Daily writing — What’s the point?

practice daily writing in my 5x15 writing challengeIt’s Day 4 of my latest 5×15 Writing Challenge; my writers have almost earned themselves a nice donation to global literacy nonprofit Room to Read. Through Day 3 we’ve got a completion rate of 100%—the highest I’ve ever had for one of these challenges. I’m thrilled to help so many people discover the joys of daily writing.

And then I opened up my email to find this intriguing headline from blogger Josh Bernoff: “Is it selfish or smart to do something creative every day?” Josh blogs daily—well, Monday through Friday—so I suspected he’d be arguing the latter point. And he is.

His post reminded me of all the things I loved about blogging daily. And all the things I’ve missed since I stopped a little over two months ago. I still write every day: today’s Day 640. But, well…Here’s the comment I left on Josh’s blog:

I’m also a writer. I spend my day writing for clients, so what’s the daily creative outlet I choose? Writing.

I’ve spent a minimum of 15 minutes a day writing for the last 639 days. (640 if this post takes me long enough.)

Seth Godin says blogging daily is the smartest business decision he’s ever made. And who am I to argue with Seth Godin? So early on, I decided to turn my daily writing into daily blogging.

But I stopped blogging daily back in November when a very smart marketer I know gently suggested that perhaps I needed to focus less on creating content and more on getting that content noticed. So I’ve been writing occasional pieces for other platforms, like this piece on blogging-withdrawal.

Still, as smart as my marketer friend is (and she is), it now occurs to me that she’s probably not as smart as Seth Godin. I miss blogging, for all of the reasons you state: it was a great way to jumpstart my day; it got me thinking about things I might have dismissed in the past; and, yes, sometimes it strikes a chord for my readers. I think I might have to get back to it.

Maybe I already have.

“Why we write” — inspiration from Neil Gaiman

Do you ever hit what Seth Godin called “The Dip”? Nothing matters. The act of making words appear with your fingertips no longer seems magical; it seems like a slog. You wonder why you even bother to write.

You, my friend, need a hit of Neil Gaiman.

"Somewhere out there is someone who needs that story. Someone who...without that story will be a different person. And who with that story may have hope, or wisdom, or kindness, or comfort. And that is why we write."

Hope, wisdom, kindness, comfort—I can’t think of better gifts. It’s like wrapping your readers in a soft, hand-knitted afghan. And then surrounding them with puppies. (Assuming they’re not allergic to puppies.)

However hard the writing may be, it can’t compare with the payoff for your reader. Whatever story you’re telling, someone needs to hear it. So write, already.

Keep going — Confucius meets SEO

"It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop." Or, Confucius meets SEOI wanted to open with this indisputably wise quotation from the Chinese philosopher Confucius. But what happens when Confucius meets SEO?

“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop”—SEO hates negative keywords. And you can’t get much more of a “stop word” than stop. But translated into a positive frame, the wisdom turns bland and boring, essentially:

“Keep going.”

It’s a good thing for all of us that Confucius never had to deal with SEO. And yet, somehow, his work has gone viral enough that’s still being quoted more than 2500 years after his death. Now that’s genius.

Of course, his name wasn’t really Confucius. Wikipedia notes that as a Latinization of Kǒng Fūzǐ (孔夫子, if you want it in the original). Over the centuries the philosopher has picked up a number of posthumous nicknames,. My favorite is the first, coined in the first century AD: “Laudably Declarable Lord Ni.” May we all be “laudably declarable,” lord or not.

But I digress

Whew! Almost went down a rabbit hole there. I’m sure there’s many a good Story Safari™to be had in the life and wisdom of Kǒng Fūzǐ. But I’m more interested in this particular piece of wisdom:

“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”

I always feel like I’m going too slowly. I’m rarely satisfied with my own progress. My patron saint is St. Hurry-Up. Well, St. Expeditus. I first discovered him in Brazil, where he’s Santo Expedito, though why he’s not widely worshiped in New York remains a mystery to me.

So I feel like I’m never going fast enough. And yet to my clients and friends, I seem to be in constant motion—thinking, creating, shipping (to use Seth Godin’s term). No matter how gummed up I feel inside, I make sure Ship Happens. I’ve even set goals for my vacation. Not work goals, but still—goals.

Hey, at least I’m taking a vacation (next month!). That hasn’t happened in—wow!—probably a decade, since I went to Brazil and discovered St. Hurry-Up. So I’m, um, slowly making progress on slowing down. I guess I should count that as a win.

#WhyIWrite – When every day is National Day on Writing

Did you know about the National Day on Writing? I just found out about it. And why is it not “National Writing Day”? Perhaps to give the editors something to do on National Editing Day. Anyway, you know it’s a real thing because there’s a hashtag: #WhyIWrite.

#WhyIWrite

I wrote “National Editing Day” as a joke but then I figured I should check the Google machine. No, there’s no National Editing Day. But there is a National Proofreading Day (March 8th). Mark your calednars.

The National Day on Writing comes to us courtesy of the National Council of Teachers of English. I’m sure they’re fine people—two of my favorite teachers taught English—but they really ought to meet up with the National Council of Copyeditors. (Sadly, that doesn’t exist either.)

#WhyIWrite Every Day

The official National Day on Writing is October 20th. But longtime readers know that every day is Writing Day here at Bennett Ink. And it has been for the last 440 days.

I could offer a million reasons #WhyIWrite. But I hate lists, so I’ll just give you a few.

Because my clients pay me. But the truth is I write even when I’m not getting paid directly—I just get to choose my own topics and deadlines. Still, I love my clients. And (mostly) the topics they speak and write about.

Because it helps me think. For the past couple of months I’ve been working my way through Seth Godin’s Marketing Seminar—there’s a summer intensive starting soon and I highly recommend it. When I get to the questions at the end of each module, my first reaction is, I have no idea how to answer these questions. Then I copy and paste them into a Word doc and start typing and it turns out I do have answers to those questions. Sometimes pretty good answers, too.

Because I love surprises. I love helping my readers shift their perspective and see things from a different angle. And my writing students discover their skills.

Because I have things to say. Since I started posting daily about 14 months ago, many readers have told me that my writing has made a difference in their lives. It’s also made a difference in mine.

Because every time I do it, I get a little better. Not that everything I write is a gem, but bit by bit (byte by byte?) the bar gets higher every day.

Because it keeps me sane.*

Why do you write?

*within normal tolerances

“People like us” — Seth Godin & baseball

Seth Godin was with me at the Mets game on Monday night. Not in person—in my head. When the beer vendor made his first appearance, Seth leaned over and whispered, “People like us do things like this.”

people like us drink cold beers on hot days at the ballparkNow, I don’t drink beer—or any alcohol, really—but this  vendor caught my attention. Every other beer vendor I’ve encountered in ballparks across this great land shouts, “Beer!” Or if they’re waxing poetic,

“Beer here!”

It’s a great phrase. The long E vowel sounds cut across the chatter of thousands of people. When the beer guy cometh, he doesn’t take you by surprise.

Monday was hot and sticky in the city. After weeks of early spring-like weather, summer came crashing down on us with two days of 90-plus temperatures. By game time, we were probably down to the high-80s. It was hot.

So the beer guy comes strolling down the stairs, shouting,

“Who needs a cold beer, besides me?”

Yes, that’s many more syllables than “Beer here!” but worth the investment of time and voice. In those few words he exhibited empathy for our plight—told us that he’s in the same position. He reminded us of the perfect solution to our shared problem. And that he, in fact, can provide it by selling us a cold beer.

People like us (hot, sticky people) do things like this (drink ice-cold beers).

I thought about getting out of my seat and talking to the vendor, asking if his spiel increased his sales. But the game was just too good. We beat the Cubs 6-1, with Jacob deGrom pitching a complete game. It’s been a while since people like him did things like that.

I’m heading back to the park this weekend. Hope I see some more great baseball, and more great marketing too.

I’m beginning to hate writing. What do I do? — Frequent Questions

Q: I’m beginning to hate writing. What do I do?
A: Keep writing, of course.

One of my writers got frustrated the other day. We’re past the halfway mark in the Bennett Ink 90-day Writing Challenge and finding something to write about for 15 minutes every day was becoming a slog.

I congratulated her.

Congratulated?

Yes, because she’s exactly where she’s supposed to be as she establishes her daily writing practice. As Seth Godin reminds us in his brief but wise book The Dip, everyone who tries to do something different goes through a rough patch. Those who persevere will eventually climb out of it; those who don’t get stuck.

Godin isn’t the first person to articulate that concept of the Dip. Writer John Bunyan wrote about it in his famous Christian allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress. Wikipedia tells us that the book, written in 1678, “has never been out of print”—quite a publishing feat. Bunyan called his version of the Dip “the Slough of Despond.”

hate writing? keep writing
The Slough of Despond, in the last third of the first panel. See? Fixed borders. From an 1821 edition of The Pilgrim’s Progress, Public Domain

So just what is this “miry” place, the Slough (rhymes with “cow”) of Despond?

“…it is the descent whither the scum and filth that attends conviction for sin doth continually run, and therefore is it called the Slough of Despond: for still as the sinner is awakened about his lost condition, there ariseth in his soul many fears, and doubts, and discouraging apprehensions, which all of them get together, and settle in this place; and this is the reason of the badness of this ground.”

I added the emphasis there. Does that feel like anyplace you’ve ever been?

Now, Bunyan was talking about Christians’ doubts about their faith—marketing to his niche audience, if you will. But Godin argues—and (big surprise) I agree—that everyone trying something new travels through that dark, discouraging place. The trick is to keep traveling. That’s what Bunyan’s Pilgrim did. And that’s what we need to do too.

Hate writing? Keep writing

So you enjoy writing enough to want to do it every day. Maybe for your own enjoyment, maybe to meet a business objective. You start out full of enthusiasm and then, little by little, you realize the joy has disappeared. Some people will give up.

Other people may get confused: “Didn’t I use to like doing this?” Their memories of past enjoyment may keep them slogging through a little longer. But when the “fears, doubts, and discouraging apprehensions” stick around, they might just give in and give up.

The trick is to know that the Slough of Despond has fixed borders. Keep plowing through and you will get to the other side. Eventually. I promise.

You just have to keep doing whatever it is that landed you in the Slough to begin with. If that’s going to yoga classes every day, then get out of the damn bed and grab your mat. If it’s writing every day, then—love it or hate it—you write every day.

And celebrate the heck out of it when you do.


Write better when you write more often. Join my 5-day writing challenge: Write for 15 minutes a day and I’ll donate your registration fee to a global literacy nonprofit. More info and registration link here.

Accountability & creativity — the sugar and yeast of writing

In April 2016, as my regular readers may already be sick of hearing, I decided to write for at least 15 minutes a day. A few weeks into the writing streak, I decided I needed the accountability of publishing daily—or “shipping,” as Seth Godin calls it. And so I committed to posting a blog every day.

That was 366 days ago.

Creativity needs accountability

You can call yourself a writer if you’ve got a way with words. That’s creativity. But if you want to be a professional writer, you’d better add accountability to your creativity, or you’ll never get beyond the dreaming.

I didn’t set out to write “365 blogs in 365 days” like writer Michelle Monet. The only goal I thought about was today’s post, and then tomorrow’s. In fact, I didn’t even think about the 365-post benchmark until I neared the anniversary of writing daily.

So why have I done it?

Because I know that just as yeast needs sugar to bring it to life, creativity needs accountability. If I’d kept my commitment private, I would be the only one who knew if I’d broken it. So I made it public by publishing daily. Now, I might still be the only person who cares whether my streak continues. But that’s not the point. The point is I’ve made a public commitment.

Accountability keeps my brain bubbling and my fingers typing. Whether I want to or not. And believe me, some days it has definitely been “or not.”

Accountability keeps me publishing even though I might not feel it’s my best work. But you know what? I’m not always the best judge of my best work. No writer is. That’s what writers’ groups and trusted friends are for.

That’s why it’s essential that we show our work, that we share our work. It’s the only way to improve.

You may fear you’re the world’s worst writer (you’re probably not). Or you may think you’re the world’s best writer (again, probably not). You’ll never know until you send your work out into the world.

Create some accountability for yourself, and then watch what that accountability creates.

Deadlines — a love/hate relationship

I’m not a last-minute kinda gal. In more than 25 years as a professional writer, I’ve never missed any deadlines. I said that in an interview this afternoon and heard an appreciative “Whoa!” on the other end of the phone. And then there’s this blog: I’m at Day 338 of my writing streak and seriously contemplating taking Day 366 off. Maybe. Check back with me in a month.

deadlines make the writerBut deadlines, yeah, I take them seriously—whether they’re self-imposed or client-driven. That’s why this week has been so stressful for me (and, yikes!, it’s only Wednesday). I’ve already turned out two projects, any one of which would have been a good week’s work, and I have a third deadline coming up fast. I cannot wait until my weekend starts, sometime midafternoon on Saturday.

Writers and deadlines

My first 90-Day Writing Challenge starts on April 1st, and we held our kickoff webinar this afternoon. The intrepid writers who’ve stepped up to this particular plate all happen to be veterans of my 5×15 Writing Challenges. But writing for five days in a row and writing for 90 days in a row—very different animals.

One of the things that’s helped keep my streak alive for lo these many months has been my commitment to post a blog every damn day. Seth Godin calls daily blogging the best business decision he’s ever made; that’s more than enough endorsement for me. I created a self-imposed deadline and I committed to it publicly. I know my writers are fired up about the challenge—even though I gave them an easier option of writing only Monday through Friday for the next 90 days, most of them are determined to go wire-to-wire with daily writing. I suggested they add a deadline with a public commitment to help keep them on track.

So do most writers love deadlines or hate them? The answer appears to be Yes.

“Without deadlines writers tend to NEVER STOP WORKING, therefore I think deadlines are pretty important.”

That’s Chris Baty, the creator of National Novel Writing Month, quoted in an unsigned Writers’ Digest article.

Novelist Rita Mae Brown has a less rosy view of them:

“A deadline is negative inspiration. Still, it’s better than no inspiration at all.”

And animosity toward deadlines is by no means a modern invention. Nineteenth century French writer Émile Zola:

“One forges one’s style on the terrible anvil of daily deadlines.”

[The Brown and Zola quotes come from this Goodreads roundup.]

Searching two of my favorite books about writing—Stephen King’s On Writing and Steven Pressfield & Shawn Coyne’s The War of Art—I only found the word once in each. King mentions that fear of deadlines may be responsible for most of the bad writing in the world. And Pressfield doesn’t use the word at all; it appears in the Foreword by screenwriter Robert McKee:

“Pressfield, that devil, asked me to write this foreword against a deadline, knowing that no matter how much I stalled, eventually I’d have to knuckle down and do the work.”

And of course, there’s Douglas Adams, perhaps most famous as the author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”
As for me, I’m not fond of deadlines whooshing past my head. I prefer to meet them face-to-face, with a hearty handshake and a cup of tea.
Sixteen hours ’til my next deadline. Guess I’d better get back to work.

Your creativity called. It wants to be taken seriously. Join us.

The definition of dog-tired — a day in my life

dog-tired dog: Fenway got listless again AFTER we left the vet
Fenway got listless again AFTER we left the vet

You know things are bad when the staff wakes you up before dawn.

My trusty Canine Assistant, Fenway, roused me from a deep sleep at 4:30 a.m. (Yes, we share a bed; don’t tell HR.) The poor thing has been under the weather the last couple of days and she felt I needed to know, at 4:30 in the freaking morning, that she still hadn’t improved.

It was going to be one of those days when I had far more work than time, so I decided to accept Fenway’s nudge (perhaps she was just being a good project manager) and get out of bed. Some thirteen hours later, I am the literal definition of the phrase “dog-tired.”

And I have been working all that time, except for a brief interlude at the vet’s. “My dog has been listless all day,” I told them when I called. So of course she paraded into the office waving her tail like a flag on the Fourth of July.

Dog-tired at 5p.m. Friday

I had my finger poised on the trackpad, ready to click “shut down” when I saw an email from one of my writers. She wanted to sign up for the program I launched today (of which more later), but the math was wrong on the link—I had set the price $100 too high.

Clearly that wasn’t an error I could let slide until tomorrow.

So I fixed the link, pasted the revised code on my website, clicked “update” and…remembered that I didn’t yet have a blog written for today.

Sigh.

Commitment, right? It doesn’t get me on the exercise bike every day, but it did drag me out of a warm bed a the other night when I remembered I hadn’t made the next day’s To Do list. I wasn’t dog-tired then, maybe just puppy-tired. And did I say the bed was warm? Nice, fluffy duvet.

But I knew I’d lose half the next day if I didn’t have the To Do list I’ve gotten so used to over the last year.

Commitment is what’s kept me writing for well over 300 days in a row at this point. It keeps me posting a new blog on the “Seth Godin schedule”: Every damn day.
even when you're dog-tired, if you commit to it, do it.And it’s beginning to take root in the writers I work with. As we wrapped up the third 5×15 Writing Challenge yesterday, I unveiled the glorious sequel—higher stakes and bigger rewards for a super-sized commitment. And, just a few hours later, I already have a firm commitment from about a quarter of the people in the most recent Challenge, with previous participants looking to climb back onboard.They know that as hard as it is to commit to something, it’s easier when you’re not going it alone. They’ve experienced the power of a supportive community coalescing in just five days and they’re eager to see how deep the roots of our relationships can go in a longer challenge. I can’t wait to see that, either. And this new challenge will offer even more support: a weekly Writers’ Group, using Zoom’s interactive videoconferencing. And one-on-one coaching time with me.

“Elaine Bennett’s Writing Challenge is an adventure in Discipline, Discovery, and Desire,” one of my writers said. I didn’t set out to create something that profound. But, thanks to the diverse and talented group of writers who’ve joined my Challenges, that’s exactly what’s happened.


Your creativity called. It wants to be taken seriously. Join us.

When butt meets chair — the writer’s daily practice

success happens when butt meets chair

One of the writers in my 5-day writing challenge wrapping up tomorrow posted a marvelous piece in our Facebook group. Michelle Monet—self-described “Author. Essayist. Vocalist. Composer. Guitarist. Streisand impersonator.” cat-lover (and, one has to wonder, comma-hater?)—reminds us why the most important moments in a writer’s life happen when butt meets chair. Repeatedly.

Monet credits Seth Godin with inspiring her to blog daily for a year. He inspired me to blog daily, too. In fact, I got the idea for The 5×15 Writing Challenge while attending a day-long workshop Godin led back in December. (Best investment I made all year.)

While Godin was talking about gamification, I started wondering how I could gamify what I do. And before I climbed back on the train home, I had the whole Challenge sketched out in my head.

But I digress.

When butt meets chair: a discipline, not a hobby

I learned a ton about good writing in school. But as fine as my teachers were, none of them taught me the most important thing about being a writer. Yep, when butt meets chair.

Monet quotes writer Jeff Goins:

The idea is repetition — developing a discipline of showing up, making this a priority, and working through The Resistance.

If you want to get this writing thing down, you need to start writing every day. No questions asked, no exceptions made. After all, this isn’t a hobby we’re talking about; it’s a discipline.”

I’ve been amazed and gratified to find how quickly my Challenge participants take to the daily discipline of writing. Of course, it’s easy when you have something on the line—something more than pride and a vague hope of improvement. That’s where the gamification comes in: finish the Challenge and you win a donation to a global literacy nonprofit. And to help as many people as possible across the finish line, Challenge participants cheer each other on in a private Facebook group. I’ve been astonished at how quickly they’ve formed a community around their shared goal, and how sensitively they praise and comment on each other’s work.

I’m going to be upping the stakes in a program we roll out tomorrow. How many days in a row can butt meet chair? How many writers will flip from hobby into discipline?

I can’t wait to find out. If you can’t either,Click here and I’ll keep you posted.