The On-My-Desk Project
Shortly after moving to New York I learned one’s life is a reflection of one’s work. I was an aspiring writer, but I didn’t consider it my work. It wasn’t making me money, something that I was quickly losing. If I was going to survive exorbitant rent costs, I had to focus on making revenue. I worked so much I thought I didn’t have time to write. In fact, it became disheartening. I began walking away from an important habit: writing everyday.
Consistent writing is a challenging practice. It demands that you have a strict routine, a goal, and a willingness to follow through with what you started. Many times when I began the daily routine, much like dieting, I wound up giving up within days, succumbing to watch a repeat Louis C.K. stand-up special. I was growing frustrated with my routine highs of periodic writing and lows of doing absolutely nothing.
After a while, I realized something: I couldn’t do it alone. Instead of writing everyday for myself, I approached a writer friend of mine to help me combat the inconsistency. We hashed out a deal: we would become each other’s writing bosses. We had to have our “assignments on the desk by the end of the day.” An assignment meant a page, a paragraph, a sentence, a clause–whatever you were able to produce that day so long as it was something you had never written before.
The idea was simple but affective. We wanted writing to feel like it was our job, not an outlet that we got to when we felt like making time. You pretend to be my boss, I pretend to be yours, and in turn we’ll get paid in experience. We ended up writing a lot, and generating some really interesting ideas. In just a few days, it took us no more than a half an hour to complete our daily assignments.
A couple of weeks went by, and we decided to raise the difficulty level. After all, we didn’t want to write nonsense–there had to be a goal in mind. We outlined a month-by-month plan that functioned with our writing everyday. The first Friday of the month we turned in a rough draft of a piece. By the following Friday, we made critiques to each other’s draft. By the next Friday we turned in the revised piece. The last Friday of the month was our free day. All the while we kept writing everyday.
I learned a few things doing this exercise. My brain changes when I’m writing, and when I do it everyday, it makes my brain stronger. I start to look at words in different ways. I re-read sentences. I become a better reader. A better listener. And I suspect I’m not the only one (Check out this article). I also remembered that it’s fun to write every day–especially when I’m working together with someone. The more consistent I am, the easier it becomes. Different themes, styles, and approaches to writing present themselves. I become eager.
It’s a small, simple mental exercise, but one I recommend to every writer who is struggling to keep up with themselves. I strengthened my mind and my will, and I produced a lot of material as a result. Whether the material was good is one question, but at least I got back the experience I had lost.