I don’t often do challenges – that’s not to say I don’t like to challenge myself. I’m
allergic to habits wildly spontaneous, and since most challenges work on a habit-forming model, they don’t sit well with me.
I was trawling through my old blogs a while ago, and an hour later, I had removed every trace of myself aged 10-17 from the Internet. That’s because I was a little shit. But these 38 deleted blogs led me to the year I started blogging – 2006, when blogskins.com was all the rage, and everybody used Cbox. Oh, those days. Coincidentally, this ten year mark coincided with my one month of being on the Thousand Word Day challenge. Seriously, does Heaven schedule these things?!
Writing has been something I’ve been very ill-disciplined with over the years – only writing when inspiration struck me over the head with a club. Those days, I’d sit down and bleed words, but otherwise, I was losing a lot of content every day, simply by not penning them down. It wasn’t until I got to Korea that I decided to make it a part of my day. And the challenge?
1,000 words of writing a day, or 3,000 words of reading a day
30,000 words later –
So how did I come to that number?
I based the number off my usual writing length, and added a bit more to push me out of my comfort zone. I was doing about 500-800 words on the average, daily, so I just added that extra 30% to the upper limit. 1,000 sounded like a nice number. And I was going to keep it at that, but then I saw this post by Dr. Gwee.
Writing won’t improve your grammar. Writing won’t make you a better or more mature person. Writing won’t teach you truths about the world you live in. It is reading that stands a better chance of doing all these things. Be a reader.
Source: Dr. Gwee’s Facebook
And so I added reading to the diet.
I consume words a lot faster than I churn words, so of course the number had to be pegged higher. I pegged it at 300, which about 10 A4 pages. Not too ambitious, I think.
One month into the challenge, I can finally say – the habit has been formed.
Of course at first it was daunting – facing a blank page is never easy. But because I often have way too much to say, it all comes down on page. And rather than the flimsy, makeshift diction I use when speaking, writing forces me to put my ideas and thoughts down in a coherent, structured and occasionally eloquent manner, pushing me to think, rephrase and shift perspectives. All of which have been incredibly conducive for deep thinking, processing and learning. If nothing else, I hope this helps to build rigour of mind, which I’ve always said was the sole redeeming factor of a university education – and I fully intend to train myself to have it, whether or not I ever do a degree.
I built a lot of flexibility into my plans because I didn’t want it to feel like a chore. Writing was and should always be cathartic, even if the struggle to catharsis is real. My only guidelines to myself were:
A) 1,000 words or more per day, or read 3,000 words
B) Any form of thoughtful writing counts – journal entries, rants, texts in a discussion, etc.
C) Any form of thoughtful reading counts – newspapers, novels, non-fiction, Harvard Business Review, whatever I have on hand.
With this, I managed to give myself enough leeway to explore and play around with my writing and reading so that I didn’t tire of it before it could be a habit. I figured that since the end-goal was knowledge acquisition, rigour of thinking and habit-formation, I would swing with whatever got me there.
In the past I always forced my own reading diet to conform to my goals of the day: I was very rigorous and strict about what I fed myself, reading diet wise. The period when I first joined 2359 and decided that I wanted to plunge into finance (no doubt taken by some strange unsustainable impulse), I bought a ton of books about Warren Buffett and his recommended reading.. all of which are decaying slowly but surely on my shelf. Or the time my stint in TrendLit necessitated that I be well-versed in Chinese literature.. all I can say is anything that is not modern Chinese poetry is very likely not my type of thing. These made reading a chore, not an enriching experience. This time, I’m mixing it up – as long as I’m interested, buy the damn book and read it. Who cares what it’s about, biographies, psychiatry textbooks, workplace culture, historical fiction, fantasy – dragons or fantasy – elven world, as long as I will read it, I can buy it. 🙂 This has been so therapeutic and freeing, and I look forward to reading more than ever.
Writing is just as cathartic as reading is therapeutic
I fully intend to continue being stubborn about it and write 1,000 words a day, even if half of this is bullshit, ranting, whining, creating mountains out of molehills. I don’t even care what I write, it can be informal posts like this, fanfiction (whatever AU), poetry (but 1,000 words of poetry is admittedly very difficult, I mean, not all of us can
Beowulf bore others to death you know?), or it can be my melancholy free verse that I so enjoy being histrionic about. It can be snippets of one of my old plays, instruction manuals, reviews, translations, book summaries, essays, free writing, drabbles, oneshots, copywriting, etc. Whatever language, English, Mandarin, Korean, Cantonese (really biting off more than I can chew LOL), as long as I can understand can already. Having said this.. I really ought to write more fiction. Haven’t touched the genre in so long that I probably have forgotten how to imagine in the first place.
Good writing is important, yes, but good writing doesn’t come easy. Quoting from an article in Harvard Business Review by Adam Grant,
People often believe that to do better work, they should do fewer things. Yet the evidence flies in the face of that assumption: Being prolific actually increases originality, because sheer volume improves your chances of finding novel solutions.
Every day at Acclivis, doing Marcomms, I write. A lot. My articles average 300-500 words each, and I allow that to count towards my quota when I’m tired. Simply because it was researched and written with thought. Other than that, I blog a lot. Not here, but I keep a DayOne journal and two private WordPress blogs for different purposes – one for life at large, and one for career-related insights. All of this writing might amount to nothing, or it might amount to something one day. It doesn’t matter. Penning down my thoughts has brought fresh clarity to my days, and I am more driven, directed than ever. Having to dissect my day and find issues to think and talk about is making me more observant. From observations, I form an opinion, and from opinion, I refine, reiterate and develop world views. That’s what makes it matter for me.
Of course, every great carpenter needs his tools, and I use many tools to help me keep up with it. I love DayOne because it’s available on iOS and Mac, with all the security functions I need to feel reassured. Yes, I am paranoid. WordPress is great for longform writing I find, with apps for iOS and Mac, thus prompting the move from both Blogger and Tumblr. Occasionally, thoughts go onto my Trello boards as well, especially when I need others to put their two cents on it. The kanban layout makes it incredibly visual and it’s easy for them to respond to me. For quickly jotting down ideas on the go, I have a notebook (where I scribble in Korean) and Werdsmith, with the most beautiful UI of writing apps ever. I try to remove any obstacles to me penning down a thought or an idea, so that I can let them flow freely. It matters – especially when you find yourself staring dazedly at a blank page towards the end of the day and realize you’ve forgotten that novel idea that you wanted to write about this morning.
Overall, I find that this is very feasible given the right tools and adjustment to the general concept to fit your inclinations. Objectives have to be kept in mind all the time, and there must always be a KPI, which can vary for you, and it’s even better if you can articulate your BHAG (big hairy audacious goal). Try it, just one month, and see how it works out for you. 🙂
Harvard Business Review, Octane Magazine (Entrepreneur’s Organization), First Round Review, Stanford Insights, Forbes, Andreessen Horowitz, Inc-ASEAN, McKinsey Insights, FastCompany, Fortune, Economist, NYT-Bits, Medium, The Mighty, The Hustle, Gartner Blog, Goodreads List