I missed my publishing schedule last week. While there were extenuating circumstances, the hard fact is that I just hadn’t sat down to write anything all week. Normally I have a few rough drafts to work from but I was fresh out.
My fall back in these situations is to review a book from my Kindle library; this time it was On Writing by Stephen King. I’ll save the review for that article, but as I was working away, trying to cobble something together to post, I read a line that stopped me dead:
Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.
I realized that was exactly what I was doing. I had come lightly to the blank page and was attempting to thoughtlessly jam something out in order to meet my deadline. I was trying to generate “Content”.
The Curse of Content
“Content” is a funny thing. It is what we show up for every day; on our phones, computers, televisions, books, and magazines. The desire is insatiable, as is the need to generate more, newer, and faster.
For a writer (or other creative type) this can be a great gift. There are no gatekeepers left. If you want to write, you write. And if you have a modicum of talent you will find an audience. If only one person in a million likes your stuff, and there is approximately seven billion people in the world, that means there are seven thousand people on earth just waiting to hear what you have to say.
The need for content means that you can get your material seen. Maybe not in the New Yorker to start, but a trade publication or website certainly. Guest blog posts, articles on Medium and LinkedIn, industry newsletters. It has never been easier to reach your target audience, and even get paid for it.
During a conversation with a friend who wants to be a writer; I tell him to “just write”. He says he needs a journalism degree first. I tell him “watch this”; start to write, and get paid by an online publication within the month. There are no barriers to entry.
The flip side of all this content being generated is all the content being generated. There is just so much. Some of it’s good, much of it’s bad, but when viewed as a whole it comes through as straight noise. The content machine keeps pumping it out to keep the eyes and ears of the world entertained, whether it is good, bad, or indifferent. The machine doesn’t care if it is good, just that it is out in front of you.
I won’t be part of that machine.
Bring the Gravitas
How must we then come to the page, if not lightly?
We must come with seriousness, dignity, and solemnity of manner. That is gravitas.
That isn’t to say that we can’t also come joyfully or happily. Writing should be enjoyable. It can certainly be frustrating, so we need to inject it with some fun if you intend to keep at it.
We need to approach the page thoughtfully. Just as you should think before you speak, we should think before we write. Perhaps there is only the glimmer of an idea or situation, but if brought honestly then sometimes that is all it takes.
To bring thoughtfulness it is important to show up every day. There is a physical training concept called “Greasing the Groove”. The idea is that you take an exercise you wish to improve, commonly chin ups, and you perform many small sets that are well within your capability throughout the day. Eventually, the volume of work put in grows greater than what you could perform during a single big session.
Writing is the same way. Coming to the desk every day, even for as little as 15 minutes (or 1% of your day!) will result in a massive body of work in time. It is the consistency that matters.
Stephen King shoots for 10 pages each day, which equals about 2,000 words. As he says;
That’s 180,000 words over a three-month span, a goodish length for a book—something in which the reader can get happily lost, if the tale is done well and stays fresh.
Accomplishing this is easy. You just need to show up every day, with intent.
Lightly No More
May 14th will remain empty as a reminder to never approach the page lightly again. I love writing and have pages of ideas to develop. All that is left is to sit down each day to do the work, with the door closed.
What kind of daily word count do you shoot for when writing? More importantly, how do you get back on track when you stumble?