It took a global pandemic for me to see what I really needed in order to be a writer.
Don’t get me wrong. I have the education. I have the network. I had the correct day jobs to be the writer I wanted to be.
I did the speaking gigs. I did the social media. I grew my author platform.
But at the end of the day, it wasn’t right.
In December of 2019, I quit my day job teaching Business Communications at the biggest research institution in my state. I wanted to go out on my own and do some freelancing. I wanted to finally build up my business. I wanted to help other writers build their online platforms.
But a global pandemic hit, and I found myself without all my clients just three months into this (mis)adventure.
But for whatever reason, I wasn’t deterred. In fact, I was elated.
Without freelance clients, I didn’t have to write for others. I could finally focus on what I wanted to create. I could use all my time and energy for writing the things I cared about.
So, in April of 2020, I wound up writing over 100,000 words in the course of a month. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, and it was a process that was greatly improved by my personal writing speed.
(Grad school and ghostwriting and freelance work had really made me a beast on the keyboard.)
And even though those words I wrote won’t all see the light of day, many of them will. And without that experience, I don’t know if I would be the writer I am today.
Here’s the thing about writing
Even if you have a master’s degree in it, you need to keep practicing.
Every story, ever article, every blog post — they’re all different. Each of them means different things to me. And each of them poses its own unique challenges. Each of them requires different amounts of energy. Each of them, to a small extent, feels like I’m teaching myself to write all over again.
But back in April, I learned something about myself as a writer that I wasn’t exactly expecting.
I learned that I needed the quantity of words to get to the quality of work.
And I think this is something that all writers need.
Quantity leads to quality
It can be easy to sit down and write about 50 words a day. In fact, I’ve heard tell of many writers who approach their work that way.
That’s not my style.
Fifty words isn’t enough to build up a writing rhythm. It’s not enough to make me feel like I’m even trying to write.
Fifty words is a shopping list or a quick text message.
I need to sit down for at least 20 minutes. I need to let my fingers flash across the keys. I need to get that adrenaline buzz that I used to get when I procrastinated on writing a paper in college so I could get that burst of energy and inspiration.
And I needed to keep going.
I’ve found that setting a timer does wonders for me. If I focus on nothing but writing until that timer goes off, I get so much done. After 25 minutes, I stop. Then, in the course of that time, I usually have between 1,500 and 2,000 words.
Then, I take a five-minute break and start it all over again.
Not all of the words I write are great. But some of them are serviceable. Some of them will be used later.
Some will be trashed.
But I need that quantity of words to get to the quality at the meat of the story. I can’t be precious and exacting with my words. That’s for editing, not writing.
And this brings me to my next point.
No one can rely on inspiration or motivation
If I learned anything in 2020 it’s that regardless of how utterly uninspired I was, I was still going to have to earn some cash to keep a roof over my head.
And since I’m a writer, writing was the way I was going to do it.
So I found myself in the middle of a global pandemic trying to push myself to write. Inspiration wasn’t there. Motivation didn’t show.
All I had was the habit.
I sat at my desk, clicked a few buttons on my digital egg timer, and went to work.
After I did four sprints for the day, I was done writing.
I got my words in every single day, even though inspiration and motivation couldn’t make it.
I had words on the page because I had built a solid habit that allowed me to bash out a large quantity of words.
Strong habits lead to greater output
I know it’s the big sexy thing to write about habits. I know that everyone is doing it, and so many people have built careers and digital products on the idea of building good habits to live the life you want.
I won’t join that fray. I don’t really have anything to add other than habits do work.
Without this daily writing habit, I wouldn’t have a short story collection coming out in a few months. And what’s more — I wouldn’t have been able to build a routine.
I did my 2 hours of writing sprints every weekday for a whole month, but only on the weekdays. This helped me delineate the weekdays from the weekends, and it gave me a sense of normalcy at the outset of the pandemic when everything else felt like it was falling apart.
Without that, I know that I wouldn’t have been able to be productive, much less capable of writing.
Focusing on the process leads to a product
And in the end, I realized that I needed to stop worrying about the quality of words when I was in the act of writing. I needed to stop thinking about all the ways things could go wrong. I needed to stop worrying about what people would think of me as a writer.
I just needed to get the words out on the page, and I needed to make sure I was continually moving.
With my fingers on the keys, I could keep pushing myself to write more and more and more.
And like I said, not everything I put on paper was good. A lot of it was trash.
But some of it was serviceable. And some of it made me realize the kind of writer I was and what I needed to keep doing in order to build the kind of writing career I wanted.
And the best part of all of this?
This little revelation is insanely duplicable. Like, all you have to do is grab a timer and do some writing sprints.
I know that writing through a pandemic and political upheaval is a huge privilege, and as such, I don’t take it for granted at all. I know that I needed to do that in order to be happy and healthy and live the life I wanted to live.
I also know that I was meant to be a writer. And by creating a daily writing habit, I’ve been able to keep my purpose at the forefront of all I do.