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Building a Sustainable Writing Practice

william blake's "glad day"

Seven days ago, I told myself that I needed to complete the challenge of writing something compelling, revealing, or helpful every single day. It would last just one week, which is less than an eternity. I’m now sitting in front of my desk, at my office, in front of a monitor, using WordPress’ “distraction-free writing mode” to craft this piece.

It’s been an incredibly gratifying experience and one that I will not soon forget. Before I answer the Day 7 question, I’d like to answer its opposite, which is this: What are you not taking with you from this Challenge?

The one thing that I wish I had achieved is the ability to lock in a certain time of the day to write. Some people might poo-poo this and argue that as long as the pieces got written, and they’re relatively not bad, then I should be happy. And the pieces did get written, and they’re not (all) bad, and I am satisfied.

But what I was also hoping to get from this challenge was the ability to carve out a discrete hour every day to write, to think, to care, and to connect. Instead, I worked the time in wherever I could – in the office, at home, at night, during the afternoon, etc. The best writers have the discipline to schedule their activity, to ensure the stability of thought, and to make their work a habit.

On the other hand, I’m grateful for the opportunity afforded by the challenge and am spurred by the sheer quality of the posts written this past week. Take a look at some of the work. Seriously, stop reading this post, click the link, and you’ll see the humility, honesty, and gratitude that resulted from this challenge.

Today is the final day of the #YourTurnChallenge, the Seth Godin gig that has attracted 3,000 bloggers, many new to the medium and a few veterans like me, and which took down Tumblr at some point last week from the sheer volume of posts. The Day 7 question is this: What are you taking with you from this Challenge?

I’m taking away three thoughts. First, I can still tackle any challenge that I put before myself.  I’m grateful that the capacity still exists. In fact, I’m going to sign up for a 10K marathon this afternoon – my very first. A different type of challenge (with slightly more sweaty clothes) but one that I know (well, pretty much) I can handle.

Second, I’ve learned that writing, for me, is less about certainty than uncertainty. I feel most challenged when connecting two or more disparate and seemingly disconnected ideas, concepts, or objects, and placing them in a new context or within a new totality. I’ve always admired the Hegelian dialectic, which states, in essence, the following (via The University’s of Chicago’s School of Media):

“Hegel’s dialectic involves the reconciliation of ostensible paradoxes to arrive at absolute truth. The general formulation of Hegel’s dialectic is a three-step process comprising the movement from thesis to antithesis to synthesis. One begins with a static, clearly delineated concept (or thesis), then moves to its opposite (or antithesis), which represents any contradictions derived from a consideration of the rigidly defined thesis. The thesis and antithesis are yoked and resolved to form the embracing resolution, or synthesis. Succinctly put, the dialectic ‘actualizes itself by alienating itself, and restores its self-unity by recognizing this alienation as nothing other than its own free expression or manifestation’ (Bottomore 122). This formula is infinitely renewable; Hegel contended it would only terminate upon the world’s end [emphasis mine].”

William Blake, who lived at the same time as Hegel, understood the potential of synthesis, even when it appears to work against our understanding of the world. As we continue to face massive social and environmental challenges, we also need to be open to competing bodies of thought, even when they are seemingly unrefined, inane, or arcane.

As a ways of synthesizing today’s question and its posed opposite, my goal now is to find a means of writing that is sustainable. It should sustain both spirit and work and be an instrument for spurring anew.

My final thought: The one-week rule is a strong one. I’m going to use it to complete my next challenge, which starts today.

Image by William Blake via WebMuseum.

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