still not become a reality for me.
Art had a similar goal, but he framed it differently — his was to run every day, and “run” was defined as the sheer act of running, whether that was down the block, from work to home, or many miles. While my definition was related to the quality and quantity of doing, Art’s definition was focused on the doing. The result: I ended up running sporadically at best, going 3-6 months at a time without a single run (of any mileage); in contrast, Art ended up hitting the milestone of running every day for two years as of 10/02/2016 and now has the habit so firmly engrained in him that he’s going on a third year in a row now.
And guess what, fellow writers? Art finished the 4th draft of his first novel last year because of this method, and one of the writers we interviewed also finished the first complete draft of his first novel last year using this method. What seems common between them: they both wanted to write a novel, both prioritized writing regularly/every day, and both defined “writing” as working on their project, for even a few minutes, each day. That could mean reviewing notes, thinking through different scenarios, planning out the week, looking up a writer’s conference… any of the plethora of other steps a writer takes outside of putting words down. Now that seems like a steady and doable way to write a first novel! And like a reasonable, regular way to make progress, as opposed to thinking progress can only look like x hours a week, y words per session, etc. (which can work too– but for me, can make me feel like I failed when I don’t hit x and y). In contrast, being focused on the doing can buoy you up because progress becomes more regular and the feeling of accomplishment comes more often.
I think this is what makes the mentality that the whole team at TheRightMargin embraces so powerful. We set out to help writers finish their writing projects. At first it seemed like a focused editor would be the answer–having a curated set of tools to help writers bring everything into one place and stay organized. But over time, due to research, the Creative Startups Accelerator, and delving deep into writers’ motivations and goals, we realized that an editor alone wouldn’t accomplish our mission. Rather, helping writers goal-set, redefine what progress looks like for them, and break down each goal into achievable steps, could be the key. This is why we’re taking a goal-oriented approach to helping writers overcome writer’s block, and why we are not just an online editor anymore, but rather a holistic productivity and writing tool that a writer can use over his/her full writing career.
Changing my goals and definition of progress to be more flexible, like Julie’s and Art’s examples, is something I’m starting to embrace for running, for piano, and also writing. Before, I thought success was running 3x a week for 3 miles or more per run; practicing 1-2 hours a day, every day; and writing 500 words per session. Now, success is putting on my running clothes and shoes, stepping outside, and at least attempting a run; playing the piano thrice a week, even if it’s just a few scales; and spending a little time on my writing project each week, whether that’s writing, organizing, revisiting, editing, outlining, etc. Because I’ve broken my goals down into really small steps, I’ve been able to do each one a lot more often — and because this means I’m making progress towards my grander goals for those activities, I feel accomplished and able to keep going. Essentially, I’ve come to value frequency over quality and quantity — and I feel, and know, that this has led to me making a lot more progress against each goal than before.