Let me tell you two things this isn't going to be about: getting published or getting rich.
I know almost nothing about how to do either. If you're reading this on paper, it's more likely you printed it from the web than that I have found a publisher. I write mostly for the enjoyment of putting my thoughts on paper. That's good because the sum total of my writing riches amounts to less than $500 over thirty years. I'm not here to guide anyone to the promised lands of fame and fortune. I don't ever expect to find my own way to those strange lands, but If I do, I’ll come back and tell you how. My guess is that it boils down to this: do the work.
But if I don’t know about publishing or becoming rich, what am I doing here? Is this just a waste of time?
I hope not.
It turns out there’s a third promised land named joy or contentment or maybe even enlightenment. I'm going to explain some methods to write your way into that place. The plan is simple, so if you're disinclined to read much more, I'll boil it down to five words: start writing and don't stop. In other words, do the work.
Sure, there are other things to think about. I've written about many of those and will share them, but it's really down to doing a lot of writing in a regular way and mostly for yourself.
I used to end every blog post with two words: write on. That's what you need to do. If you're good at writing, write on. If you're terrible at it, write on. If you are scared to reveal yourself, think you’re too boring, worry that you're not allowed to write, or think someone will be offended, write on. If you have any problem with writing or think you have no problems at all, write on and things will improve.
Learning to write won't happen in a day. Improvement won't come quickly. Or rather, you won't feel improved though writing even just once changes us. The process reminds me of NASA's Voyager probe swinging around Jupiter to pick up speed. Jupiter's tremendous mass spun the craft around and hurtled it faster into space. That’s impressive, but what floors me is how tiny Voyager slowed impossibly-large Jupiter. The largest planet in our solar system spins slower now that Jupiter affected it. The difference isn’t so much anyone could notice, but it’s there. Writing is like that. Every time we do it, Jupiter slows down just the tiniest fraction. Do it often enough and the difference becomes noticeable. Write enough pages and you fly out of the solar system.
Improvement doesn't come in a day or a week, but after a month of writing there's a difference the same way there would be if we did a hundred push-ups every day for a month. It feels different and we find that we can do things that seemed impossible or at least beyond our abilities.
If you wonder how many pages the change will require, who the hell knows? Stop thinking that way. Cut it out. Just write. This isn't something that quantifies well. Joy, contentment, and enlightenment are qualities that don’t chart on spreadsheets. Writing toward them is about qualitative change over time. Quantity will play a part in that progress. The more we write, the better we become at writing. For now, let’s just start writing.
Some practical advice: Get pen or pencil and begin writing by hand. There are really fine writing tools out there, but most anything will do. There’s no need to worry about penmanship. Don’t buy anything special. That can wait. Use what you have. Write on whatever will work for ten minutes at a time. Find an old notebook with blank pages. Write on the backs of used copy paper. If you have a pretty new notebook just for writing, spill coffee or tea on it so you won’t feel bound to write pretty things. And if writing by hand is a problem, use a laptop. There are good reasons to write by hand, especially at this stage, but do whatever works, whatever gets you started.
Begin by writing only for you. No one else should see it. Save what you write, but don't share it. The fossil record may intrigue you down the line and the habit of saving writing can be useful, but showing your writing to others can and should wait. Write for you. Don’t even consider anyone else.
Ready? Got paper and pen or pencil? Good.
Go somewhere you won’t be disturbed, put on headphones, or send the family out for ice cream. Shut the phone off. Put it in the microwave. Have your family take it with them. Now set a timer for ten minutes, start writing, and, no matter what happens, don’t stop until it goes off.
Start writing and don't stop. Do the work. Write on.