There are a lot of ways to move forward, but I feel both a strong urge and a sense of responsibility to move forward by talking about how I moved forward. That’s how I roll.
An alarming percentage of this blog’s content is meta discussion of how I use this blog. (LIKE SO!) As such, it’s not news that much of the utility of this blog is in keeping myself honest. The times where I find it most fulfilling are those times when I use it to acknowledge uncomfortable truths, which has the almost opposing but somehow complementary functions of holding me accountable while also freeing me from certain things.
That said, this blog is the public exercise. It’s the part where I say, “This is how much I will share.” It’s also, more often than not, the part where I say, “These are the fun anecdotes worth sharing – the stuff that might be interesting.” These considerations sway back and forth in ways largely dependent on how I’m feeling – when there’s something to withhold, the first point becomes the key issue. When things are good, it’s easier to concentrate on the second category of stories.
I am almost always writing out both versions. I write out the big and the small. Most of it is pure word vomit, but I write it anyway. I’m a devout journaler. I am firm believer in the benefits of that kind of expression.
Almost always. I am almost always writing and there is a strong correlation between the times that I am not consistently writing and the low periods in my life. (I just went through my archives and noticed that I have a post here at least once a month since I started the blog, save for several blank months last year.)
Growing up, I was all about handwritten journals. I kept them in stops and starts. I wasn’t especially organized so there are only a couple that were kept consistently. Otherwise I have stacks and stacks of notebooks with the pages half filled.
These days I have gone digital. I still hand write occasionally. I have an all-purpose notebook that I use for everything from to-do lists and meeting notes to doodles of tattoo ideas and journal entries. I label these notebooks and save them chronologically, because that makes sense to my brain. “I worked on that project last fall,” I might think, and I’ll know roughly where to find it.
But my daily journal writing takes place over at 750words.com, because that’s the way I have found most effective to keep myself doing it consistently. I have found that the simple act of carving out 20-30 minutes a day to sit and write does wonders for my overall mental and emotional well being. Once a day, I have to sit and check in and assess where I’m at.
In case you haven’t heard about 750words, it’s an amazing daily writing tool and the way it is structured works incredibly well for me. It’s got a super stripped down interface so all you see is a big wall of white with a word count at the bottom. Once you sign in, you can’t save your entry until you hit 750 words – so you’re committing to some minimum time and effort. The site awards you points for each day that you write, with significantly more points earned for building up a streak – writing for consecutive days. It also keeps track of your on-site activity to note if you were inactive (i.e., you clicked away to Facebook stalk that girl you sat next to in third grade). Like any good gamified website, there are all sorts of badges for different milestones (100 day streak! Typing very quickly! No distractions! Early bird writing! etc., etc.)
It also analyzes your writing and produces a lot of really interesting data. In addition to tracking the sheer fact of your writing (word counts, speed, distractions) it also produces fun charts of your tone, subject matter, tense usage, and sentence subjects (it makes me painfully aware of how self-centered I am). There are even word clouds! Who doesn’t love a good word cloud? It’s the best kind of self-indulgent data porn and even though I’ve been using it for years, I’m still obsessed with it.
Here’s what this post looks like, graphed as a 750words entry.
The gamified nature of the site helps make me do it. I have to get points! And I can’t stop writing during the time I set aside because it will flag that as a DISTRACTION, and that will affect my perfect 0 Distractions record! (This machine is quite possibly the only thing in my life that will congratulate me for my focusing ability.)
Granted, the pitfall of this system is that a lot of my entries are pure bullshit. I have typed, “I don’t know what to say right now,” more times than I’d like to admit. On anxious days I find myself writing to-do lists and then elaborate explanations of what will go into the completion of these to-do lists.
My point here is that there’s a reason I’m writing 1500+ words a day (the arbitrary number I have given myself, in the inevitable escalation in a journal exercise so wholly reliant on gamification) about my life/thoughts/feels and only post here a few times a month. Nobody needs to see my to-do list.
But even when I’m writing that, I find that there are few things more useful than taking the time to say, “Hey, this is how I feel, and this is what’s going on,” even it’s deeply uninteresting content.
While I’m talking about this: I mentioned back in January that I was given free access to Cake for Breakfast in exchange for a review. Having these prompts has been enormously useful on those, “I don’t know what to say,” days. The prompts have been even better at combating the myopic view-from-my-desk stuff that tends to come out. At least once a week I take the time to ask myself bigger questions about where I’m at and what I want.
There have been a thousand little things that brought me to the much better place I’m in now than I was a year ago, and this was definitely one of those thousand little things. I only had to write about Cake for Breakfast once as part of the terms of that sponsored post, so this is something I am writing now, of my own free just-because-I-think-it’s-great will.
Ashley’s offering Cake for Breakfast at a discounted $52 (it’s normally $97) for this week only and I highly recommend you check it out. Last winter when I was grasping desperately at anything the internet could shove at me, I spent money I didn’t have on a variety of different things like this and I can’t stress enough that $52 for a year’s worth of this stuff is a great deal. There’s a little bit of advice and, “Here’s why I’m asking you this question,” intro to the prompts, but at the end of the day, she’s asking you to take stock of your life. It’s a fantastic set-up.
There’s one final thing I wanted to mention on this list of Ways I Wrote Myself Out Of A Pit (and OH MY GOD am I embarrassed by the frequency with which this “in a pit” metaphor appeared in my journal entries. A lot, you guys. A whole hell of a lot. I have a whole expanded universe surrounding my metaphorical pit, complete with sand dunes and desert crossings. I was not fucking around with my metaphorical pit.) FutureMe.org is also amazing. Somewhere around the time I began to develop a better concept of Future Me’s probable existence, I also came across this site for the first time. I’ve used it to send myself stupid, “Hey have you done [INSERT GOAL] yet?” emails but it’s also good for the feelsy stuff.
This is another thing I used to do in the pen & paper world. I started writing myself letters in middle school. I collected them all in a shoebox so that I could read them when I graduated from high school, because there was a time in my life when 18 seemed like an age at which I should be old and accomplished. Fortunately, I learned at the young (!) age of 18 to keep that shit in perspective, so I don’t make quite the same grand proclamations. (WHY DIDN’T YOU BECOME AN 18 YEAR OLD MILLIONAIRE, GIRL?) Still, it’s a great exercise in the present and future. You get to imagine both versions of yourself, when writing and reading, which is itself an important lesson in perspective.
I know 750words used to be free, but I have this vague feeling that I read somewhere that new accounts are no longer free. If you’re serious about writing daily but have found it hard to make yourself stick to it, I’d recommend forking over whatever few dollars a month they’re asking of you. Same goes with Cake for Breakfast, of course. And if you’re really cheap and skeptical of everything I’m saying, at least head over to Future Me and write yourself an email.
Dear Future Me,
Today I listened to Sweeney. I hope you’ve gotten over that phase of your life and learned to take the recommendations of wiser people. People who don’t openly tell you that they suck at advice-giving before giving you advice.
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