Building the habit of writing
Back in the day, some years ago, I used to routinely write in my blog, as well as essays for various internet websites like AlterNet, Common Dreams, Antiwar.com and others. But long before that … LONG before that … I kept a daily diary. In fact, from the time I was sixteen or so, until my mid twenties, I filled about twenty five hardbound books with my gibberish, whining, and general perspective on everything from girls, girls, girls to um… other stuff in my life.
But then I stopped. I stopped regularly keeping a journal in the early 1990s, mostly focusing my writing on novels (Republic) and activist related stuff here on the blog.
So, now I’m trying to build the habit back in.
Here’s why. Those of you who picked up Republic, or listened to the podcast, back in ’07 know that about a year later I pretty much dropped off the face of the earth. No updates in my blog, no new podcasts, no new stories for about three years. The reason why was simple enough—my life pretty much dropped off the face of the earth. At that time I was working for a nonprofit organization in Washington, DC, while living in North Carolina. When the economy crashed, so did the job. And I discovered, much to my surprise, that if you happen to live in North Carolina and work for an out-of-state nonprofit, you don’t qualify for unemployment, no matter how unemployed you might be.
I spent most of 2009 contracting, which meant a lot of travel. I’d be home every two or three weeks to see Veronica and the kids, then back out of town again. It was no way to live. Meanwhile we were trying to get the house on the market and sold before it lost any more value. Lot of sleepless nights, lot of stress.
I ended up landing in a new career, along with a move to Alabama at first, then Georgia. Not long after that, my dad passed away.
Long and short of it is, none of this was very conducive to getting much writing done of any kind. The new job typically requires a 60+ hour workweek, six days a week.
That’s why I finally decided in late 2011 to start releasing Insurgent in episodic format. Where my life is these days, I can manage bite-sized chunks, squeezing in 20 minutes of writing between 4:30 am and 5:00 am before I get ready for work, and a little more on my weekend.
But now it’s starting to flow, and more than anything, I’m trying to rebuild the habit, the ingrained daily habit, of setting words to paper. About four months ago I got to thinking about the fact that from 1986 to 1994 I spewed out something like a million words in my journals and my first three novels (the first two remain unpublished). And that was maintained by keeping up a daily discipline of writing something. Whatever it was.
So I picked up an app (Day One) that runs on my Mac and on my phone and iPad, so I can write anywhere. And for the last several months I’ve kept it up, and it is working.
I’m finding something interesting about daily writing. By writing every day, I’m getting less stressed out about work, about my career, about my kids. Okay, maybe not the kids, they’re stressful. But you get the point. Keeping that daily journal is giving me perspective on things that were swallowing me up. Perspective is nice.
I got to thinking about blogging more as well. I’m making a lot of progress on episode 3 of Insurgent, and I’m expecting to have it finished on schedule in May. I’m writing in a journal daily. I’m working on a screenplay adaptation of Prayer at Rumayla, and will probably submit it over at Amazon Studios just for kicks.
One of the things I’ve found most encouraging over the years is all the hate mail I get from my blog. Well, not the hate mail. But the positive stuff. The positive feedback, the encouragement. I can think of few things more awesome than getting an email from someone telling them that something in Republic made them want to cry. Yay! And blogging is sort of a public way to mull over thoughts, discussions, and get feedback.
But then I thought, oh my God, I hate my WordPress template. Could it be more ugly? And what should I focus the blog on? Aren’t blogs supposed to have a tiny niche focus, so people know what to expect? I can’t focus for ten minutes, much less for a daily blog.
So, I’m just going to write whatever I want here. And if you like it, come check it out again, and if not, well, there are plenty of niche bloggers out there. Because what I’m really looking for in getting into the habit of writing on the blog again is the same thing I am from my personal diary—a better understanding of who I am, of who the people around me are, a better understanding of the world and the people in it.
Do you find writing helpful? Does it give you perspective? Are there other ways you find that helps you keep perspective when life is just getting way too overwhelming? Would love to hear your thoughts.
Jackie Trippier Holt
Writing a private journal helps me keep perspective. I tend to only write in that when something has upset me and I need to give myself a good talking to! I do keep a dream diary though. This came about via the author MC Scott (Boudica, Rome, Hen’s Teeth) – she discovered dreaming during her research and I recommend the works of Robert Moss if you want to unleash your creativity in this way.
My own blog is sporadic, well censored and targeted towards my public writing. That is partly because I’m protective of my own (writer’s) insanity, possibly also a result of working in PR, or not wanting to try and make the Real Me a brand. It would be therapeutic to download my daily thoughts but I fear my perpetual whining would turn people off! Instead I channel these themes into my creative writing.
However, I do like to read about other people’s personal lives, their ‘real’ thoughts, their honesty – it’s very endearing and human, in the best way. Considering this, perhaps I am cynical to keep my own blog so tightly focused, and I wonder if I am buying into the branding idea too much, or the notion of privacy – communication is what we are all about, and I’d like to believe that frankness and an open heart has its rewards in this environment. I certainly see evidence here and there that it does – see Up Your Impact Factor as a good example of this.
On a last point, as was touched upon in another debate we had elsewhere about teenage diaries, it is in our nature as writers, I believe, that we dissect everything to get to the truth of our lives, whether we do this publicly or privately. Introspection is vital.
(Now I am contemplating a series of posts on the themes I have used and why they were so important to me. I had previously shelved this idea. Now you have me thinking. Eep!)
I look forward to seeing your new journal. By the way, your energy and persistence with your writing, in the face of a 60 hour week and the stress of everything else that’s happened in the last few years, is an inspiration. Writers are procrastinators as a general rule and it seems to me you’ve cracked that little demon over the head.
Temporarily cracked it anyway. I know myself pretty well on this front–I tend to go all out for a while, firing on all cylinders, uber-productive. Then I crash, burn out, and go completely nonproductive for a while. One of my biggest goals in life these days is to figure out when the signs of burnout are coming and how to head them off and deal with them.