The biting rain crashed around my ears, saturating my grey woolen overcoat with freezing water, crystalising amongst the fibres. Beneath my feet, a squelching mulch of sodden turf, mud, and bull manure, threatening to drag me down into the mire. My shirt clung to my chest for dear life, melding into my pallid skin as if constricting around my lungs.
My companion gripped my arm at the elbow, smouldering in his leather jacket. He blamed me for this. For all of this. I could tell. But the whole mess wasn’t my fault. Probably not all of it, anyway.
I stared up at the man in the tractor, straining to make contact with his eyes which he kept concealed behind the brim of a flat cap. The hessian potato sack draped over his shoulders looked in that moment more welcoming than the finest cotton sheets. I had to hold myself back from leaping on board and wrestling with him for occupancy of the little cab.
“Please,” I stuttered, imploringly.
“I’ve started a writing challenge by mistake.”
OK, OK. That didn’t really happen. But I really didn’t intend to start anything.
I really thought it was just me.
I had noticed a nagging sense of anxiety every time I sat down to write the copy for pages on my own website. A tendency to tinker endlessly with the text on every page before publishing. A steadfast reluctance to dedicate any time at all to writing my own blogs.
As a professional writer, this was a problem. And I thought it was a personal one.
Writing is a bit like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the better you can flex it. So I decided to publish a personal blog every week for the next year — an ambitious quota, but I had to push myself to get out of the rut. I decided that each week I would write something directly (or sometimes loosely) inspired by a different record in my vinyl collection. If you want to know more about my thought process, there’s more detail in my blog here.
I took to Twitter to commit myself to doing this, and to see if any of my followers might be willing to try to keep me accountable. I genuinely didn’t expect anyone out there to even be interested in reading these posts: that wasn’t really the point. It was more about the process than the product. If I made a commitment to do it publicly, then I’d have to do it.
So I hastily threw together a 5-tweet thread. Nothing fancy. Just putting my idea out there and seeing if anyone was interested in forcing me to do it, out of the kindness of their heart.
Likes started pinging in almost instantly. The thread was retweeted by a couple of high profile copywriters with large Twitter followings (huge shout out to Gareth of That.Content.Shed and Jake Keane, in particular). People replied saying they were looking forward to reading the posts.
And then it happened: the first DM. Stuart Cameron (who is a great writer that you should definitely check out over at Writer’s Blick) said that he felt exactly the same and wanted to commit to 52 blog posts alongside mine. I had my accountability buddy. Things had already gone better than expected.
But the replies kept coming. So many writers who — it had seemed to me up to this point, were just brimming with confidence and self-evident talent — said that the feeling that had pushed me to take action resonated with them.
Turns out it wasn’t just me. Maybe it’s a sub-branch of impostor syndrome. Maybe people who are good at writing are also psychologically predisposed to be critical and anxious about their own work. Maybe that over-analysing is why they’re even good at writing in the first place. Maybe we’re born with it. Maybe it’s just hard.
Whatever causes this feeling, it’s clearly something a lot of writers feel or had felt. More and more people were expressing interest in signing up. Remember, this is a year-long commitment. 52 regular iterations of something that by definition you find difficult. No small thing.
Yet there were more almost-instant sign-ups. Toyah: A non-freelancer preparing to dip her toe in the water who is spending the next year writing about her favourite video games. Penny, who is bravely plumbing the depths of bafflingly commercially successful cheesy pop songs. Julia, who’ll soon get started on her Write52 posts but who blew me away with her bread-based dating saga. Read that here: it’s truly a love story for the modern age.
I decided to collect the posts together under the hashtag #Write52 so anyone who was interested could find all the posts in one place. And suddenly, it was a thing.
People are still signing up: you can find all their details on a handy Trello board put together by Toyah. Posts have gone up on Medium, LinkedIn, Twitter, people’s personal websites. There’s been great posts about music and films that people feel strongly (whether positively or negatively) about. Posts about the #Write52 challenge itself and how other people have interpreted it, like Stuart’s post here, Helen’s here, or Ben’s here.
I didn’t expect or intend any of this.
But I’m delighted that it’s happening. When I think about #Write52 now, I see it less as a kick up the arse for me to get over my own hang-up, and more as a collection of talented writers sitting down and creating something just for the sake of it. I’ve read every post tagged with #Write52 so far, and it’s already opened my eyes to so many new perspectives. It’s really lovely.
And in this community, there’s only one thing we do with really lovely things: we share them.
In that spirit, I’ll be compiling a weekly newsletter with links to recent #Write52 posts. It’ll go out on the weekend, so you can pick through and read anything that stands out to you at your leisure. If that sounds like something for you, you can sign up here.
And if you’d like to join the #Write52 family, good news — you can! We’re here for anyone who feels they need to force themselves to write more regularly. You can be a freelancer or work in-house. You can be a writer, designer, whatever. Write about anything you want, pick a theme or don’t. Just make it interesting, and make sure you do it every week (or you’ll have the rest of us to answer to). It might just be the best thing you do all year.
It might even be fun. (No guarantees.)
So, what’s the moral of this little story? You’re probably not as weird as you think you are. If you find something difficult, don’t be afraid to reach out — there may just be a kind community of people out there waiting for you to say something they’ve been thinking.
My name’s Ed and I’m a freelance copywriter, editor, and screenwriter. I live in a little town called Hitchin in the UK, where I am routinely terrorised by two cats. Get at me on Twitter at @EdCallowWrites, see pictures of my tormentors at @ed.callow on Instagram or check out my website www.edcallow.com