There’s a multitude of opinions on writing. Some experts say you should write every day. Others insist you should do it when the mood strikes you. Most suggest a mix of daily writing with occasional breaks to recharge and regroup.
Much of that advice comes from the perspective writing with the intent to publish. It assumes that we write because we have something to say to others, an idea to share or a story to tell.
The publish everything approach ignores the other, often more powerful benefits from daily writing. Don’t get me wrong. I publish a lot of my work, over a thousand stories on Medium. I generally post every other day, but I always write at least five-hundred words each day. I do this even when there is no intent to share it with others.
It takes at least one-hundred words to get the junk out of your system… You must unload the trash before you discover the real gems.
Why five-hundred words? And what are these other mysterious benefits from writing? I choose five-hundred words because it takes at least one-hundred words to get the junk out of your system. The junk refers to the surface thoughts that linger in your conscious mind. If you sat down to write, you could easily pump out one-hundred words. You must unload the trash before you discover the real gems.
Let’s get to the benefits.
Connections Strengthen Creativity
I often reference life experiences when I write. It could be a significant life experience or something as innocuous as an interaction with a store clerk. After I record it, I ask myself what I learned from it. I also look for a connection between the experience and a belief, theory or opinion.
What is the connection between this life experience and …
How does this experience prove (or disprove) my opinion/belief on…
This practice can produce profound aha moments, and it often springs from more mundane experiences.
The act of finding those connections exercises your creative muscle. Some days the connection is obvious. On other days it takes a bit of sweat to discover the relationship. It can come out of nowhere when you least expect it: showering, driving or exercising.
Here is an example you can model
Experience: At a street fair, one of the vendors had a promotion. Tell a bad joke, get a free donut. I tested it, and the vendor was true to his word. He gave me a free donut. The free donut made me uncomfortable. I felt compelled to buy a coffee. No doubt, this was the intention behind the gimmick.
Life Lesson: The principle of reciprocity works even when we know someone is using it against us.
Once I find that connection, I turn it into a story. When you assemble your story and draw a conclusion, you learn something. Writing helps solidify that learning.
You won’t always learn something new. Often, you’ll reinforce a concept you already know but may have forgotten. Don’t fret if your lesson or connection reminds you of something you already know. Reinforcement and repetition is the key to learning. If it bothers you that much, try the exercise again. Force your brain to search harder. You may learn something new.
Sometimes you write about an experience and draw blanks. You can’t find a meaningful connection. When that happens, write about another adventure or experience.
And then the magic happens.
The best ideas often come from the combining of disparate ideas. Let’s suppose you write about your coffee buying experience this morning. Let’s further assume that they screwed up your order. Now, let’s imagine a storm took out your electricity later that day.
How could you combine these unrelated events and turn it into something original? Here’s how I would do it.
I’m irritated that they screwed up my coffee order. I’m furious that my electricity is out. What does the result of these two narratives produce?
Most things that cause us emotional trauma are petty and trivial. The coffee incident seems silly in comparison to losing electricity. Losing electricity would feel trivial compared to something with more dire consequences. If I were developing this for real, I would keep writing until I flesh out the idea. The working title might be: Why we overreact almost every time something doesn’t go our way.
I used to worry about a lot of meaningless crap. I think my DNA is wired to worry. I’ve lost many nights of sleep due to anxiety. I still struggle with occasional bouts of insomnia, but they are now sporadic rather than frequent.
Writing about my worries has had the most meaningful impact on reducing these debilitating thoughts. The process is simple. Write out your worry and then read it back to yourself. When you read it back to yourself, it never seems as bad as how it played in your head.
I sandwiched this one in the middle because it is the obvious benefit. You won’t become a better writer by thinking about writing or talking about being a better writer. You improve your writing by doing the work.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t spend time learning new techniques and studying the masters. You must do that too. Here’s a little secret for you. It doesn’t matter how much time you spend working with teachers or learning new techniques. If you don’t put these learnings into practice, it won’t do you any good.
What is the one thing that keeps writers from writing? Fear about how others will judge your output. When you get in the habit of writing every day, you build confidence.
I’m more open to letting others judge my work and less defensive when I receive critical feedback.
If you haven’t published your work yet, start writing five-hundred words per day. In time, you’ll develop confidence in your work. It may even evolve into a healthy hubris. At some point, you’ll cross a threshold. The desire to share your work will overpower your fear of criticism. That is how it happened for me. I wrote for sixty-one days in Google Docs. On day sixty-two, I published my first story. I was terrified, but I couldn’t stand the idea of keeping all this work to myself. Each time you share your creations, the fear subsides a tiny bit.
This confidence carries over into other areas of life too (business, relationships, personal). I’m more open to letting others judge my work, and less defensive when I receive critical feedback.
Writing five-hundred words per day will make you a more active observer. What do I mean by active observation? Well, a few months ago I would have used the word mindfulness, but I’m sick of that word. I can’t take it anymore. Active Observation also seems to align better with my intent. Think of it as being a participant in the world around you rather than a passive onlooker.
Your daily writing ritual forces you to notice all those quirky, unusual or funny incidents that occur.
You’ll pay closer attention to the world around and your experience within it. It will happen on a subconscious level. You need fresh new material each day. Your daily writing ritual forces you to notice all those quirky, unusual or funny incidents that occur. Most people experience these things and forget about them. By strengthening your active-observation skills, you’ll notice the significance of these moments and look for the meaning.
Over time you’ll also learn to draw connections in real time. Carry a notebook with your or jot down these occurrences in your phone so you remember them later.
I also suggest you record your experiences in a journal each night before bed. You can read more about that here.