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Earlier this year, I stopped daily writing on my novel. Not the project itself, which encompasses research and conversations and brainstorming and a lot of dreaming. Just the daily writing session.
This was a deliberate choice: I’d written more than 250,000 words in my effort to overcome my internal censor and get used to harnessing the flow of language—too many for an entire book—without even covering most of the story. It was an architectural problem, like working on a room-size addition to your house and waking up one day to find that, in your effort to perfect foundation-laying, you’ve laid a foundation over the whole backyard.
What followed wasn’t bad, exactly. I benefited from interrupting the rhythm that had prevailed through a couple of years of life and thinking about structure and purpose and style and art. I got into a new book on my fictionalized protagonist, Joseph Smith, that covers a period of both his life and my story that I was hazy on. I kept writing this newsletter, wrestling with words and ideas and honing my ability to turn on the writing switch and hold the censor at bay (until its his turn). I published one essay and worked on some others. I prepared for a marathon.
But in the past couple of months, I started to feel like something was missing: a baseline of accomplishment, a rhythm of progress in the main event. So I made some changes to time management, firmly defining a work block each weekday, and that helped. It pushed back the tide of Everything Else that anyone who’s ever worked for themselves knows can blow over a workday like matchsticks. A friend made a connection that led to some consulting work, and that’s reintroduced a little dose of external accountability. In the last few weeks, my day has re-assumed a more discernible shape, a hierarchy with the novel at the top.
Most importantly, I have confirmed something that I theorized and even articulated here but maybe wasn’t sure about at the root: that for me, at least, the writing simply is the project. Research and reflection and other tracks of refining my craft are important, but the only way to figure out who a character is is to write the character, to write what happens to them and how they respond. And each day that I’ve hit my 500-word quota—even if it’s in the 15 minutes before I have to leave for yoga class or start cooking dinner—I’ve discovered something I didn’t know about my own story before. Maybe it’s in 10 of those words, and the rest won’t see the light of day. But the book is revealing itself through writing. I could end up with a million words or more and have to whittle them down. But that seems to be the cost of revelation.
It’s kind of like how you probably won’t have a satisfying marathon if you don’t run at least a few hundred times beforehand. Cross-training and weights and meditation and studying the course and figuring out your nutrition: all important. But a run is a run, and it’s made of running.
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