Every day, I show up.
I take out my writing pad or open Microsoft Word. I get some background music going on YouTube. Usually, it’s something instrumental, or an anime soundtrack. Then I go to Tomato Timer and begin my my first “pomodoro”. I spend the next 25 minutes concentrating on the task at hand.
What would it be: Ideation, planning, writing, or editing? As long as I’m working on my craft in one way or another each day, I’m good.
Sometimes, I have a clear idea of what I want to write about from the start.
Other times, all I have is a wisp of inspiration that needs to be nurtured into something concrete and workable. Or I have nothing to write about.
Then I use my pomodoro to brainstorm five to ten different ideas. I look to past experiences, things that inspire me, or events happening around me. Gotta stay curious and open-minded! I pick one or two ideas that I am most confident of, then use another pomodoro to come up with rough outlines and determine how “writable” it is.
I’m not one of those writers who can take an idea, crystalise it into words, and crank out an article right away. I need to plan.
At the very least, I need to nail down the focus of my story. When I am clear about The Point I want to make, I am less likely to go off-tangent or encounter writer’s block.
Then I come up with an outline and flesh it out. I use the classic and versatile narrative structure a lot. That is: characters, conflict, and how the characters resolve the conflict. Sometimes, I experiment with non-linear storytelling approaches. Birthday, one of my favourite blog posts, is an example (I need to do this more often!).
I only proceed to write about something when I am confident that I have enough to say about it. Not just knowledge about the facts and data. It needs to be something that I can write about from the heart too. When I can imbue some heart into my writing, it comes alive better.
Sometimes I struggle with this a lot!
The words don’t capture the ideas I want to express well enough. Or they come out too long-winded and unwieldy. At times I find myself stuck, even though I was sure that I had everything planned out already.
Then, all too soon, my pomodoro is over and I’ve written much less than I aimed for. I set myself another pomodoro, but the results are not much better. I despair and beat myself up for being so slow. So inefficient. How I can have the temerity to call myself a writer when I write like that?! I remember the times former colleagues and bosses said mean things about my writing. I’m not sure if I am a fraud. I’m not sure if I am being too harsh on myself.
In the end, I take a good break. I return to my work and tell myself, “Just get the damn words out. Stop worrying about whether it sounds perfect or not, fix all the mistakes later.”
I pound away on the keyboard for 25 minutes. The buzzer rings to signal the end of one pomodoro. But I don’t stop. I continue writing away furiously. Get the damn words out, get the damn words out, just get the damn words out!
I am in the state of “flow”, and it’s one of the best feelings ever.
I like editing. That’s where the unwieldy first draft metamorphosises into something polished.
Still, it can be challenging.
When I edit, I aim to be as succinct as I can. I want to get better at saying more with less. Kind of like how Hemingway’s “For sale: baby shoes, never worn” packs a wallop in six simple words.
So I plonk the draft into the Hemingway App and challenge myself, “OK, cut this down by a third. Also bring the reading grade level down by two notches.” I try my best. Be as strict on my writing as I can.
I edit until I’m about 70% — 80% satisfied. Why not 100%? Because achieving 100% satisfaction with the final outcome is impossible. As with a lot of things in life. There’s always some little thing that I could have done better.
I can’t let myself get bogged down by the pursuit of perfection. Or else my work will never get published. The point is not to create some magnum opus; the point is to publish decent work on a consistent basis.
So I search engine optimise the post, add the pictures and picture credits, then hit publish.
What shall I work on next?
“The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.” ~ Steven Pressfield
Some days, I feel great about what I write. I get compliments from friends and colleagues, even strangers.
More often than not, I feel scared and doubtful. I can’t coax the right words out, even after a good break. I have not completely overcome the habit of trying to edit as I write. There’s this post I published recently that I am still not satisfied with and I don’t know if I should go back to fix it. I’m still haunted by harsh words from critics and detractors.
But I show up anyway.
If I want to turn pro, I have to work on my craft every day. At least one pomodoro’s worth of work. I can’t let The Resistance scare me.
I want to be ready on those occasions when The Muse shows up with inspiration. So that I can harness that inspiration, and make magic of it.
You know what?
True art that I am proud of does slip through the cracks of daily discipline.
Not always. But enough times to make me believe that I do have what it takes after all.