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If You Really Want to Write, You Have to Write Every Day

…that’s how I’ve heard it said, anyway. But until this year, I’ve been thinking of that maxim incorrectly. I always assumed it meant that if you were, say, writing a book, the way to do that well is to work on writing it every day. Now that I am writing a book, I’ve come to a different interpretation.

If you really want to write, you have to write something every day.

I’ve been working on my first book since early January of this year. Initially, I tried to apply my first interpretation—attempting to work on the book every day. That worked for about one month. I was excited about the project, and that was enough to motivate and sustain me. But then I hit a wall. It wasn’t writer’s block; it was, instead, demand. See, the book project I took on was on top of other things I still had to do, and not just the day-to-day stuff I do at Newfangled, but also other writing: I write a monthly article for Newfangled that is, on average, about 2600 words. Getting that written and published is a non-negotiable for me and can’t be sidelined while the book is in process. I also try to blog regularly—something that can slow down a bit, but not stop completely—here at Newfangled and a bit on my personal site. On top of that, I’m a regular contributor to PRINT Magazine’s ImPrint blog, which has—and will continue to—slowed down (but not stop) while I’m working on the book. Lastly, I’ve started writing articles for PRINT Magazine (the printed version), the first of which is now out in the June issue. Between the book, Newfangled’s newsletter, blogging, and contributing articles to other publications, I’m trying to manage and sustain 4 different kinds of writing at the same time—in addition to my regular duties at Newfangled. It is not easy.

So, there I was in early March, struggling to find the time and motivation to focus on my book. I felt discouraged that I couldn’t maintain this writing every day thing. I felt disappointed that I couldn’t be as disciplined as I wanted to be. I felt like a failure. I went on feeling this way for most of the month, even as I managed to produce another chapter, write a newsletter on prototyping, 8 blog posts here, 3 over at my personal site, 3 at Imprint, and my first column at PRINT. So, what gives? In retrospect, it seems like a lot of output, so why was I feeling like a slug?

Writing every day is to writing what stretching is to exercise.

On the last day of March, I got hit with some inspiration. I read a post from Chris Shiflett—a call to arms, so to speak, for a blog revival. I responded right away—something about Chris’s post caught me at just the right time, in just the right way. Within a week I had written 6 new posts on my personal blog—a series on “Seeing Time”—which, as far as I can tell, nobody read. But that’s ok. I was having fun and feeling good about writing. Meanwhile, I also wrote two more chapters of my book. That’s when it hit me. I was writing every day. I no longer felt like a slug. It was working.

I didn’t have to be working on my book every day to reap the benefits of regular writing. That’s why it’s like stretching. I’m a regular exerciser, and I’m not nearly a regular enough stretcher (trying to get better), so this is one of those do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do kinds of things. So, that said, stretching enables your body to do the heavy lifting in your exercise regimen without injury. It maintains flexibility. Otherwise, your muscles remain tensed and more vulnerable to tearing. Writing, in a way, is like that: If you don’t loosen up by writing every day, you will burn out by doing these intense bouts of “heavy lifting.” Writing burnout is similar to an exercising injury—it puts you on the sidelines and steadily reduces the motivation to get back in the game.

Outside of the metaphor, regular writing breaks down the barriers between your mind and the written word. It helps you to more quickly and confidently express your thoughts through words, and reduces those recurring type-delete cycles you’ve probably been frustrated by when struggling to just get a sentence out.

For a generalist like me, having multiple venues to write every day also helps to get a desire for novelty out of my system. If I’m struggling to focus on writing about usability testing (I mean, come on, who wouldn’t?), then I can hop over to my personal blog and write about some futurey nonsense. Works for me! But seriously, I do suspect/hope that it will have a positive result on the all the writing I do, from blog to book.

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