I’m about to start the second of my 30-day writing challenges: A personal blog.
There is a wonderful television series that takes place in New Zealand called, 800 Words. The principal character is a journalist under contract to produce a weekly article for an Aussie newspaper. George can string together the most poignant Life Lessons by examining his own behaviors and experiences. He does this in – you guessed it – eight hundred words.
What I have learned over the past month is that when I purposefully sit down to write I can produce between 600-1000 words in an hour. Experts say that the best length for a blog is about 1700 words, so a decent post would take me a good two hours. However, considering that the average speed of an adult reader is 200-250 words per minute, and most people’s attention drifts if they try to digest something longer than a four-minute read, I think I’ll stick with George’s limit.
My second 30-day writing challenge will be to publish 800 words, once a week, on a life lesson that I have recently learned, or one that has bubbled up through my subconscious. I wonder whether George (or the show’s producers) starts with a theme in mind, or if he/they just let it develop over the course of a few days. He always finishes the last bit of his story at the eleventh hour.
In my case, I get sudden bolt-out-of the blue ideas that many times go unnoticed because I am up to my neck in another project. Yet what I have also found is that a lot of my writing seems to occur when I am not even thinking about anything much at all. The hum of the vacuum or the sound of water as I do the washing up after dinner seems to be the time that these ideas come fast and furious. I’ve tried using a recorder or keeping note pads and pens handy throughout the house, but nothing seems to work as well as ‘Morning Pages.’
Now that I am in the company of a lot of serious writers from the Unchained Writers Group, I see that Morning Pages, walks in Nature, journaling, sketching, meditation or prayer is very important to them as a way of calming the inner demon that would wreak havoc on us all. Personally, I don’t know how I would have gotten through the past fifty years without therapy, drugs or some form of distraction without seeing my thoughts on paper or on a computer screen.
I could always tell when I had neglected my Morning Pages, as Julia Cameron named them in her excellent book, The Artist’s Way. I would feel disorganized, confused, overwhelmed, or what my mother would call being ‘at sixes and sevens.’ After decades of filling dozens of notebooks and creating thousands of electronic documents, I realize that journaling is one of my most comforting and illuminating pastimes.
Comforting, because I use several techniques to express myself, and when the session is over, I might produce anything from a paragraph to dozens of pages. Sometimes I bullet my thoughts; other times I fictionalize a story with someone other than myself as the main character. I’ve recently started to include photos, sketches, or flow charts. I love the fact that there are no rules; you can’t do it wrong. And although I may have to ask my sister to burn my books like Virgil or Jane Austen, when I’m gone there will most likely be no one who would take the time to slog through all my to-do lists and pages of complaints.
But here’s the interesting part: those books sat untouched for decades in a box at the back of my closet. I would sometimes remember a difficult or exciting event in my life, and I’d go looking for a particular volume. I found comfort knowing that whenever I’d read a passage, I could recollect everything in minute detail. But I never took them all out to read – until this past month during my first 30-day challenge.
What I saw as I leafed through those journal pages made the hairs on my arm stand on end. Peppered through my entries were ‘wish lists’ of things I wanted to do, see and have. Many of them were so far flung I probably never thought they would happen. But every night, I would write down what I needed – whether it be someone to paint my house, or a couple of hundred to fix my car, or an answer to a problem. Every night I envisioned myself getting what I asked for. And I often did. It was almost uncanny.
My mother often quoted from the Bible. The one from Matthew 7:7 was perhaps the most important one: “Ask and it shall be given.”