Write to help yourself, publish to help others

Since 2010, I’ve been trying to figure out writing, and more specifically, how to motivate myself to start publishing online consistently.

At first, I thought that meant learning more about writing, so obviously, I signed up for a few workshops and spent hundreds of hours reading articles and watching videos on YouTube. Here are just some of the workshops I’ve attended (and they were costly, too, in terms of time and money):

  • Thinking in Stories
  • Write of Passage
  • A private writing coach
  • The Examined Writer

These workshops gave me the confidence to even consider writing consistently, because like with most of us, life always gets in the way. Whereas in reality, being an excellent writer comes down to the mental models we have and the priorities we set for ourselves.

That’s why most of the workshops on writing begin with our minds and not specific writing practices. And it took many of them for me to finally solidify that in my mind because it’s not just one mental model that needs updating. It requires becoming an entirely different identity, one of a writer who continues to practice their craft.

The Identity of a Writer

Did you know that the difference between a writer and a non-writer is only 2% per day?

We all do the same things every day, from waking up and brushing our teeth, eating and working on something, spending time with people in our lives, perhaps spending some time in nature if we’re lucky, taking a shower, and falling asleep.

Yet that 2% distinguishes between the writers and the non-writers – the 2% is where the actual writer sits down and writes consistently, no matter how good or bad the writing is. The non-writer, on the other hand, only thinks about writing. Often for much longer than 2%. That has been me for almost a decade.

Do you know what 2% is? How much is 2% of a single day? It’s about 28.8 minutes. Anyone can find this amount of time to write. But our minds play tricks and make us think we can’t make it. It makes us think that we should be focusing on something else.

Even when we attempt to write, our mind goes to all the wrong things: the research, the design, the social sharing, the plan-it-all-in-advance, and then re-plan-the-whole-thing. It makes us feel productive when all we’re doing is procrastinating on the one fundamental action we need to be doing: writing.

So if the identity of a writer is simply someone who writes, why is it so hard? Well, because identities take years to form. They require actions to solidify as evidence in our memory of said identity. It requires enough repetitions to counter all of your life’s mental programming and replace it as a default behavior. Over time, these building blocks of single actions become what shape our identity. Identities are, in a way, our consistent habits multiplied by the time period.

I’d argue that many of us are already writers. Today, more than ever before, we write all the time. Whether it’s through messaging on our phones or the tasks that we do at work, it likely involves writing. But the majority of us still don’t identify as writers. Yet we could. And we should.

What is The Why of the Writer Within

Since we agree that the habit that makes the identity of a writer is to write consistently, the next step would be to form the habit, right?

Well, that’s what I thought for many years. And I wasn’t entirely wrong, but I was also missing the most critical point. The glue that connects between the daily habits and the identity I wished I had.
There are endless resources online on how to build a writing habit, I know because I’ve reviewed them all on my way here. So I won’t dive into this now, although, in the future, there probably will be a post about understanding habits.

For habits to form successfully, other than to brute-force your way into them (which rarely works), we must have an intrinsic motivation for wanting to accomplish them. The motivation that comes from within, is usually aligned to one of our values, the internal compasses that guide us.

Extrinsic motivation rarely helps, if only temporarily. Long-term habits shouldn’t be tied to status, quick wins, money (like it was for me), or what others might think of you.

I’m pretty sure that just like me, most people don’t wish for an identity that’s driven by external factors either. Yet it’s so easy to stop at them because they are so tangible and rewarding.

The only way to find your intrinsic motivation is to find the why of the writing within you. It can take weeks, months, or even years to truly discover. Even if you know what it is, you’d need plenty of time for it to take over the default behavior, and that’s okay.

For me, it really comes down to the idea that writing is thinking-one of the best ways to sharpen our minds, clarify our thoughts, and work on ourselves in any way we see fit. That is why journaling is so common, oven spoken and written about, and practiced by many. Diaries, daily logs, bullet journals, task managers, clippers, and organizers, they’re all just different ways for us to try and clarify our thinking. I’ve always cherished the mind and what people can do with it.

Writing is not only thinking, it is also expression. Expression of fear, joy, excitement, pride. It’s an expression of freedom, even if nobody is listening. It’s the most powerful way of ensuring that your words remain in this world long after we’re gone.
Writing is also all about connection and having direct conversations with the smartest people in the world, even those who are no longer with us. I know I’ve been changed by the writing of others. I’ve been challenged, educated, and inspired through writing.

When you think of writing as a natural part of thinking, expressing, and connecting, wouldn’t you want to do more of it? Well… Perhaps not.

Your values might be entirely different. You might not want to publish anything. You might just write for yourself – that’s great! Or, you might want to connect to more people and write to reach out to as many of them as possible. That’s fantastic!

Whatever your personal why is, the identity of a writer only has one thing in common: they write. They write often, and consistently. Discover your personal why, and habit-forming will become a much easier road to walk on. Slowly build the blocks of evidence over time. Whenever you slip off the road, simply remind yourself of the why, and get back to walking. Walking down this road while remembering The Why of The Writer Within will get you over the hump.

The What of The Writer Within

One common practice of writers is writer’s block. It’s bad, and it happens to everyone, and it feels like the end of the world. Where this comes from is likely a topic for another day. Yet it always happens. So what can we do about that?

For me, the reason is closely related to the idea of writing is thinking, so whenever I am stuck, I simply write to give myself advice. The topic can vary, depending on what is on my mind. The whole process then becomes a brainstorming exercise, which I slowly clarify in writing, which also helps clarify that in my mind.
This type of writing also feels far more natural, instead of thinking about the next idea for a blog post, what the audience wants to see, is this topic suitable to my niche, and so many other distracting thoughts.

This post is a perfect example of that. It’s simply my way of putting into words why I want to be a writer and what is authentic to me at any given moment. The rest of the content will still be there at other times when my mind can focus on them.
So whenever possible, write to help yourself, and if you’re feeling up to it, publish to help others. Your words matter.