Writing as a Discipline
Distilling thought into language
I hate writing. I hate opening a blank screen and having to fill it with words. I hate the feeling of putting myself out there and being judged.
So it’s ironic that over the past few years, I’ve made writing more one of my annual New Year’s resolutions. Several nights a week, after the kids go to bed, I make a cup of hot jasmine tea and sit down to write.
Some nights, it is torture. I have nothing to say, and I sit and stare at the monitor until the tea is gone. Some nights, on the other hand, I write an entire article in one sitting. In those moments, things I didn't know how to put into words suddenly come to life. Often, the results are raw and unfiltered, but they are the essence of thought distilled into language.
Writing is Turning A Thought into Language
My goal started as writing 200 words a night, so I set aside 30 minutes to write daily. The first reaction people usually have when I tell them about my writing is to ask me how I find the time. After all, I also work a full-time, demanding job, have three very active kids, and lead a non-profit. Writing, like anything else, is a choice. There are a thousand excuses not to do it, but you need to find your own reason to do it. Every day, you decide whether you want to make it a part of your life.
Why do I do it? Because it helps me find my voice. I'm naturally introverted, and I find the act of writing to be both intimidating and clarifying. Writing takes something ephemeral and locks it down in black and white. It burns away the ability to rephrase your thoughts and allows you to record them, both good and bad.
I started writing at the advice of Andrew Bosworth. As one of the most prolific writers at the company, he pushed me to write. I told him I didn't know what to say. He suggested that I start with, "Write what you repeat.” At first, this baffled me. So I asked for clarification. He said, “You meet with dozens of people every week. What are the things you say over and over again? That is what you should write about. If those people can benefit from what you said, I am sure others can as well.”
So I did. Over the past three years, I have posted these writings internally and externally. At one point, I considered stopping. I mentioned to Boz that I worried no one really wanted to read what I wrote. His response was, “Don't worry about writing for everyone. Write for the one person who needed to read what you wrote today.” I have since continued to write with that in mind.
Five Tips for Writing
Observe and note. The world is a rich place full of stories. Your own life is filled with your experiences — good and bad. Spend a week thinking about all of the things you can see around you that are worth writing about. My kids have been saying funny things since they were really little. I didn't think much of it, other than to post snippets of what they'd say on Facebook under the hashtag #mommyschool. Over several years, I ended up with enough content to create a comic strip, and I'm now working on turning them into a book. We quickly forget what we don't write down. Life is ephemeral, so making sure you record those moments is critical.
Think. While everyone has observations, most people lose their way on this important step. Thinking is the process of making sense of what you observe. We all have a lot of ideas, but curating and culling them is the real art. Give yourself time to go through your notes and process them before you decide where to start.
Write. There is no writing without the act of actually putting the words together. You can have all of the brilliant thoughts you want, but if you don’t communicate them, they cannot persuade, entertain, or connect with others. Set clear goals. Use milestones as motivators. For example, commit to write 200 words a day for a week, or to post something publicly on any publishing platform at least once a month. Track it, and reward yourself for completing the goal.
Polish. Gems are most prized when they are cut and polished so that everyone can see their full beauty. Taking the time to edit for content and voice will ensure that your words have their maximum force and influence. Ask a friend for feedback or hire a writing coach to help you get clarity around what you are writing.
Keep Yourself Accountable. It is easy to make and break promises to yourself, but if you have someone to keep you accountable, you will get more done. Find a friend who is also looking to learn this process. Ask them to hold you to your goals. Knowing someone is at your side, rooting for you and reviewing your work for you, is a huge motivator.
Over the years, using this process, I have now completed several dozen articles, two full-length fiction books, a nonfiction book proposal, and at least twenty or thirty works in progress.
It is safer to say nothing and do nothing. No one notices what you do not say. You never risk failure by not making the attempt, but the benefits outweigh the risks and discomfort. The process of writing helped me learn to think more deeply about my experiences and forced me to confront what I believe. It created conversations and connections I never could have imagined before.
Even if no one reads it but yourself, the act of writing clarifies and distills your thoughts, perspectives, and experiences. It teaches you to find your own voice.