Writing for writing's sake: keeping your spirit alive in the digital marketing age
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Between the dawn of humankind and the year 2003, we created about five exabytes of content. That includes all the works of Shakespeare, the first decade of the Simpsons, and the contents of the Library of Alexandria.
By 2013 we were creating five exabytes of content per year.
The demand for content is soaring, and with it the pressure to create valuable and unique pieces of writing. It’s tough to deliver clickable content day after day, week after week.
Sometimes it feels like all the emphasis falls on commercializing your words, and monetization has commodified your voice. And that’s not to mention SEO marketing, which Sucks Enthusiasm Out of your creative process faster than you can say “backlink.”
Ever get to a Friday afternoon and struggle to remember why you got into writing? Don’t let it get to your head. Just remember your writing is an art and a craft before it’s anything commercial. No dollar amount or ranking on a SERP can accurately appraise what you’ve created.
In the storm of content creation and digital data, here’s how to keep yourself active and enthused about your chosen vocation, the ancient and noble craft of writing.
If you’re a writer by trade, you’re probably a writer by nature. You couldn’t stop writing if you tried. If they took away your laptop, you’d be scrawling the walls, spray painting the buildings, or composing haiku from the rooftops. This is your strength, so give it an outlet.
When you journal (in a real paper journal with an analog ink pen), you make writing intimate again. Write as though no one will ever read what you’re saying. Don’t be precious about your new, blank, leather bound tome. It’s not a memoir for posterity--fill it up! Ramblings and nonsense are fine. Just keep the pen moving. It’s good for you.
You’ll know you’re doing this right when jam packed journals start piling up, and you’re buying cheap composition books as fast as you can fill them. But to journal this much, you need a lot to journal about. Which brings us to item number two:
Live a Full, Dynamic Life
The best writing draws from rich life experiences. The greatest gift you can give yourself as a writer is a full, dynamic personal history. Get out of your typing hovel and do some traveling. Leave your comfort zone. Eschew whatever is enabling laziness or timidity in your life. Burst your bubble. Shake off your fetters and go live!
The world has enough mediocre people with mediocre writing careers. And they’re blogging at a rate of 1,400 posts per minute, all day every day. You can offer more.
The range of emotions and experiences you encounter on your journey will dramatically expand your capacity as a writer. Contact with people from other cultures illumines and humbles. Navigating language barriers urges you to communicate more clearly and succinctly.
If travel isn't your cuppa, do something else that excites you. Go to the edge of your fear. Quit that job you hate and see what happens if you freelance full time. Move to another city. Try out for the big leagues. Change your hair, at least. Disrupt your life! You can write with authority when you’ve lived with authority.
Spend Quiet Time in Nature
Recharge that inspiration! There’s no substitute for the vivifying power of the natural world. Whatever kind of terrain or climate you live in, go walk in it. Even in the big city you can go to a park or take a train to the edge of town for a day hike. Be next to a tree. Even a simple walk over the Brooklyn Bridge can do wonders if you pause to feel the coolness of the air and water all around you.
Quiet time is the opposite of writing. Writing is an expulsion of thought. It’s unsustainable. We need to complement it with times of receptivity. Contemplating nature is also a great way to reclaim the meaning that marketing and monetizing drain from your life.
If you take your phone, it doesn’t count. If you Instagram it, it’s dead. Get away from all these awful glowing screens!
To command your words, first command your thoughts. To command your thoughts, meditate.
If you’ve never tried meditation, here’s a simple technique you can practice anywhere--even right now, where you’re sitting reading this. Listen to your in breath, all the way to the end. Listen to your outbreath, all the way to the end. Don’t do anything else. Keep your attention on your breathing. Don’t try to make it long or deep, just breathe normally.
When thoughts pop into your head, ignore them and go back to your breathing. It’s harder than it sounds, isn’t it? But practice this enough and you’ll get better. You’ll start to see you have better emotional control, as well as stronger command of your thoughts, your attention and your words--because words are thoughts made physical, as sounds or letterforms.
Practice Penmanship or Calligraphy
There’s nothing quite like forming characters out of ink. It soothes and balances; it also gets the mind flowing like quicksilver. Plus, it supports your love of words and letters.
Just for kicks, try to develop a few different styles of handwriting. Cursive may be a dying art, but that doesn’t mean you can’t perfect your own style of it. Print is clearer, slower, and a less formal. Is yours round and bubbly, or jagged and angular? Try it the other way. See how it feels.
Take a class or watch some videos on calligraphy. There are lots of traditions, from old world European to Chinese Confucian. This is an excellent practice to develop focus and attention to detail. President of the Art of Ink in America Society Dr. Yoo Sung Lee says that “contemporary calligraphy is a visual expression of mind.” Watch your calligraphy skills metamorphosize as you spend more time in nature and deepen your meditation practice.
If for nothing else, there’s a sensual satisfaction feeling ink drag across the page. Savor this. It’s something the internet can’t provide, nor replicate.
Write Drunk, Edit Sober
The age old advice to write drunk and edit sober holds up even in the age of the blogosphere. Journaling is cathartic, but don’t fool yourself that anyone will want to read that mess. It’s for you alone. If you want to transform it into shareable content, you’d better edit ruthlessly.
If it’s possible to delete a word, delete it. If you repeat a point, pick one instance and cut out the rest. If you’re unsure about a paragraph, give it the axe. Delete, delete, delete. This will tighten up your work until every word is packed with meaning. Do more with less.
Back to the Grind
Now that you’re recharged, balanced and empowered, you can face the work week with enthusiasm. And that’s important, because your writing directly reflects your mental state.
Don’t let the demands of the daily grind get you down. Professional writing--even monetized blogging--can be superficial and results-based, but when you’re focused and spirited, it’s easy to crank out the wordcount.
You’ll have a better quality of voice and a snappier style. And most importantly, you’ll be enjoying life more. A writer’s job is to share ideas with others. What ideas you share, and how effectively you share them, depends on the quality of life you create for yourself. So live, and write well!
Brian Oaster, a content writer at translation services provider Day Translations, has worked all over the world as an arts educator, English teacher, basket exporter, rare book dealer, fortune teller, and as the first mate of a private sailing yacht.