For the thirty days of April, I wrote consistently — with discipline — in three contexts.
First, Morning Pages. The long-hand, Julia-Cameron, pen-on-paper, three-acts of stream-of-conscious critic-free word-meditations. Per my pen and yellow letter sized sheets, the practice averages to about 900 words per day. At three pages per day, I fill up a pad in sixteen days, and run out of ink so frequently I now buy cartridge inserts in bulk and replace them five at a time. Prior to this, I’d just lose the pen before it ever ran out of ink.
Second, 1KW. One thousand words per day. The concept originated, I don’t know, probably with g–d trying to get a rough draft of the universe just, you know, out. I first encountered the concept in a meaningful way as “two crappy pages per day.” I wasn’t so keen on the “crappy” part, but the mechanical and habitual process made sense. If someone wrote 1,000 words per day — without specific regard to the quality — in the course of a lifetime (like Jack London, c/o Lauren), some one is going to write some things of substance.
What I’ve come to find easier in pacing at word count instead of pages (those two, big, massive slates of ever-thin marble one must chisel away at), one word at a time is moving one pebble or grain of sand at a time. Simple effort, small effort, easy effort in the moment. Like biking uphill and eyeing — and glancing, and huffing, and winking at — the next telephone pole or tree trunk or a weed next to a broken reflector as smaller and smaller goal posts, through which slowly, you’ve just… biked up the hill instead of a mountain.
Third, Chapter Titles. Which is my unique process of daily journal entries. I write as much as I can, and then when I re-read — a day or month or a year later — I find the phrase for what I would title this chapter of my life, if it were something beyond private thoughts. Somehow, in practicing those first two contexts and methods of writing consistently, the effort needed to create the third just got … easier. Which sounds dumb, honestly, but it’s likely some form of a humanistic truth about effort and creative endeavors.
The harder you work at the thing, whatever it is, the easier it gets the next time you begin. I sit down at 10pm — or 6am — and twenty-five minutes later, all of a sudden, there they are, fifteen-hundred-plus words about the last twelve-to-twenty-four hours. (For the record — I’m currently approximately four-and-half months behind in the actual Chapter Titling aspect of the craft — which is like a small portion of how long I never understood why it was called “Law & Order” because I never watched it until the courtroom-half of an episode.)
And that — I think— is why every writer, artist, comedian, meditator, or physical therapist seems to give some version of the same advice: do the thing — every day.
To put that month of April into larger personal timeline, I’ve been Chapter Titling for the last 15 years, of which the last two years have been nearly every day. A few hundred words at at time, usually, until last month. Morning Pages started about 150 days ago (I know this because I count up each day of the unbroken sequence of days in a row), and Kilowriting for just the last 40.
Even within that leap of faith and surrender to a simple action (“really, that’s it? I don’t need to think this through harder and just think about it totally perfectly and then I’ll be writing?”) there are times when, in the course of keeping (really, making) a daily journal, it feels to me still like a foolishly narcissistic pursuit. To just write, and keep writing, and sometimes never really get to the point or the obviously clever chapter title, and sometimes get to so many points that I don’t know which moment or revelation was important, and likely may never even get around to re-reading, nor certainly filling in the gaps. The purpose or the outcome is sometimes very clouded inside of the process.
But, when I actually or accidentally take a look back, the instructions and value become obviously clear in reflection.
Last night, I was told a story about a past life and it felt oddly familiar, so I was curious if it lined up with another — about World War 2 fighter pilots and a fear of flying. So I opened my previous journal in search of a date sometime in early September, but in glancing at the top entry first, for Sunday, December 31st, 2017, I re-discover a bulleted list of good things, in no particular order:
- “Generally every day from April 29th, onward. Baltimore trip with…”
It being April 30th, this was a year and a day since that trip. Which was unexpectedly significant, to just stumble upon, serendipitously, as if I had nearly forgotten my own anniversary of liberation. And since that armistice, I often waffle when describing to people how long I’ve been on sabbatical, “Well, it kind of started in June when I got back to Santa Cruz, but then I didn’t really stop working until August, and then there was my sister’s wedding in September, and then officiating in Mexico, so my obligations to anyone or anything else weren’t really complete until the end of October. So, yea, it started on Halloween.”
So in one perspective, technically, all of a sudden it had been a year since April 29th, and a year of Sabbatical.
And what can happen in a year?
In my search through entries, I could not find another mention of a fighter pilot in a past life. But there had been an airport ride, and discussion of a past life and death in Paris during World War Two. Close enough.
Before closing the journal, I was curious about this time frame of a year. I pulled up the word count for “Chapter Titles 2017.”
In January through December of 2017, the one substantive piece of writing I produced clocked in at:
In April of 2018, across these three substantive contexts of writing:
And so — therefore — here are the first 1042 words for May in a fourth context.