In December, I challenged myself to better my mornings and, perhaps, my whole day. Instead of opening my laptop and starting the mindless scroll of social media over coffee every morning, I wondered if starting the day with quiet writing and reading time would feel restorative and centering. The short answer: yes. YES.
This month, it’s been instructive to consider the differences between that daily writing challenge and the Slice daily blogging challenge. I end up writing about many of the same topics, sitting in the same place, using the same materials. But I feel like daily blogging pushes me to grow as a writer in ways that daily writing in the notebook simply doesn’t.
It keeps me in my chair with the notebook open. For my daily notebook challenge, I set a minimum goal of five minutes of writing, figuring I would usually be engaged in a piece and want to keep writing for much longer. But it turns out that it’s easy to meet low expectations and rise no further. I rarely got so engaged in a piece that I stopped clock-watching. And even when I was engaged with an idea, it was easy to set it aside when the five minutes were up, knowing I could return to it and write a few more lines tomorrow. With a daily blogging challenge, I know I’m there for the long haul–until the piece is finished and ready to post.
It yields better ideas. I’m sure this is because there is an audience and I’m conscious of trying to write something that will be worth the time my readers spend visiting my blog. I’m not going to waste other people’s time on my daily to-do lists or on many of the things I will spend time writing about in my notebooks—negative thinking, ennui, crankiness. Maybe there’s something therapeutic in working through some of that in a notebook, but maybe I’m wasting my own time as well. I always say that daily writing is what leads us to that feeling of being present and attentive, looking for and finding stuff to write about in our daily routines and lives. But now I wonder if it’s actually the pressure of a daily publishing challenge that turns the material of our lives into something golden to write about.
It pushes me to go deeper and grapple with an idea. I just knew that my daily writing challenge would uncover so many interesting pieces to work through and write on. But here again, low expectations didn’t give me much room to grow. At the end of five minutes, I was rarely writing anything with much depth or interest. No wonder it was so easy to close the notebook and move on! With a daily blogging challenge, I need a “so what?” I need to figure out why I’m truly interested in the thing I’m writing about and why someone else might be interested too. When I have to publish daily, I stick with a piece long enough to discover something new about what I think.
I pay more attention to craft. When I reread my notebook from my daily writing challenge, there’s not a lot of voice or craft in evidence. It’s more like a diary than the kind of notebook work I meant to be practicing. There’s nothing wrong with keeping a diary or a journal, of course. But for me, journal writing rarely yields pieces I want to keep working on or pieces that show any kind of attention to craft. When I reread what I’ve written since March, every single piece is an attempt towards writing with voice and attention to craft. Lots of it doesn’t work, of course; lots of it is play towards something. But it’s clear that it’s the work of someone who is trying to improve as a writer.
My biggest takeaway? Without a clear purpose and audience, I struggle to write anything that really matters to me. I haven’t changed my belief that a daily writing practice is incredibly beneficial. But I realize that I do better thinking and writing when more of my work is going to be shared with an audience.
And now I’m wondering if any of these observations about myself and my writing has implications for my writing classroom. For example, I have noticed in my developmental writing course this semester, my students are all eager to share their writing every single day. And they are writing FAR better pieces on the fly than I typically see in any of my freshmen writing courses. They aren’t only writing for themselves. They are writing for how the words sound on the page and how they will sound read out loud. They dive right into thoughtful, intentionally crafted pieces. I had been thinking they were just a special group (and I’m sure they are!), but I wonder, too, if the quality of their writing has something to do with the fact that their daily writing happened to become a daily publishing challenge.