Writing Daily: A Habit Rather than a Hobby
In 2010, all of my New Year’s resolutions involved various kinds of corndogs I wanted to try. Kimchi corndog. S’more corndog. I believe resolution # 3b had to do with learning how to make a sauerkraut corndog. I came up with this list both as a joke and as a reaction to my failed resolutions of years past. I know I’m not alone in feeling that resolutions are sometimes a rocky way to start a new year. Sure, they are full of hope and good intentions, but in some ways, we set ourselves up for failure by coming up with resolutions too far outside of our normal habits. I want to lose 50lbs. I want to run a marathon. I want to find a husband. I, I, I. Me, Me, Me. How grossly self-fulfilling resolutions so often are. Perhaps, we should wish for others’ happiness. Perhaps, we should try something like this year I just want to keep striving in my job and stay healthy.
But there’s just something so hopeful and luminous about a New Year. My culture has taught me that I need to christen the New Year with a bunch of well wishes for myself. In so doing, I welcome the New Year like the wise men kneeling before the Christ child. Here, New Year, I say. Here, take my unrealistic goals for myself. I honor your newness. By March, I’ve failed at my resolutions so very hard. Who am I kidding: they usually don’t last a week. I then inevitably feel like a failure and at no point throughout the year do I try to pick back up. I mean, if you don’t start on the 1st of January and continue it every day, then it’s not legit, right?
I’m just going to go ahead and call bullshit on this kind of thinking – the kind that makes me feel like that if my goal isn’t executed perfectly in a predetermined amount of time then it’s over, done, a failure. I’m starting to feel like that no matter what goal we set for ourselves it should be coated with kindness and support for ourselves. It’s never too late to start on a goal, to pick it back up, to revise it.
Of course, the person I’m preaching to the most is myself because I’m at the start of a very important year. This year, I took a leave without pay from my job at LSU, and I am devoting myself to my PhD program at ULL, but more importantly, I hope to make writing a habit rather than a neglected hobby.
Going from not writing daily (sometimes not even weekly) to writing daily feels like the equivalent of trying to lose 50lbs before March. I know without a doubt that it’s not going to come easy. For as important as writing is to me, it’s hard. I get frustrated, overwhelmed, and discouraged every time I write or revise. There’s some delicate balance I need to learn this year – a balance of pushing myself to write daily even when it’s a struggle while also being kind to and supportive of myself.
Recently, I read Ann Patchett’s essay “The Getaway Car” and found it to be a very helpful read on the matter of creating habits out of hobbies. Granted, Patchett did sell her first book for a large sum of money and has been successful since. There are, perhaps, craft essays by writers whose path was a little more realistic.
Regardless, what all writers of any level of success have in common is that they all swear by the daily writing process. Writing daily, or at least writing regularly, on a schedule. Making writing a priority right up there with work, and students, and errands, and personal hygiene.
Now, I’m no sheep. I wouldn’t walk off the proverbial jagged cliff if Ann Patchett did first. I’m also not trying to follow anyone else’s exact path. That being said, if someone has excelled in a field that you aspire to also excel in, shouldn’t you listen to their advice? Or, in this case, most writers who excel give this same advice: writing daily. I can’t spend any more time not hearing this or not heeding it.
Also, I plan to keep a daily log of my writing activity. Last spring, I read Steinbeck’s Working Days, a journal of his writing of The Grapes of Wrath. In fact, this was the only required text in Craft of Fiction: one writer’s daily journal through a process of writing one of the great American novels. Steinbeck’s entries are short and often written in sentence fragments with character names abbreviated. He’s not trying to impress anyone in his writing journal. And yet, the collection of these short, daily snippets shows the expanse, the pursuit of the project. There are days he can’t get work done. There are days when he’s nervous and too hard on himself. There are days when he writes two chapters before dinner. His vision is clear throughout (again perhaps not the most realistic example), and he stays on track, continuously protective of his writing schedule.
I’m not going to call this a resolution. I’m resolved and all, but I’m not good with resolutions. This is a pursuit. A pursuit I know going in will be a struggle, and I will probably fail more than once. But I’m going to allow failure to be part of the process.