In the process of keeping your writing journal, you are going to find out how you react to situations, time limitations, and interruptions, and not all of it’s going to be pretty.
I, for instance, learned that as much as I adore my friends and family, if I have to spend a full month hosting company, I will consider drowning myself in my fish tank and letting my tetras eat my face…unless I plan ahead, put in a bit of extra work on solitary days, and then pour myself into my visitors. Better for everyone.
I also learned that during my best weeks, I kept to a rhythm for writing, editing, and self-analysis during my deep work time: four days for writing, three days for editing that work, and one day for journaling about my progress, my goals, my hopes, my fears, and my voice.
Here are three major questions I asked myself that should help you to get started on your own self-analysis and self-discovery:
How do I handle stress?
We all encounter stresses in our lives—some of us more than others. We’re all going to have good days and bad days as we deal with that stress, too. But in general, you want to shoot for a steady approach to your writing that can weather a bit of the daily ups and downs.
Often, that can mean processing your stress through your writing. I noticed about halfway into my journaling that my scenes matched my moods, and my work on character development matched my internal conundrums—I was using my work to make sense of myself. I also noticed that when I let myself take a day to do that, clearing my head, I could soldier on in my non-fiction work regardless of mood, because I felt I had taken care of myself for the time being.
So, ask yourself, if you can do that. Can you write when you’re stressed out? If not, do you have enough room in your writing year or season that you can allow for some minimal days and still make your benchmarks?
Also, ask yourself if you’re a stress junkie. Do you work best right at deadline? Is that sustainable, or is it becoming an issue? Can you learn to set earlier false deadlines that leave you more room to edit?
Aim for a smooth approach to your writing, where it can help you grow as a person, instead of frustrating you or leaving you sapped.
How do I procrastinate?
I have precisely one friend who doesn’t procrastinate, and while I would like to tell you he is a joyless Type-A sociopath, I regret to inform you he is a wonderful human being who makes the world a better place.
…he is Type-A, though.
For the rest of us mortals, procrastination must be rooted out and discarded.
The idea behind tracking everything, no matter how small, is that you’ll learn why you hardly wrote on some days, and why you exploded all over the page on others—often related to the above stressors—so you can start simplifying your life, removing the wasteful distractions, and cultivating meaningful time both within and outside of your writing space.
It’s also useful to track everything because that string of entries will help you generate the kind of solid momentum that not only supersedes procrastination, but also helps you figure out what kind of writer you really are. Maybe you’re a writer who works by lines of dialogue written, or number of scenes, or number of words. Maybe you’re a writer who prefers patience and precision and minimal editing. Maybe—like me—you write tons of words in a day, but have to edit heavily after the fact.
But you’ve got to actually write to learn about yourself. Thinking about who you believe yourself to be, generating massive piles of outlines, rewriting the same chapter over and over, building beautiful calendars of goals—those activities (while restorative or helpful when used sparingly) aren’t going to cut it. Trust me.
Have I beat my muse?
This one is a bit controversial…
When I first started out on my productivity work, and many days of writing felt like wading through congealing oatmeal, I hated nothing more than hearing published authors talk about how writers block isn’t a thing.
But…in the end…I think they were right. Writing in fits and starts is no way to maintain a career as a writer. Waiting for inspiration to strike or the muse to take you externalizes the responsibility for your production and lets you off the hook for not writing each day. If you’re serious about getting shit done, you have to kill the muse…or, you know, at least cultivate a relationship where your muse is like a good friend who visits on occasion and fills you with exuberant thought and self-discovery, but leaves you without feeling dependent upon them for work.
In order to beat the muse, I recommend you lean into the challenges of your work, instead of backing down. Pick apart knots into their component pieces and explore your possibilities. Learn to create new possibilities when nothing obvious seems right. Practice your problem solving skills until you can feel invigorated by the chase. Be a detective. Write every day.