A while back, a person that I was coaching revealed that he thought that I was a full-time writer. Then yesterday, a friend at work asked me how I was able to write so much while working full-time.
I’m not a full-time writer and most of my income is from my work as an engineer in the field of deep learning, an approach to artificial intelligence. But I do write a lot and I even make a little money from my writing.
I usually wake up at between 4 am and 6 am. I usually meditate for at least 30 minutes. I practice Vipassana meditation, as taught by S. N. Goenka. I often then also exercise (sometimes CrossFit), make bulletproof coffee, water the plants, and run some laundry.
Then the first thing I do on my computer is to promote the article I wrote the previous day, which was automatically published on Medium at 6 am Pacific time. This often also includes giving the article an additional editing pass.
I maintain a list of hundreds of article ideas, but I have found that the most effective thing to write about is whatever is fresh and alive in my mind. This is the art of noticing the article that wants to write itself. When that edge of aliveness can be felt, writing becomes effortless.
I then enter a period of flow in which I just write the article from start to finish without stopping. I don’t pause and second-guess. I just write it. It’s actually more like I allow it to write itself. I feel like the needle of a gramophone faithfully following the grove in a vinyl record.
It can take some training to learn to ride the edge of inspiration, to let whatever is there flow, to not get blocked by trying to find something other than what is crystalizing into reality. I believe that I first developed this skill by doing morning pages.
Morning pages is a technique that Julia Cameron writes about in The Artist’s Way. It consists of grabbing a piece of paper and a pen and then free-writing stream-of-consciousness for a fixed amount of time or until the page (or pages) is filled. If you’re blocked, then write about being blocked.
I did morning pages for over a year. The ability to identify what is trying to be expressed, and then to express it, spilled over into areas of my life beyond writing. I seem to be much more fluid in expressing my feelings to my wife, in tackling challenges at work, and in interacting in social situations.
From the very beginning of the article, there is a part of me that is calmly saying “finish it up now.” There is a balance between the outflow and the reining-in. There is a feeling of trying to let out the rope but at the same time pull it back into a tidy loop. More compact articles are both quicker and easier to write, and more enjoyable to read.
Once the article is complete from start to finish, I review it and edit it for typos and clarity. When it feels good enough then I call it done, add an image and tags, and schedule it for publication the following morning.
When I’m done writing, I go to work and perform the functions of my job. I may look back at the article a few times throughout the day. This gives me a chance to reflect upon and integrate what I wrote, which can be very therapeutic. This reviewing process also allows me to continue refining and editing. I notice typos, ambiguities, expressions that are awkward, and parts that are overly-complex. I fix those as I notice them.
I’m able to do all of this within the framework of it being a “hobby.” But writing is more than a hobby for me. Writing is something that I’m very passionate about. It’s an integral part of my life. It’s a way that I make sense of my own life. At least for now, writing seems to be something that I can’t help but do; I don’t have a choice. I don’t write; I am written.
You might also like to read some of my other pieces about writing:
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