Q: I did some really good writing yesterday. But what do I do today? It’s hard to get started.
A: Grab a crayon.
I know the feeling. It’s far easier for writers to think our work is crap—because so much of our work is crap. It’s even, I just found out, a law of nature: Sturgeon’s Law. As with so much else in this world, if you go to the primary source you find that the Law is actually a Revelation. In 1958, Sturgeon wrote:
“I repeat Sturgeon’s Revelation, which was wrung out of me after twenty years of wearying defense of science fiction against attacks of people who used the worst examples of the field for ammunition, and whose conclusion was that ninety percent of SF is crud. Using the same standards that categorize 90% of science fiction as trash, crud, or crap, it can be argued that 90% of film, literature, consumer goods, etc. is crap.”
Here we have yet another clear case of eroding quality in the modern world. When Rudyard Kipling voiced a similar opinion back in the 19th century, he only damned 80% of creative output:
“Four–fifths of everybody’s work must be bad. But the remnant is worth the trouble for its own sake.”
But I digress. Whether your work is 80% or 90% crap, the non-crap portion remains firmly in the minority. So when you manage to turn out something you like—and that other people will (or already do!) like—you not only have a visceral appreciation of Kipling’s assessment that it’s “worth the trouble for its own sake.” You also have genuine cause for celebration, my friend.
Don’t let good writing yesterday overshadow any writing today
So you did some good writing yesterday. Congratulations.
But you do realize you still have to write today. And, yes, it may turn out to be not nearly as good as the writing you did yesterday. In fact, the laws of probability—not to mention Sturgeon—tell us it won’t be. Them’s the breaks.
But there’s good news, too. Every word you write today gets you closer to the golden 20% of non-crap that you turned out in your good writing yesterday.
Oh, I know, I know—all you want to do is open up that doc from yesterday and revisit your glory. You could spend all day doing that. I’ve been there. In fact, I am there at this very moment.
I wrote something really great yesterday. I’m justifiably proud of myself. But re-reading yesterday’s writing doesn’t get today’s writing done.
But I don’t have any ideas, the voice in my head whined. So I embraced process instead: I usually do a Q&A on Wednesdays, but I didn’t post a blog yesterday because of the Day Without Women. So, calendar be damned, I declared today as “WTF? Wednesday” (that’s how I settled on the day for this regular feature: I gave it a private nickname). Then all that remained was to pick the question. And yes, okay, if you insist on full disclosure, the person who submitted this particular question is me.
There was never any question of my not writing today. Not with 316 days of a writing streak behind me and the prospect of seeing the magic 317 appear on my phone app once I’m done. Someone recently asked me when I’ll get to the one-year mark. I suppose I could do the math, but really I’m not as focused on 365 as I am on 318.
I cannot recommend the daily writing thing highly enough. This commitment I’ve made has gotten me through a lot of upheaval over the past nine-ish months, and the sense of accomplishment I feel…well, it’s hard to describe.
But I don’t have any ideas as brilliant as yesterday’s
I’m sure that’s as true for you as it is sometimes for me. So stop aiming for one. Instead, shake things up a bit.
If you always write at your desk, find another place to sit. Go outside, weather permitting. Go to the library (I’ll have more on that this weekend).
If you always write on your computer, grab a pen and a notebook. Better yet, grab a colored pencil or crayon. It’s impossible to take yourself or your problems too seriously when you’ve got a crayon in your hand.
Spend 15 minutes writing as your 10-year-old self. Don’t worry about replicating your good writing yesterday. Have some fun with your writing today.