There is no right or wrong way to create

Last month I had to give a short talk at work about how I stay inspired to create.  I used the opportunity to talk about my 100 Days of Pantone project; the presentation date happened to fall on Day 100, so it was natural fodder for a case study on my own creativity. During the Q&A, someone asked whether I regularly kept a journal prior to this stint of daily writing.

I felt my cheeks flush with shame as I deflected with a cheery “hmm, not really!”. I call this–my lack of journaling diligence–my “bad writer” trait.

When you read about writers’ daily rituals, almost all of them include meticulous journaling. Start every morning writing a few pages, they often advise from personal experience. Carry a notebook with you everywhere; jot down your feelings and observations in the world.

This is not bad advice. Writing, like any skill, requires practice and commitment to develop. I know this on a conscious level, but until recently I subconsciously expected that someday the perfect words would come to me without having to muddle through them.

Poet Megan Falley recently shared that “one of my frustrations with my profession is that it seems to be one of the few arts, or activities really, where people expect to be naturally good immediately. People don’t talk about how much writing requires practice, just like playing the piano or a sport. And to think that you should be effortlessly wonderful without practice? Do you expect to run a marathon before you run a mile? That’s ridiculous. Think of learning to write just like learning to play the violin. This is your opportunity to begin your practice of writing.”

The word “your” there is important to me. It’s not “a” writing practice, or “the” writing practice, which both tacitly imply the existence of a perfect way to show up for your literary muse. It’s your practice, which is however you choose to create.

I have been embarrassed in the past of my shelf full of notebooks that represent a collection of fits and starts rather than anything cohesive. In fact, any single cluster of consecutive dates maxes out at about 4 entries before a multi-month gap. Rinse and repeat, and repeat, and repeat.

But through trial and error, I’ve started to both fall into and consciously create my writing practice.

Currently it’s made up of a few elements:

  • Regular writing sprints, whether solo or with external accountability via Zoom from my local Shut Up and Write!
  • Structured short-term projects that require daily writing, like the 100 Day Project and Camp NaNoWriMo
  • Engagement with communities that encourage writing both implicitly and explicitly; for me, my small Instagram poetry community is always there for motivation through user-generated prompts and glowing feedback

So far, this trifecta has inspired me to regularly show up for my writing. As a result, it’s also helped to turn down the volume on my inner shame spiral re: daily journaling. In turn, that has made space for me to forgive myself when projects don’t go as envisioned–like this newsletter, which I once dreamed would be weekly insights on what I learned while exploring the (now mostly closed) big wide world.

Commitment comes in many shades and shapes. Guilt about your method is unproductive.

That last phrase is probably the only real advice I have to offer.

James Baldwin once told the Paris Review, “Write. Find a way to keep alive and write. There is nothing else to say. If you are going to be a writer there is nothing I can say to stop you; if you’re not going to be a writer nothing I can say will help you. What you really need at the beginning is somebody to let you know that the effort is real.

And I think that’s why my current practice has been working. I’ve found others who I know will remind me that the effort is real–but it also has built-in milestones and structures that are for me and only me.

Chasing both internal and external muses is part of what “being a writer” means to me. As it turns out, daily journaling didn’t spark my internal muse to make it stick. The good news is that the other part of “being a writer” is enjoying when you end up meandering onto a more scenic, but less efficient path.

That’s the phase I’m in right now–solidifying my resolve just to show up, while letting go of the “shoulds” that put too many trail markers along a path to a specific finish line.

Maybe someday I’ll take up daily journaling. Maybe I never will. Or perhaps I’ll do it for awhile, and then taper off, and then pick it back up again.

It doesn’t matter, because there is no right or wrong way to create. We all need that reminder sometimes.


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