Over a 30-day period spanning the month of April, I published 20 different essays as part of a writing streak during which I attempted to publish something once a day. Since the last essay of the streak was published at the end of April, I have published ONCE.
Nearly three months have passed and I am now getting around to writing this conclusion piece for the project.
In 2017, I launched a similar 30-day writing streak with the goal of publishing an essay each day for 30 days (I wrote about it here). I did hit my goal, albeit through a lot of late nights, some very half-assed essays and being really grouchy for a fair bit of the month. This time when I launched the streak, I chose a different topic theme, and took note of what had changed.
During the latest streak, I noticed a few things about myself, my writing style, and the value of streaking, even when streaking didn’t go as planned. I also learned about managing my personal workload, or at least how to manage it a little more closely.
Of the 20 essays that I managed to publish in April 2019, about 17 of them I am proud of and look forward to expanding and editing into longer pieces for a memoir. The rest is pretty crappy. But crap is valuable, like the compost you need to grow a garden. There are worthwhile scraps in the dungiest, dankest dirt of all, the kind that helps grow something useful or pretty. So crap is good, and if you are practicing your writing and creating while you are at it, that is okay.
For the last seven or so weeks, instead of churning out an essay each day, I have been largely focusing on my daily writing practice in a notebook, keeping the pen moving and rooting around the far corners of my brain. Each writing practice begins with a topic. Only when I resumed my daily writing practice, versus publishing daily, did I think of all the essay topics I could have easily written about in April. The overall theme of each essay was supposed to include a “first” in my life. The first week was full of ideas, the second week slowed down, then came the days when I stared at a blank screen thinking, “Okay, write about a first. Go ahead. Any time now.” The broadness of the theme at times created this kind of loud white noise in my brain that played so loud it muted those little ideas humming away back in the corners. The first few ideas had shouted over the noise, but as the days went on, the noise kept thrumming, louder and louder.
I remember my work as an editor with The Christian Science Monitor, during which I was either assigning and editing or writing and producing online posts five days a week. Each piece started with a focused topic, and from there it fell into place. On days when the brainstorming for a post with a writer led to a feeble agreement about what to write, the editing part was miserable. When the topic was clear and had a point, my job was done. This happens working on a team or alone at my desk.
I am exponentially more successful at putting something on the page if I have a specific, clear topic to kick off the work.
I made a goal at the beginning of 2019 to write 52 essays for the year, then I left the goal otherwise un-shaped. In January, February and March, and then in May and June, I started each week by writing down a goal in my planner to write two essays that week. I failed on the follow up to brainstorm more specific topics, to make a list of particular items about which to write. Unsurprisingly, many weeks passed without anything on the page.
Know your schedule and its limits
To know my schedule - and all its limitations - is to have more control. I have had to learn to love my limitations and openly accept them versus spending precious energy fighting them all the time. I struggle with this regularly.
To have my schedule largely owned by others (in this case by my kids and other family obligations) means I get creative in how and when to work.
I wrote a large chunk of the essays in April between 8:30pm-12am then published first thing the next morning after a little sleep and another read-through. I had to own up that my month of publishing every day included 5 days of travel and various kid-projects that simply wouldn’t allow me to put something in print. I also had to accept that if I fell asleep at the keyboard, it was time to be done for the night.
During my 2017 streak, I had two children who napped in the afternoons, and only one of them attended school. During the 2019 streak, these same children attended two different schools operating on two different schedules, then danced and Kung-Fu’d after school, and besides all that poked each other and asked for snacks and pursued general chaos around the house for the remainder of their waking hours. Working hours for me in the mornings were left for client work, which meant writing happened most often when children were sleeping.
I can see there is an edge of an excuse peeking out from behind this explanation of my schedule. Essays that were ready to be written came together in only a couple hours. They were prepared by taking notes and thinking about them throughout the day, in free moments that came available.
What I still need to embrace is the ability to jump at the chance to write down an idea in a free moment, instead of frittering those away on checking email, headlines, social media, or complaining about how much free time I don’t have.
Don’t kill the romance
The beginning of a streak is a romantic endeavor, full of promise and excitement about basically not allowing yourself the option to quit. The ultimatum is intoxicating in a couple of ways. If you set to do something every day for a set amount of days, you can calculate up front what you will accomplish by the end of the streak. If you decide that the streak will continue in perpetuity, you have the romantic vision of the absolute astronomical results that will pile up as you move forward a little each day. I have friends who have been running at least a mile for a few years now, never missing a day and therefore stitching together thousands of miles so far. I have friends who plan to run a 5K every day for a month, which will earn them hundreds of miles in a single stretch. The concept of National Novel Writing Month is based on finishing a novel in a month by writing thousands of words each day. When I launch a streak, I am giddy with hope. As with all romantic endeavors, however, you must allow room for honesty, disappointment and, at times, conflict.
I had to give myself credit for what had been accomplished as I went and, at times, walk away on a day when the whole essay didn’t come together. If I was prodding at a topic that wasn’t moving after an hour of trying to make it work, I walked away until something else came to me. If I had something that was churning into a complete idea and just not enough hours to make it happen, I finished it later. If I was driving down the road in an SUV with half-a-dozen women on a road-running relay race (true story), I allowed myself to look out the window and take notes and not freak out about publishing that day.
I managed to maintain a little bit of that romantic spark with my goal when I adjusted mid-stride versus plying myself with guilt. I remained inspired with what might be versus turning the entire goal into an enemy to fight.
I looked through what I had written at the end of the month. I fell in love with the good parts as I read (in some cases just a sentence here and there), and appreciated all that had been made possible by setting a concrete goal for an essay per day for the writing streak. I wrote for 30 days in the month. I didn’t publish 30 essays for the month, but I produced far more than if I had never launched the streak at all.
This essay marks my 27th for the year, which means I am halfway toward my goal of 52 that I jotted down in January. April gave me a little push that I needed, even when it was delivered with a lack of sleep.