Anonymous daily writings

Julie Zhou has a great post about why she writes, how she got herself to do it, and how you can do it too.

In particular, this:

In all the times before that I have failed to get something on paper, it was because I had thoughts like the following: geez, what if I hit publish and nobody reads this? That’d be embarrassing and pointless. Or I only want to publish something if it’s really good and makes me seem smart, witty, and knowledgeable. Or What if I say this and somebody disagrees and tells me I’m wrong? Or Hmm, I should only write when inspiration hits me, and right now I don’t feel inspired.

In every creative endeavor — not just writing — this train of thought paralyzes. I have experienced it enough times to know that holding yourself to some lofty standard when you are just starting out is like blowing a deathkiss to your chances of success.

That resonates with me. Those thoughts occur, and suddenly I’ve found some other activity that’s more urgent and important than continuing to try to write.

And then her advice:

Instead, if you’d like to write, I offer the following tips:

1. Set a writing goal that is purely about the mechanical act of doing.Maybe, like me, it’s Hit the publish button every third Tuesday, Maybe it’sWrite 3 journal entries a week. Or maybe it’s Write 500 words a day. (In case you wonder how all your favorite authors complete their novels, I have it on good information that pretty much all of them do it via daily word-count/time-spent-writing goals.)

2. Tell yourself that nothing else matters besides #1. The thing you publish every third Tuesday does not have to fit any particular theme (in my case, not having any better ideas at the time, I’ve published poetry,listicles, and essays about my dog.) Your journal entries can be one sentence long. Your 500 daily words can be crap words. Don’t obsess over your audience. Don’t try to write what you think other people will want to read. Write about what you are excited about, because the best writing tends to reveal a piece of yourself anyway. The point is to bust down any possible barrier that might get in the way of you being able to achieve #1.

3. Commit to doing #1 for long enough that you will have built a habit out of it. A week or a month isn’t sufficient. Try 6 months or a year. By then, the act of writing will have molded to your life like a favorite sweatshirt, and you will begin to feel its effects on the way you think, reflect, and process the world.

But the first thing she did was to write an anonymous blog. Because her fear was keeping her from writing.

Yes, I was afraid.

To write publicly is to put yourself out there. To take a stance on something, propose an idea, have a point of view. It is to give someone else — someone you may not know and may never even meet — a piece of evidence with which to form an opinion of you. I cared deeply what others thought of me. (When I was little, I refused to ask grocery store clerks simple questions likeWhere are the oreos? for fear of seeming incompetent. As you can guess, this sacrifice cost me dearly in terms of snack-time utility.) I worried about what it would mean to admit weaknesses publicly, to write about touchy topics like gender and bad behavior and all the things that I’m learning. I worried what friends and coworkers would think.

And apparently, using the cover of anonymity, she was able to lower her fear enough to start writing.

In 2012, I sat down in January and scrawled a New Year’s Resolution on a sticky note: Write a blog. I did it the only way I knew how at the time: facelessly and anonymously. And that helped to get the words flowing. I wrote and published twice a week. The anonymity helped me share stories like what I learned from negotiating my first salary, tactics for interruptions, and what it felt like to harbor a Jekyll-Hyde impostor syndrome most days of the week.

My bet is that that step was crucial. Writing is hard because it’s so many things at once. Anonymity allowed her to condition her fear down while building the mechanical habits of writing. Only after she did that for a while — it sounds like she started in Jan 2012, and petered out in April 2012 — did she go nonymous.


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