“Read more than you write. Live more than you read.”
It’s scary how time flies. Most of the time, I don’t feel like three years has passed since I first started writing consistently every single week. Nevertheless, this craft has been kind to me, and I couldn’t ask for a better coping mechanism.
Along the way, I’ve learned hard-earned lessons on how to keep this craft as an ingrained habit. Some were gained by trial and error, and some through advice from writers I’ve looked up to.
1. Make the time. Of course, I have the same set of 24 hours in a day, and I have my own commitments outside this blog. I’m working a job. And at the same time, I’m a postgrad and I’m almost always working on my thesis. I also have regular appointments with the therapist. And I have workout schedules that I can’t miss.
My point isn’t to out-busy anybody — you surely have your own commitments as well. But if something is important enough to you, you’ll make the time somehow. Think of it this way: you don’t “find” the time to eat — no matter how busy you are, you’d use whatever window of time you have, because that’s what you need to do.
2. Make your downtime. Whenever we feel so busy, and we’re threatened by looming deadlines, it’s easy to forget or even feel guilty about having some downtime — that is, a block of time dedicated to take your mind off work and just about everything else. But I’ve found that prioritizing downtimes isn’t a luxury, but a necessity. Because it’s in these small moments of nothingness that I often get my best ideas.
I’m generally committed to not extending my work into the evening, say 6 p.m — because that’s the time for me to get some exercise, or attend to my hobbies, like playing music or video games. Set aside some time every day — even if just a half hour for you to clear your thoughts — you’d be surprised by how ideas can suddenly gel together when you give your mind the space it needs.
3. Read more than you write. If you don’t read, you won’t have anything worth writing about. There’s just no other way around it. To give you an analogy, writing is your gun. Research is your ammunition. Without the latter, the former becomes nearly pointless.
But the thing is, I don’t read deliberately for the sake of researching. I read a lot because I love to read. As a byproduct of that, I’m able to connect the dots across the many different things I read about — and pull article ideas like this out of my ass. Writing on this blog is just a way for me to share these connections in forms that you might find useful and immediately practical.
4. Live more than you read. A line in the explorer Ranulph Fiennes’ biography of Ernest Shackleton is forever-etched in my mind, in which Fiennes wrote: “To write about Hell, it helps if you’ve been there.” This brings me to my point, that as essential as reading is to your writing, it’s merely a supplement to your own life experiences.
Knowledge is out there to deepen your understanding of the world. In turn, to write is to create something out of that understanding, out of the connections that you uniquely make, and your making sense of your own experiences — rather than merely echoing what other people have said. Kurt Vonnegut had his way of saying putting it: “Literature should not disappear up its own asshole.” Remember, your experiences are unique to yourself, and can never be replicated. Let there be more of you behind your writing.
5. Treat it as a work in progress. If you’re a long-time reader of my work, you might have noticed that I sometimes write about similar topics, and even use the same anecdotes and stories, albeit with added content and refinements. That’s because I treat my articles here as prototypes. I might write about something today, and write about it again months or years later, when I have a better understanding of it.
I personally find that this is the best way to approach my work. Rather than treating my articles as one-off things that I never think about again, I treat them as growing and living projects. It’s refreshing to observe your own progress, particularly how your thinking has changed or matured throughout your writing. And of course, you can use these writings for more major projects whenever you’re ready.
6. Acknowledge that you’re going to have ups and downs. It’s an inevitable part of doing anything consistently that you’re going to have your share of good and bad days. Normally, writing can feel like play. But other times, just coming up with a few sentences can be the hardest thing.
Life may get in the way. I might be swamped with work, or I wouldn’t feel like writing for whatever reason — maybe I’d be going through a depression, or I just don’t have ideas that are exciting enough. But during these times, I’d remind myself that I can just work with whatever I have at the moment. That takes the pressure off by a whole lot — and this pretty much ties back to treating my articles as prototypes. Nothing has to perfect. It only has to be as good as it can be right now.
Whoa. That’s a long time to stick to a habit, so kudos for you for sticking to it this long. And you have an amazing working space there. Thanks for sharing and here’s to many more years to come!
Thanks so much, Stuart! I could say the same for your blog as well, haha. It’s nothing short of inspirational 🙂