I've mentioned my Write365 challenge on a number of occasions but not recently, properly (and certainly not here) explained what it was.
In November 2013 I stopped blogging. I was unhappy with what it had become and, as I've said, how it became too focused and gotten away from the idea of what a blog should be.
I wanted to free myself from the perfection that approach demanded and do something different.
The following is a post that originally appeared on Medium. It helps explain the project and the lessons I learnt from completing it.
Lessons learnt from a year of writing
On 4th January 2014 I decided that I was going to write something, anything, every day for a year. What’s more, I was going to do this publicly so as to be held accountable by others and not just myself. This wasn’t a new year’s resolution, just a desire to knuckle down and get on with it.
My opening post came with a warning, a definite caveat, that the next year might be filled with anything: any topic, any format and, almost definitely, a certain amount of rubbish.
Although my target of at least 300 words a day would result in a total word count in excess of 100,000 (firmly in book territory, all typed on my phone) the aim wasn’t to fashion a body of work on any particular topic but to form a habit, to train myself such that writing became almost automatic, second nature.
And so the #write365 project was born over on my Google+ account.
Over the course of the next 370 days (I had to extend things as illness prevented me from writing for 5 days) it happened: day after day, post after post, turning thoughts into words in a way that I had never done before.
Despite this being a very public project it was only ever considered to be a private exercise, each post written purely for self, purely with the intention of being a step along the path to forming that habit.
But it became so much more.
Lesson One — our own inspiration
How many times do we hear the experts tells us to just do it, all you need is to push yourself? How often are we advised to just write every day? Yet we consider these mere platitudes, smokescreens to keep the real tricks to creativity hidden, locked away for the elite few who know the secret handshake.
Like many, I have long aspired to being a writer but have practised procrastination in the name of seeking inspiration, waited for the moment to strike and struggled with the notion of perfection.
It’s true, inspiration can suddenly seize you, fill your head with an idea so crystalline that you don’t have to add anything, don’t have to think about it, just get it down on paper but, sadly, this is the exception rather than the rule.
If anything, a year’s worth of writing taught me that we become our own inspiration. Entering a creative mindset opens us up to ideas and gets the cogs turning, we become an enabler for our own mind and get in a flow.
Lesson Two — we can go too far
Once I had settled into a regular pattern, it soon became apparent that I was no longer putting down just words, any words to meet this self imposed target. In fact, it became all too apparent that the project had become a tool for introspection and self therapy; a way to reflect on who I was, what I had truly become and how I had arrived at this point.
Without doubt, it can be good to examine ourselves more objectively to get a handle on who we are but this only works to a point. There is an inherent danger in digging too deep, in peeling back the layers and laying all out to bare.
The experts remind us that, in the modern social web, demonstrating vulnerability is key, showing our humanity and telling our story is vital to the relationship building required to make our online experience a success. Humanity and vulnerability are fine but there are some things which we shouldn’t expose, some stories we, maybe, shouldn’t tell.
Perhaps this is why the cynics question the psychiatric profession: you come out feeling worse than you went in and need another session just to get over the last.
Lesson Three — writing is like any other habit
Popular wisdom advises that we can make something a habit if we do it for 21 days. It’s a nice idea but timescales can vary widely for different activities and there are some things we just cannot turn into habits, no matter how we try.
It’s all down to friction.
How much effort does the activity require? Effort is friction. How much desire do we have to do said activity? Lack of desire is friction. What else is placing demands on our time or energy? Demands are friction.
With excessive friction something will either fail to become a habit or is going to to be dropped from our routine, and the interplay between effort, desire and demand can determine our success or failure.
Writing is no different.
After completing the #write365 project I had intended on taking a couple of days break which soon became a couple of weeks, then a month, and more. For all of the effort over the previous year, the habit disappeared far easier than it started.
I was burnt out. I was beaten by friction.
Even this took more than two weeks to complete.
Lesson Four — writing changes people
It sounds like an arrogant thing to say in a post about your own work but it is the truth. It changes our opinions and perspectives, it changes our understanding and this can change us as people.
When I doubted what a year of writing had accomplished one friend replied:
"It changed you, it changed me and it changed some others. If the point isn’t to change someone, then what is it? You need to know you made a difference to someone. That shit MATTERS!"
That comment changed me!
That comment made me realise that it was all worth it. I may have been writing for self and been deeply introspective but, in my self absorption, forgot that we can see ourselves in other people’s stories, we can identify with the events they describe, the joy and pain, the memories we cherish and the things we’d rather forget.
Lesson Five — we should all write
It doesn’t matter if we are great wordsmiths. It doesn’t matter if we don’t know the difference between adverbs and adjectives. It doesn’t matter about the extent of our vocabulary.
What does matter is that we communicate, that we share, that we express ourselves so that others can understand. What does matter is that we don’t isolate ourselves behind a wall of silence.
Writing is a starting point, a first step on a much longer path.
We should all write.