I’m definitely rebelling. 8:09 pm and I’m just sitting down to journal now. I think this is actually a healthy sign in that what I’m craving is a purpose for when I sit down to write. The time for Abandon is passing. I’m craving structure and reasons for doing the writing. I believe this is a development. I’ve gotten over my fear to start writing again. Additionally, the practice of free writing is now a tool in my arsenal. This means that I can follow the more purpose-driven path for as long as it is fruitful and when it passes, I can move back into a free writing mode. I never again need to go through periods of no writing at all. The enemy. it turns out, is not bad writing, the enemy is no writing.
One of my favorite quotes on writing comes from Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life:
A work in progress quickly becomes feral. It reverts to a wild state overnight. It is barely domesticated, a mustang on which you one day fastened a halter, but which now you cannot catch. It is a lion you cage in your study. As the work grows, it gets harder to control; it is a lion growing in strength. You must visit it every day and reassert your mastery over it. If you skip a day, you are, quite rightly, afraid to open the door to its room. You enter its room with bravura, holding a chair at the thing and shouting, “Simba!”
I also need to remember that this journaling was never intended to primarily be about the writing craft itself. Rather it was more about all the other things that sprout from the daily practice. I’m wondering now roughly how many words the three prescribed pages in morning pages actually are. Maybe Julia Cameron had it right in setting that as the bare minimum. I think after next Friday I will aim for that three page threshold instead of an hour and see how it works.
Also, how the hell did I forget all the lessons I learned about blocking the same time every day? The practice became automatic when I was doing it at the exact time every day. I didn’t have to put any thought into it. For the past few days, that’s what my struggle has been over, not if I will do it but when. If I remove that from the equation again, I believe I will fall back into the phase where this whole thing was easy. It’s just like what I wrote a few days ago, “…I simply need to create systems of automation that actively remove my volition.”
On another note, before sitting down to write this I did something that I haven’t done in a very long time, I played my acoustic guitar and sang along. I wasn’t playing or singing anything in particular but just trying to separate the neural pathways for singing and for playing. It’s something that I’ve struggled with for decades but was unwilling to put in the extremely frustrating effort to work out. I think I made a breakthrough tonight. I small one, but it happened because I was determined to do nothing by that one thing. This is what people like Anders Ericsson, Cal Newport, Thomas M. Sterner call “deliberate practice.”
What’s funny about deliberate practice is that every time I hear or think that phrase I picture a guitar player trying to learn a tricky new lick. He’s doing the same lick over and over, starting slow and getting a little faster every time. He continues to push himself to do it a little more rapidly than he can competently do it. Eventually, he masters it.
The reason this is funny to me is that I’m not making it up. It’s something I think I’ve seen, though I’m pretty sure I’ve never watched a video or documentary specifically on deliberate practice. This means that it’s an anecdote from one of the many books I’ve read that have covered the topic. That image is so strong that 1) I feel like I’ve actually seen it & 2) I think of it every time the topic comes to mind. That’s powerful! If only I could remember what author to credit with it!
I’m confronted here with the strange way my that brain works, or more specifically, with the strange way that my brain works on journaling. Several paragraphs ago when I switched to talking about playing my guitar I thought I was moving on to a completely separate topic than my journaling progress, yet here I am talking about deliberate practice. Without knowing it at the time, deliberate practice is exactly what I was getting at when I was trying to explain the type of writing that I’m now craving.
For 57 days I have been free writing for an hour every day. This is the equivalent of picking up my guitar for 30 years wishing I could sing and play at the same time. Until I made a deliberate choice to practice that one thing, I remained stuck. For nearly two months, I’ve been journaling aimlessly, which has given me the ability to turn off the internal censor, but now I’m ready to practice with deliberate purpose. I’m ready to employ my skill strategically.
I don’t know what that looks like but I think the use of the Daily Self Inventory is a good place to start. I’m also drawn to the idea of reading my old journals to surface questions out of them. I would then use those questions as writing prompts. There are things to be said, but telling myself that I don’t know what they are, is the same thing as saying that I can’t sing and play. It’s not true. I just need to exert effort. (I’m also feeling a strong pull toward my novel right now.)
Side note: moving my journals from paper to Roam Research has been great for context. If I thought of a related quote when I was journaling on paper I would either have to stop journaling, walk away, and look up that quote if I wanted to use it, or I’d have to say screw it. I always opted for screwing it. The momentum of a journal is more important than pulling up a quote. But, with Roam I can just type (( and it will pull up block search, the I can type in the few words from the quote that I remember, and BAM there it is right in line. No loss of momentum. This exactly what I did with the Annie Dillard quote above. The word I remembered was “Simba!”
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