On Returning to Form
It's my first newsletter in a while and I can't lie: I feel rusty.
One of the reasons I shifted the direction of these emails in January was to get back into the swing of writing to a rhythm. After a year of not really writing much at all (or at least, anything fit for public consumption) I felt my writing had grown unwieldy, out of shape. I was interested to find out if a self-imposed weekly deadline might help my fingers move across the keyboard with a little more grace.
I was surprised how quickly the simple act of practicing began to take effect. After a few weeks of self-conscious stumbling, I found myself in a satisfying and increasingly efficient flow of read-think-write-edit-send. It was a lesson in itself: In moments of doubt, just keep showing up at the keyboard (or canvas, or drawing board), whether you think you're ready to or not. This frustrating, murky, "I don't know what the fuck I'm doing" part of the process is not a prelude to the work. It's not a reflection of a personal failing to ~optimise~ your workflow. It's not a sign that you probably aren't even supposed to be doing this kind of work in the first place: It is the work, in itself.
I didn't actually stop writing during the break I took from this newsletter last month, but the aches and pains of returning to format have been a reminder of why I started sending it at all. In our attempt to exercise control over the (profoundly uncontrollable!) experience of being alive, it's so easy to fall back on black-and-white, all-or-nothing approaches to work and life - if I don't write an entire novel this summer, I'm a failure; if I don't workout for an hour I may as well not workout at all - when really it's the smaller, more consistent efforts that really shape a life over time. To (re)quote Annie Dillard:
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing."
Right now, I'm doing quite a lot. For that reason, there's a chance these letters will sometimes be shorter in the coming weeks and months. They may take on a slightly different structure, or focus on different subject matter (if there's anything else you're interested in reading about, please let me know by replying to this email). To be totally honest, I'm not sure exactly how it's going to work out but I can tell you my efforts will be consistent. It counts for a lot, I've learnt.
If you're trying to instigate new habits but in, like, a chill way: Check out the entire archive of Zen Habits.
Annie Dillard's wisdom on The Writing Life is relevant to non-writers, too.