Shortly after I published my last essay, I decided to take an intensive writing course. In today’s post, I’ll tell you why I opted to enroll in this class, as well as share some of what I’ve learned thus far. Even if you’re not a writer, I hope that my insights will help you in whatever creative – or other – pursuits are important to you.
On Writing, Stagnation, and Being a Real Writer
The writing class is called “How to Write Better” and it’s taught by Joshua Fields Milburn, one half of the blogger duo, The Minimalists. I’ve followed his blog and podcast for a number of years and have considered taking his writing class on numerous occasions. I’m not entirely sure why I haven’t taken the leap before, but it probably had to do with both the cost and the projected intensity of the course. I knew it would be a lot of work, and I don’t think I was ready for it previously.
Perhaps I also wasn’t fully ready to claim myself as a writer. Sure, I’ve been blogging for over ten years now (I started in 2010 with my first blog, The Healing Project) and I’ve published two books, but I haven’t always felt like a real writer. After all, pretty much anyone can be a blogger and self-publish books on Amazon like I’ve done. Deep in my heart, I know that I’ve made a positive impact with my words, but I’ve also tended to sell myself short.
In recent years, I’ve started to feel stagnant with my writing. I’ve been writing less often and publishing fewer blog posts as the years have gone on. I published both of my books in 2014 and haven’t taken on a new book project since that time. I’m often unsure what I want to write about, and even when I finally center on a topic, the words don’t flow at nearly the pace they used to during my blogging heyday of 2013 to 2016.
At times, I’ve considered giving up blogging completely, but something within me has always compelled me to push forward. There’s a “still small voice” within me that’s whispering that I am indeed a writer and I do indeed have powerful insights to share that can make a difference in the lives of others.
The Writing Course
Enter “How to Write Better” … Just as I was planning to shift direction with my blog to try to reinvigorate my love of writing once again, I received an email from Joshua Fields Milburn that he would be teaching the final session of the initial incarnation of his writing class. He mentioned that he was revising the course and that participants in the last offering of the original class would be invited to participate in the new course when it was available – free of charge! That was the nudge that I needed to click “Enroll Now.”
So here I am today, about a third of the way through the four-week course (which often takes students more like six to eight weeks to complete). I’ve had a few “aha moments” that I want to share with you. First and foremost, writers actually write! Now that might seem self-evident, but there are plenty of “aspiring writers” out there who rarely or never actually put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. They want to write, or they intend to write, but they don’t actually do it! Although I used to be quite prolific with my writing, I had recently become one of those people. I didn’t feel like a writer because I so rarely actually did it!
I Lost that Loving Feeling…
Last year, I only published twenty blog posts. I fared slightly better in the previous two years, at twenty-two and thirty-three posts, respectively (after taking most of 2017 off from blogging). I typically work on my blog posts for two or three days before hitting “publish,” which meant that I only wrote on forty to sixty days out of 2020: approximately 11-16% of the days of the year. Back in the heyday of Recovering Shopaholic, I published two or three posts per week and wrote far more often, so no wonder I felt more like a writer back then.
Somewhere along the line, I lost “that loving feeling” with writing and I want to get it back! I also want to regain my confidence as a writer and edge back into the ease and flow of churning out words. It used to be so easy for me to write an essay, but lately it’s felt more like “pulling teeth”! But writing is much like exercise: if you don’t use it, you lose it. When one doesn’t work out, their muscles start to atrophy. Well, my “writing muscle” has definitely atrophied from lack of use.
Sitting in the Chair
One big commitment that students of “How to Write Better” must make it is to spend at least one hour per day writing during the thirty days of the course. Joshua said that the best advice he ever received about writing consisted of four simple words: “Sit in the chair.” So that’s what his students are directed to do each and every day, weekends included: sit in the chair and write for at least an hour.
Today is Day Eleven of my commitment and I’m feeling much more “in the groove.” It’s still difficult for me to get going with the writing and I still procrastinate to even sit in the chair, but I’m doing it. And I’m already feeling more like a writer again. It’s amazing what actually doing something can do for our feelings about that activity – and ourselves!
Another aspect of the class involves having an accountability partner to whom we report each day regarding our writing commitment. I have not just one, but two accountability partners! Neither of them is in my class, though (that’s not a requirement), and neither of them is doing writing. My first accountability partner is my friend, who’s an artist struggling to claim herself as such and to do art regularly (just like me with my writing). She has committed to “sit in the chair” and do art for at least an hour each day. My second accountability partner is my husband, who surprisingly got on board after I asked him which “sit in the chair” activity he would do each day if he had to select one. He has opted to spend at least an hour a day learning to play the electronic keyboard that has long been gathering dust in our garage.
So far, all three of us are feeling reinvigorated in our various creative pursuits, even after this short period. My friend has sent me photos of her gorgeous artwork and she’s also sharing them on her Instagram page. My husband is so excited about diving back into music that he’s considering purchasing an updated keyboard (his is over twenty years old!) at the end of our thirty-day commitment. And I’m even more excited to improve this blog, dive more into blogging, and potentially publish additional books. Just think about how much more positive and encouraged all of us will feel at the end of thirty days – and beyond!
Consistency Matters Most!
What I’m learning is that a little can go a long way. Of course, many writers spend far longer than an hour a day constructing their prose, and I’ll likely have days when I sit in the chair for longer times, too (I often do when I write my blog posts). But it’s the consistency that matters most. My class instructor Joshua Fields Milburn writes every single day (usually for three hours, first thing in the morning). Many other writers and authors also have daily writing practices, including Stephen King, who writes six pages and over 1000 words each day (which has helped him to publish more than fifty novels!). I may get there eventually, too, but an hour a day is a great start and I’m so glad that I’ve been able to push past my inertia to make that happen.
I know that in the coming weeks, my writing class will delve more into specific techniques to help me write better, but if I’m not actually writing, none of those will matter. I think it’s wise that the course starts out with teaching us to establish a consistent writing practice. The foundation for excellence at anything is good habits – and “sit in the chair” is a simple but powerful foundational habit to be a good writer, artist, musician, or whatever one wishes to excel at.
It’s not always going to be easy, and we’re not always going to want to do it. Sometimes there will be literally dozens of things we’d rather do than sit in the chair, but if we have the discipline to honor our commitments to ourselves and our creativity, we’ll be glad that we did. I haven’t gotten to the point of writing at a specific time of day yet, although I do think that would be advantageous. I see the beauty of writing first thing in the morning like Joshua Fields Milburn does – and I may shift to that schedule later. But the important thing for me now is just to write for at least an hour a day, regardless of what time I do it. The fewer rules and impediments I have for making that happen, the better at this point.
Because I’m writing more often, you’ll see more posts from me here. Hopefully, both the output and the quality of my writing will improve over the coming weeks and months. I hope you found this glimpse into what I’m doing now both interesting and informative, and perhaps it will inspire you to “sit in the chair” and spend time doing what’s most important to you, whether it be writing, art, music, exercise, learning a new language, or whatever else you’re excited to take on. Wishing you all the best in your creative and passionate life endeavors!