When Alex Charchar told me on Twitter that this write every day thing would get difficult about this time, he wasn’t kidding. When he was writing his daily essays at Retinart, he expressed the struggle and frustration in his words, but for some reason, from the position of a reader, it appeared effortless. The daily posts appeared on time, the words were there, he made it look easy. But it wasn’t, and it isn’t. George Orwell likened writing to a bout of serious illness, and I’m beginning to see what he meant.
The problem isn’t the individual post, it’s the routine. You write, one, two, three, four posts, it goes well, but then you begin to feel the pressure. Your energy — that is, your ideas — get used up. You try to ignore this and not let it get to you knowing that you have always managed to produce new ideas before, but when you see how close the deadline is for the next post you feel a little afraid, a little self doubt creeps in. Like with any physical activity, you get tired and look for rest, only in this case to realize that it isn’t coming. There is no rest, no time to recuperate. Every day is a new deadline.
Then Resistance starts talking. Why did you start this thing? What good are you short posts anyway? Why not take some rest and spend some serious time researching a topic fully before you begin throwing out your half baked ideas to the world? It’s right of course, Resistance is always “right”, but its goal isn’t to help you but to pull you down, to put a stop to the routine and force you to procrastinate. Resistance doesn’t like discomfort, but discomfort is what’s needed here to raise your game. Ignore it and keep going.
There is an old Russian saying, that roughly translates to: “God gives to the early riser”. It isn’t enough to sit and wait for the Muse to drop ideas on your head, you’ve got to work for them. Your may have filled your writing quota for the day, but what about your reading? If you falter there, there will be no writing, no new ideas to learn about, to synthesize and to apply. The job of a writer, at least a non-fiction writer, is not merely to write, but to also read, and you have a lot more of the latter to do than the former.
In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield talks about the difference between an amateur and a pro. The amateur works whenever they feel like it, and so end up spending more of their time procrastinating without getting anything done. The pro shows up every day, they do the work every day. When I first read the book, I agreed with the message. I thought, sure, that makes sense. And yet for some reason I didn’t do the work, I didn’t sit down every day to do what I always wanted, I didn’t sit down to write. I accepted Pressfield’s premise, but I didn’t appreciate its weight. I didn’t appreciate just how important of an idea that was. Not until I tried doing it.
Writing every day is hard, but until you feel the pressure, until things get really hard, you remain the amateur. It’s not real work when you’re not pushing yourself, it’s still play. When things get real though, when you run out of ideas but still keep going — that’s work. As Pressfield wrote in Turning Pro: “Athletes play hurt. Warriors fight scared.” You’re not doing it for the fun of it like you did before, you’re doing it because you want to get better, to improve, to succeed. You’re doing the work you’ve always wanted to do, not as an amateur, but as a pro. And the difference is huge.
Sometimes the ideas come easy, other times they don’t. Sometimes you find that the words arrange themselves, other times you struggle to put together a single sentence. It doesn’t matter, what matters is that you’re doing the work as a routine. Expecting success at every step is foolish, but even more foolish is expecting success when you don’t take a single step. So just keep walking.
There is still a long way to go, and even though this exercise is making me tired and afraid, I’m glad for doing it. The difference between doing the work every single day and whenever you get around to it cannot be overstated. By the work I’m not talking about everyday work, I’m talking about art, I’m talking about that profession you’ve always aspired to be but never truly realized. By spending time on the craft every single day, you become what you’ve always wanted to be. It’s real. Yes, the work may be poor, and yes, not many people are reading it, but the important thing is that you’re doing it. And it can only get better — as long as you keep going.