30 Days of Blogging in November

Those of you who follow my blog regularly probably have noticed that I’ve been posting frequently, once a day every day this month to be exact, with 12 more days to go. I don’t know what my longest daily streak was prior to this month, but I’m pretty sure that in the 17 (!) years I’ve been blogging, I never posted more than two or three days in a row.

I decided to give it a go last month while I was doing 31 days of watercolors as part of Inktober. It was my third daily project, including my 365 days of photography in 2015 and my one second of video a day last year. All three of those undertakings were about playing with visual storytelling using modes of expression that felt new to me.

I never really considered doing a daily writing project before this month. I’m more or less comfortable with my ability to express myself through writing, and I haven’t cared enough about getting better to practice more intentionally. I’m also reasonably comfortable with my ability to think out loud through this and other blogs, as the more than 800 posts on this site indicates.

However, muscles atrophy with disuse, regardless of how developed they once were. For whatever reason, I’ve found writing hard to do the past few years, and this year has been the hardest. I’ve also been disinclined to think out loud, even though I’ve had a lot I’ve wanted to say and share, both personally and professionally.

I have loved the impact that my previous daily projects have had, and for the first time, I wanted something similar for my writing and blogging. Eighteen days in, it’s definitely having the desired effect and even a few bonuses. However, it’s also been a very different experience from my other projects.

It hasn’t been stressful. I’m not worried what anyone thinks, and I’m not trying to prove to myself or anyone else that I know how to write. On days when I have a lot to say, I say it. On days when I don’t, I find something simple and short to share. Because I don’t have any ulterior motive other than to do it, I don’t spend any more time writing than I want to on any given day. If I want to say something skillfully, but can’t find the words, I don’t bother saying it.

It hasn’t been joyful, either. I haven’t felt any great satisfaction about anything I’ve written, although there are few things I’m glad to have captured. And I haven’t had any major epiphanies through the writing process.

What it’s been doing is helping unlock whatever has been inside of me. I’ve been precious about sharing what I’ve been thinking, not wanting to say them unless I can say them well and feeling paralyzed as a result. I’ve also found it overwhelming at times to try to blog. I guess things are crazy in the world right now, and it’s not only affecting my mental health, it’s hard for me to make sense of it all.

Blogging as a practice has reminded me not to be too precious. The less I try to say, the less overwhelming I feel. The more frequently I share, the less I have to worry about saying it all in one piece, which makes it much easier to write. Plus, even though I don’t think I’ve shown it yet, I’m starting to remember what it feels like to write well. I’m rounding into shape again, which always feels good.

Last week, I published a piece on the Faster Than 20 blog for the first time in months. It wasn’t a coincidence. I recently felt motivated to revisit a piece I first started writing four years ago, gave up, and tried again two years ago, only to give up once again. Maybe I’ll finish it this time. Time will tell.

The biggest surprise has been that sharing regularly has helped me re-engage with my broader community. I didn’t think anyone really followed this blog anymore, and because I’m rarely on social media anymore, the algorithms seem to have decided I’m not worthy of most people’s feeds. Still, some people are paying attention to what I’m saying, and getting to hear from them has been a treat and is also motivating me to write more.

Daily practice is an amazing thing. So simple, so obvious, so useful.

Thinking Out Loud (and Iteratively) Is Hard

On January 2, I wrote:

Last year, I only wrote five posts on this blog, my fewest ever. It wasn’t for lack of material, and it wasn’t even because I didn’t have enough time. I did lots of journaling and drawing, I just did most of it in private.

I want to re-adjust…. I want to think out loud a lot more, especially about my work, while also still sharing the occasional personal tidbits.

Today is February 14. This is my seventh blog post of the year, which means that after 45 days, I have already published more than I did all of last year. I’m doing great! (I’m not just saying this. I truly feel this way.)

And, I’m struggling.

On the personal side (i.e. this blog), I have a bunch of half-written posts and notes. As far as I’m concerned, many of them are almost good enough to share, but that last bit of effort is still work, and I just haven’t been able to get there. I either need to make a tiny bit more space, or I need to re-frame my standards.

I’m really struggling on the professional side. I have some drafts that I’ve been working on for many months (in one case, for multiple years). I also have some posts that are almost ready to go. I co-wrote one of them with another person, which helped a lot. But I’m also trying to shave too many yaks, which is creating a bottleneck. I managed to force myself to publish something last week, which was not only relatively painless, but also got a nice response. However, I find myself stuck again.

I don’t want to overthink this. I’m doing great right now, and I’m probably not too far from getting over the hump. (Writing this is helping me.) But I’m realizing (to my surprise) that I’m suffering from a bit of performance anxiety. It’s all mindset. I wouldn’t say my audience today is much bigger than it was, say, 10 years ago. In fact, you could make a pretty good, data-driven case that it’s smaller. It’s less about size, more about self-perception, I think — vanity if I’m being honest. Somehow, it all feels higher stakes to me.

This is all good. It will help me be more empathetic when I’m helping others work more transparently and iteratively. And it’s a good reminder that it’s all about practice. Once I get some more reps in, I’m sure it will all get easier again. Let’s see.

Emile Zola on Poetry and Craft, Nature vs Nurture

Viola Davis’s introduction of Meryl Streep for the Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award last Sunday was a highlight in its entirety, as was Streep’s powerful acceptance speech. But one thing that stood out in particular for me was Davis quoting Émile Zola:

If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, I will answer you: I am here to live out loud!

Because I am anal, I double check quotes I like before I save them, and the best source for citations is often Wikiquote. While scanning Zola’s Wikiquote page and affirming that he did indeed say the above, I also ran across this quote that I love in a letter to Paul Cézanne in 1860:

There are two men inside the artist, the poet and the craftsman. One is born a poet. One becomes a craftsman.

To Practice Any Art Is a Way to Make Your Soul Grow

From Kurt Vonnegut’s September 22, 2003 speech at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (via Richa Agarwal):

I realize that some of you may have come in hopes of hearing tips on how to become a professional writer. I say to you, “If you really want to hurt your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be a homosexual, the least you can do is go into the arts. But do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites, standing for absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”

But actually, to practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it. Dance on your way out of here. Sing on your way out of here. Write a love poem when you get home. Draw a picture of your bed or roommate.

Learners and Teachers

In his Foreword to Lewis Hyde’s Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art, Michael Chabon writes:

It is the way of confidence men and tricksters to sell you what you already own; but a great writer, in so doing, always finds a way to enrich you by the game.

The same applies to great teachers, too. Pondering this as I think fondly and appreciatively about one of my great teachers.

Thanks to Neil Kandalgaonkar for recommending this book.