I’m big into writing, and in particular, I’m kind of obsessed with the Miraculous Magical Wonder-Well of Writing Every Day.
Okay, I don’t have like a quick and easy incantation, or specific GPS coordinates to the treasure map, exactly, but I’m serious — dive deep down into the rabbit warren of regular word-making, and you’re liable to find incalculable riches.
What use is a writing habit, you might ask? Please, allow me to proselytize.
Personal Goals / “Life List”
Consider your aspirations for next week, next year, next decade. Write them down; sort and shuffle the resulting lists. This is a good exercise for thinking deeply about your goals, and you can do it across many different time periods and segments of your life (career, relationships, health, creativity, etc.) A few years back, my parents encouraged me to try such an exercise, and I ended up making a document I called my “life list”, containing various goals for things I wanted to do, make, or become in the future. Every year or two I’ll go through it, think about what’s changed, evaluate my past year, and write out new goals for the future.
Reflect on the events of your day — what did you experience? How did you feel? What was positive and what was negative? This can be a great way to process your emotions and raw experience, and think through significant (or mundane!) things that happened to you. This can be useful for evaluating your recent progress in some area of your life, tracing some kind of emotional trajectory, and keeping a simple record of events you’ll probably treasure years down the line. It’s also a great way to blow off steam!
Think out loud about the book(s) you’ve recently read, or are reading currently. Or write up your thoughts on various other things — blog posts, essays, articles, podcasts, videos — you’ve watched or listened to lately. What’s your take on the thing? How would you change it? Where did it lead you in terms of thoughts, feelings, memories?
Sometimes it’s fun to take a topic and see what you can generate using that topic as a seed. Could be lists, could be a series of mini-essays, or a map of potential threads to explore further. There are a lot of ways to collect and generate ideas and vectors around something — an idea, a problem, whatever. It’s a fun challenge to see what you can come up with in a limited amount of time. And this can be serious or fun — anything from “what interesting careers might I explore further” to “let’s plan my awesome future vacation” to “hmmm, what are my thoughts on the ramifications of universal basic income?”
Use your writing time to think through any creative projects that have been simmering in the back of your mind. Start with a rough idea and take some time to tease out the implications and challenges, or outline the steps you could take to start working on it. Who could you collaborate with? How might you share the project? I’ll note that it can certainly be fun to use this as opportunity for casual brainstorming, but even more powerful is choosing one project to make consistent progress on over time!
Stories / Fiction
Practice coming up with narrative ideas, putting them into practice through building a fictional world, creating characters, and making things happen. This can be short and simple — “flash fiction” can be a great place to start! — or you can gradually work toward something larger, as with NaNoWriMo.
Think about yourself from new angles, in a different light than usual. In my experience it’s actually pretty rare that we step back to closely analyze our own actions, motivations, and defining personal characteristics — and writing is a great way to do this. A few things to consider: What are your most interesting quirks and habits? What are your unique skills? What weaknesses could you work on improving?
Think about a memorable experience from your past. Try to visualize the details of it — not only what happened, but how you felt, how it’s impacted you, why you’re still thinking about it today. This can be a good springboard for thinking about how you’ve changed (and/or how the world has!) and it’s a fun challenge to dig past the surface details and get into a true Proustian memory-explosion!
If you’re already into writing poetry, I don’t need to tell you why it can be a fun and mind-stretching practice. But if you don’t have experience at writing verse, there are a lot of ways to give it a try! Attempt something unfamiliar with words — whether rhyming or free verse, prose poems and vivid descriptions, perhaps even song lyrics. One of my personal favorite writing genres: rap verses.
Write about something you know well, and consider how you could explain it to others. This doesn’t have to be super complex; a really good description of something you consider simple can still be useful for people who know little about it. Think of a post you could share, or perhaps an outline for a class you could teach. Maybe try explaining something to your parents that they find confusing (e.g. a while back I wrote a “basics of how computers work” guide for my grandma), or imagine teaching a ten-year-old how to do some part of your job.
If you have a side project (or two, or a dozen-odd), try breaking one of them into small tasks, and using daily writing to work through them. This could mean outlining what you need to do next, using writing to move the project itself forward (where possible), sending emails to ask for help or feedback, or drafting blog posts to help promote the project. There are lots of ways to chip away at something bit by bit and make your projects feel more manageable.
Writing can be a great way to dig deeper and explore the nuances and complexities of your interest. IT’s also a great tool for thinking about them from new perspectives. For example, I’ve long been interested in storytelling so on a few occasions I’ve written about more specific story-related topics I’m interested in — narrative structure, fiction vs. nonfiction, etc. You can take a loose starting point, and use writing to clarify your thoughts as you go. Also note: this is a great way to come up with blog posts, if that’s something you’re interested in!
I don’t usually count “writing email” as part of my daily writing, because it’s usually more a chore than an outlet for creativity. But I’ve sometimes found it useful to dedicate a focused block of time to an important email, or series of emails I want to draft — for example, for sharing one of my side projects. I’ve also found it fun to sometimes draft letters you may not even necessarily send, for example open letters to your mentors, or rather strongly worded disagreements with famous people.
Related to the above, but an important subset — write about the things you love, and why you love them. Show some unabashed appreciation for people, places, or anything else that makes you do an internal fist-pump. There’s no need to do this all the time, but it will be fun and it will make you feel good, so why not try it on occasion? Another fun thing you could combine with this: brainstorm creative gift ideas for people close to you.
Plan a project. Plan a vacation. Plan a business endeavor. Plan something you know will take you a long time to make. Plan something boring; plan something fun. Whatever it is, writing with an eye to the future can be useful in many ways. And making more granular and ordered plans is a great way to start figuring out what it will actually take to make some big things happen.
Stream of Consciousness
Somewhere between journaling and poetry lies a strange zone where language spins fractal webs of chaos and imagination. Writing in pure stream of consciousness form — “automatic writing” as it’s sometimes known — is great for days when your mind seems to be blanking and you lack the energy to do more serious work. In times like these, it can feel pretty damn good to just start writing what feels like (and often is) complete nonsense. If nothing else, it’s a great way to flex the imagination muscles, and a fun way to play with words.
Lists can often make the writing process feel less onerous, and there are many ways to use them. Make a list of things you want to do. Things you’ve been thinking about lately. String a few things together and see how they relate. A list of people you want to meet. Places you want to visit. Meals you want to cook; books you want to read. Make outlines; make simple lists and add details later. Use the constraint of the list to add structure to your thoughts, and catalyze the alchemical translation of vague ideas into words solidified on the page in front of you.
Summarize and Share
Take something long and/or complex, and boil it down. Compile your notes on a book, share what you learned in a class, or write up your takeaways from a conference. There’s lots of value in boiling down something that would take others a lot of time to absorb themselves, and saving them time by sharing your most important takeaways!
You can use a newsletter to share all sorts of things: general life updates, notes on the project you’re working on, lessons and expertise from your profession, random thoughts, whatever. This can be a “real” email newsletter using a service like Mailchimp, ConvertKit, or Tinyletter…or it can simply be something you write every couple months and send to friends and family.
Some ways of writing don’t fit in a clear category! If you think of something that feels fun, cool, novel, worth exploring in any way…go ahead and explore it. Think of weird ways to get it out of your head and mold it into something. For example, I once did a dictation experiment where I talked into the computer and got plenty of gibberish in return. Another time I decided to randomly try writing some absurdist erotica. I’ll probably never share it with anyone but it was fun. My guess is that pretty much any topic or format you can think of, regardless of how dumb it feels, can most likely sustain you through at least 75o words!
Come up with your own words or ideas; play around with them, try to define them, explore the ramifications of them existing. Or try to invent a product, a machine, some kind of physical device that does something useful or strange. See if you can produce a new business model from thin air — anything!
And there we have it! Much of the writing iceberg remains sub-sea level…but you now have proof that there are 21 things, at the very least, that you can do with daily writing. Not only that, but I’m pretty confident almost any of these things can be used to improve your life.
Of course, doing the daily (writing) deed is much easier said than done; there are certainly a few imposing peaks and chasmic valleys that can stand in the way of any creative habit. But I’d love to help with that part, too. I’ve put together a short free email course to introduce you to how you can start building a daily writing habit today, and you can sign up below!
Finally, if you have examples of how you’ve harnessed your writing powers to awesome ends, please do share!