3 Reasons Why Writing Every Day Will Make You a Better Person
“I’m a full-time believer in writing habits…You may be able to do without them if you have genius but most of us only have talent and this is simply something that has to be assisted all the time by physical and mental habits or it dries up and blows away…” —Flannery O’Connor
When people ask about my writing habits and hear that I write every day, they sometimes say, “Oh, I could never do that.” They say this like it’s a choice. But it’s not.
Writing, for me, is something I have to do. Otherwise, I just don’t feel like myself. This wasn’t always the case. I wasn’t born with pencil in hand, scribbling stories on a notebook before being able to crawl.
Like anything, writing is a habit. But now, years after the first time of forcing myself to get up at 5:00 a.m. and write, the discipline of attacking the blank page feels a little less intimidating.
All habits are this way. The first time is the hardest, and each subsequent experience becomes easier. The effort it takes to begin decreases as your muscle memory takes over. It starts to feel natural, even effortless.
But why should you even care about this in the first place? Does the world really need more words, more blog posts? Maybe not. Even so, I still believe in this habit of daily writing.
Writing every day doesn’t just make you a better writer. It makes you a better person. Here’s why and how it works.
1. Daily writing builds your discipline.
I never played sports in school, and as a result had to learn discipline later on in life. I believe this was why I struggled to stick with anything until later in life — I had never practiced it.
And without practice, you won’t have discipline.
But we misunderstand this idea of discipline, thinking it’s something you have before you do the work. Not true. Discipline is a byproduct of practice, not a prerequisite for it.
Here’s a story from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird to illustrate the point:
Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”
You get stronger by lifting small weights now and bigger ones later. The same goes for writing or any creative muscle. Writing for just a few minutes every day can build your discipline, just like running or reading or any daily practice can. So start now. Discipline comes with practice.
2. Daily writing makes you smarter (especially when you write by hand).
Writing makes you think. Some studies even show that writing by hand increases cognitive activity and can actually make you more intelligent—as long as you put the keyboard aside and write by hand. As Dr. William Klemm says in this Psychology Today article:
There is a spill-over benefit for thinking skills used in reading and writing. To write legible cursive, fine motor control is needed over the fingers. You have to pay attention and think about what and how you are doing it. You have to practice. Brain imaging studies show that cursive activates areas of the brain that do not participate in keyboarding.
J.K. Rowling did this for Harry Potter, as well, writing down ideas and stories on little scraps of paper that she collected and carried around with her. There’s something to this process of writing, especially handwriting, that makes your brain work better.
Here’s what author Claudia Altucher says on the matter:
There’s a reason why so many successful people write everyday — whether it’s a diary they keep or a blog they write. Writing things down forces you to clarify your thoughts into more concrete representations. It takes a lot of effort. But over time, it’ll become easier, and you start to notice that your thoughts become more crispy. You’ll also have fewer doubts about your own thoughts.
When you don’t know what to write, you get introspective. By sitting down every day to write, you are exercising your brain in ways that it doesn’t always get.
3. Daily writing gives you a sense of accomplishment.
We all want to feel like we aren’t wasting our time. And writing for just a few minutes every day — in a journal, on a blog, or even for a book — gives you that.
If nothing else, you have something to show for your day. And that makes you happy. At least, that’s how it worked for Stephen King, who wrote the following in his popular memoir, On Writing:
I’ve written because it fulfilled me. Maybe it paid off the mortgage on the house and got the kids through college, but those things were on the side–I did it for the buzz. I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for joy, you can do it forever.
Those are just a few reasons why you should write every day. They’re the reasons I keep daily writing practice. Sure, it’s my job and a means of income for my family. But I was doing all of this long before that. I don’t do it because I get paid. If anything, I get paid because I do it every day.
That’s the power of a habit. It takes you to places you could never dream of going. So where will writing every day take you?
So now what? Where do you begin? Start by taking Anne Lamott’s advice from Bird by Bird:
“But how?” my students ask. “How do you actually do it?”
You sit down, I say. You try to sit down at approximately the same time every day. This is how you train your unconscious to kick in for you creatively. So you sit down at, say, nine every morning, or ten every night. You put a piece of paper in the typewriter, or you turn on the computer and bring up the right file, and then you stare at it for an hour or so. You begin rocking, just a little at first, and then like a huge autistic child. You look at the ceiling, and over at the clock, yawn, and stare at the paper again. Then, with your fingers poised on the keyboard, you squint at an image that is forming in your mind — a scene, a locale, a character, whatever — and you try to quiet your mind so you can hear what that landscape or character has to say above the other voices in your mind.
Originally published and adapted from goinswriter.com on August 18, 2014.