Valjean Clark

I should write

Earlier today I was thinking about how I’m enjoying writing more than ever – both journaling and writing for this website – and how my enjoyment for it has grown the less I try to force it.

This post is kind of a follow-on post to my very first post. At the end of that post, I suggested that not having a writing habit or schedule would be a blocker to me writing more posts. Now I think the only reason I’m really sticking with it this time around is because it’s not another habit I’m trying to force upon myself. A good example is my experience the past few weeks. I had a knee surgery three weeks ago. Sleep has been difficult, and while I’ve done some journaling, I’m just not as sharp or lucid as I usually am. When I’ve sat down to write a blog post since the surgery, the words and concepts were just not flowing. Rather than forcing myself to write, like a lot of the habit and grit literature would suggest, I just didn’t write! I think I felt ok doing this because I knew I would come back to it when I felt better. I wasn’t afraid that if I missed a couple weeks that I would risk losing the habit altogether.

I feel like there is something really important for me to learn from this experience. I’m regularly doing something that I’ve wanted to do for ~15 years! And I didn’t accomplish it by following any framework or any kind of fancy personal reminder or incentive system.

In that first post, I wrote about how I approached the website as something I should do. I thought I’d expand on that a bit and how my relationship with writing has changed from then to now.

Back in 2015, I remember feeling very inadequate. While I had finally started to get my footing in my career, I felt I could and should be doing so much more. There were many accomplished people who had websites, wrote blog posts, worked on open-source tools, built cool side projects, and I didn’t do any of that.

I remember creating a website to try to be more like these people. At the time, my approach to any problem in my life was to find some kind of advice or wisdom or framework and follow it dogmatically. I knew I could create a website if I just established a routine, established habits, and worked hard. So I did. I figured out the tooling and wrote a few posts about software topics over the course of a couple months. I didn’t really enjoy writing the posts, save the small satisfaction from checking the box off my todo list. I then got a new job and moved cities, and the habit didn’t stick.

I always felt bad that the habit didn’t stick. I took it as a personal failing. I had this long list of things that I should be doing in my head, and this went back on that list.

Completely separate from the website and blog posts and other things I should be doing, I had started journaling off-and-on in 2011. Some years have more posts than others, and sometimes I tried forcing it into a habit (which never stuck), but I always came back to it as a way to think through life, identity, relationships, and jobs. In 2019, I had an ACL surgery, and something about that experience brought me to my journal more frequently. By 2021, I was journaling almost every week, often more than once a week. Now, I journal all the time, sometimes multiple times per day. Sometimes the entries are just a few sentences, sometimes they are many pages.

At the beginning of 2023, I was comfortable enough with my journal writing to talk with others about the things I was journaling, and from there it wasn’t much of a leap to post some of my more thought-through entries to a website. And now here I am, writing fairly regularly and enjoying it very much!

I cannot stress enough how much this has shattered, and is still shattering, my understanding of hard work and how to achieve things I am proud of. For most of my adult life, I assumed I just wasn’t working hard enough, or hadn’t found the right productivity systems, or just didn’t have enough willpower or commitment or persistence or intelligence (or some combination of these) to do something I’m proud of. And now it turns out it wasn’t any of that! Apparently I can just do something because I like to do it, because I am interested in it, and that alone over a long enough time period delivers great results. There are things that can amplify or augment this, like The Commons Sunday writing club that I’ve been to a few times, but without the inherent interest and satisfaction I found and fostered in writing, something like a writing club wouldn’t be enough. I’m able to write posts whether I’m at the writing club or not.

I’m at the very early stages of understanding how what I’ve learned from this might apply to other parts of my life. Of course, I need to be careful to not try to framework-ify what I learned from my ongoing journey with writing to the rest of my life. However, there does seem to be a beautiful simple truth at the core of what I learned: trying to force behavior change rapidly drains energy and willpower, while simply following interests doesn’t feel draining at all. I’m sure many a truism has been written about this experience, but it seems like the only way to learn some of these life lessons is through experience.

I have a feeling this is a topic whose themes I’ll be revisiting in future posts…