I generated a lot of negative self-talk about my writing in 2021. I didn’t blog as much as I wanted to. I didn’t write as much as I wanted to. I don’t know what to write about. I write about the same things over and over again. I write too much about myself. I’m boring. I don’t write anything useful/interesting/thought-provoking/beautiful.
And so on.
In 2021, I also listened to a lot of podcasts about happiness. Because, see first paragraph. I was on the rowing machine at the aquatic center in December when a particular episode on how to squash negative self-talk made me stop rowing to pause the podcast and take notes. The advice I noted was this:
- Monitor negative self-talk
I felt bad again last week about my writing rut. Yesterday, when I wrote my Reading in 2021 post, I thought about my writing in 2021. I remembered the advice from the podcast, and I wondered: what did I actually write in 2021 compared to the stories I tell myself about my writing? Can I dispute my negative self-talk with evidence? And if so, what’s a more positive story I can tell myself?
The first story I tell myself: I didn’t write much
One of the stories I tell myself is that, aside from my journals, I didn’t write much last year. I don’t blog like I did in my early blogging years, before I was, you know, employed full time.
Gathering evidence on “did I write much?” is pretty easy. The first step is to remember that I also write at work. I can grab annual stats* on word counts and posts published for my blog, we have similar stats at work (because I work for the company that makes WordPress.com), and I can calculate how much I wrote by hand during the year based on the number of pages I filled and how many words I average per page. Here’s what I found:
|Handwritten pages filled|
|Handwritten pages filled|
|Total words written|
|Total words written|
The evidence shows that it is true I didn’t publish much on my personal blog compared to how much I journaled, but I still published 84 posts, which averages to about 7 per month. That’s not bad considering I work full time, I suppose. The word count of my blog posts is equivalent to the length of a novella.
The evidence also shows that I write a lot for work. Objectively, I would say that 258,000 words qualifies as writing much. For a sense of scale, that’s more words than Moby Dick (206,052) or Crime and Punishment (211,591), though of course, not as much as Lonesome Dove (365,712) or Anna Karenina (349,736) (reference). Sure, some of those work-related posts and words are meeting notes or notices of when I’ll be out of the office, but it’d be too much effort to remove those, and they are relevant for work: they are written communication, which is essential in a distributed workplace.
In total, I wrote approximately 611,000 words in 2021, which is more than the entire Lord of the Rings series (576,459), including The Hobbit.
Affirmation: I write a lot. Even if it’s not high literature or published work, writing is like breathing: I do it without realizing it.
The second story I tell myself: what I write isn’t great
I realize I am comparing the word counts of my personal journals, hobby blog posts, and work-related memos to great works of literature. This is not lost on me. It feeds into the second story I tell myself about my writing, which is that I don’t write the kind of stuff I like to read. What that really means is that is that I’m not an amazing epic writer. I am not a story-teller, I don’t have the imagination to craft narrative arcs, create characters, go deep with ideas and produce great works of art.
I don’t have evidence to dispute this. I especially don’t have evidence to dispute this if I’m comparing what I write to the novels and short stories that awe me. I really have to deal with this one, though, because otherwise I’ll never be happy with what I write.
If I go deeper, and identify what moves me in the art I admire, I think it comes down to three main things: connection (I can relate to what the artist presents and so feel connected to them or to humanity or to something bigger than all of us), awe (that such beauty and creativity exist in the world), and change (the work makes me see or think or act differently after experiencing it).
At a much smaller scale than the great artists I admire, I can look to some of my blog posts or ideas that I’m really proud of and see hints of those three elements in some of them: readers and colleagues will comment or message me that they can relate to what I wrote (thank you, it means so much when this happens ♥️) or that something I wrote was beautiful (I feel like I’ve done something good when this happens ♥️), and at work especially, I’ve written things that did effect change, like suggesting a writing coach program that has since been implemented.
Affirmation: My writing doesn’t have to be great. Sometimes what I write brings goodness to people, and that’s what I really want.
The third story I tell myself: I don’t have ideas
The final story I tell myself is that I don’t have ideas. I don’t know what to write about. I recognized myself in a book I read recently, Miss Iceland. The main character is a “real” writer, who churns out stories and poetry and novels because she is compelled to write: she is so full of ideas, she can’t not write, and everyone wants to publish what she writes.
She is not the character I identified with. Instead, the character I identified with is her poet boyfriend who spends all his time sitting around talking about writing with other would-be writers. When he realizes his girlfriend is a real writer, and comparatively he just wants to be a writer, he says to her:
The truth is I can’t think of anything to write about. I have no ideas. Nothing that’s close to my heart. Do you know what it means to be ordinary?Audur Ava Ólafsdóttir, Miss Iceland
Ouch. I’ve written variations of those first two sentences dozens of times on my blog or in my journals. I am a cliche.
I know that a lot of what I write is just blathering about nothing, but in the 600,000 words I wrote last year, there are surely ideas, even if accidental. If I look through blog posts, I see some idea-based ones, like the benefits of journaling or how an empty morning feels full.
I think what’s really going on is that I have ideas, but it takes effort to develop those ideas. That I write at all shows I have plenty to write about. Time and mental energy are finite resources, though. If I’m worried about having publishable ideas, I need to remember my professional writing. That’s where the majority of my writing energy goes right now. My writing life at work is rich and satisfying: I outline, I sketch, I develop ideas, I think about structure and audience and outcomes, I draft, I refine, I proofread, I publish.
When I get down about not having ideas, it’s usually related to my personal writing. I need to affirm that I do have ideas, and remind myself that it takes effort to develop ideas. Having ideas and developing ideas is an important distinction. The distinctions puts me in control of how I want to use the time I carve out for my personal writing: I can continue to use all my writing time to free-write and just get stuff out, or I can allocate some of my time to developing ideas.
Affirmation: The fact that I write is evidence that I have ideas. Developing ideas requires effort that I can choose to dedicate if I’d like to. I dedicate considerable energy for publishable work to my professional writing. Also, Miss Iceland is a fictitious character.
These issues are not new: I’ve written about them before. I have to remember these affirmations. Also, nothing will change if I don’t change something. I started a list of writing assignments for myself rather than using random prompts that don’t inspire me. I’ll change up my practice and see what happens.
*If you have a blog on WordPress.com and want to check your annual stats on how much you wrote, log into your account and go to wordpress.com/stats/day/annualstats/[yoursiteaddress]. For example, when I’m logged into my account, I can see my stats at wordpress.com/stats/day/annualstats/andreabadgley.blog.