Of Word Counts and Daily Practice

I have four storage cartons full of spiral bound notebooks, totaling roughly hundreds of thousands of written words that I’ve written since I began writing in notebooks.The other day an Internet search yielded the information that the average self help book runs 20,000 words. I immediately thought, I can’t write 20,000 words!

From the closet about 5 feet away, the four storage cartons’ worth of my spiral notebooks very politely cleared their collective throat and said the notebook version of, “Excuse me?”

How easily I would have dismissed, in a moment of uncertainty, the nearly seamless procession of days that connects me to myself through a notebook, a pen, a blank page. How worthless and inconsequential I was about to declare it, in my panic. Instead, I made a decision to draw on the strength of my daily practice to finish my book.

If I trust nothing else in this life, I trust what happens when I show up at the empty page and write. I trust what happens when I write whatever is there, uncensored, unpunctuated, unexplained, illogical, repetitive, useless, whiney, redundant, scrawling, eloquent, lucid, preachy. How can these unpolished expressions become something to count on, something substantial and valuable? By the discipline and commitment that gets them down on paper, that’s how. By listening for the ring of authentic and original truth and by recognizing the clunk of the labored and unoriginal. It happens by exercising the most gentle yet courageously consistent presence to my own voice. And it happens by growing from day to year to decade as a person who writes, who lives a portion of her life on the page, who experiences herself in that act, over time, no matter what.

And here I must put in a word of endorsement for Julia Cameron‘s The Artist’s Way, a classic workbook for recovering the creative spirit. I discovered the Artist’s Way during a week when I was having what can only be described as a SARK experience: Working for a temp agency, I was assigned to fill in for a secretary to two Harvard professors, one of whom was on vacation and the other of whom was on sabbatical!

There I sat at a lovely desk, a Cambridge summer in full swing outside, and a gorgeous new Macintosh computer at my disposal. On the first day I wandered into Harvard Square over to Wordsworth Bookstore and found the Artist’s Way. I spent the rest of the week getting paid to write, dream, and think up my next job.

The Artist’s Way showed me how to make time for my creative spirit. I actually began to set the alarm thirty minutes earlier so that I could sit and write three pages. It was excruciating at first. I was in a pretty down time in my life, and all that came out was depressed, hopeless self-hating. That was hard to take. It turned out I had a huge backlog of negativity I had never acknowledged or expressed. I also remember that time as being a very fertile creative time, when I wrote two or three of my all-time favorite songs and spent part of the winter making a handmade book illustrating the lyrics of one of those songs.

I’ve tried to not write daily. There have been times I just couldnt’ stand to hear myself any more, so I stopped. That was liberating. Eventually, I found myself cranky, unproductive, and scattered. Back to the notebook. No lessons, no dogmatic conclusions. The point is to be aware and awake and present to what is happening, and to respond.

Now, here’s the thing: I know you are not necessarily the daily practice kind of person that I am. (I confess that I have developed this skill because I know myself: At heart I am lazy, wasteful, directionless, and like to take the easy way. This is also why I exercise in the morning and not in the afternoon.) I know that you are telling yourself that you will never write a book or achieve whatever it is that you want in your heart to do. I know you are using my words and my experience as an excuse to beat yourself up and find a reason to feel hopeless.

I know because I’ve been there. Remember that magical week at Harvard when I was paid to sit and dream up my next job? You know what that next job was? Well, neither do I, because I went on temping and being miserable for another couple of years, before I gave up and went back to working as an occupational therapist, which is what I had my degree in. At the time this felt like a defeat. It was not the enlightened, transcendent, creatively alive choice of my dreams.

I was lost, and I was miserable. I had a lot of growing and healing to do. And that’s why I wasn’t able to make a more creative and amazing life for myself at that point. But one thing I can say about that time for sure is that it got me here, to today, just as surely as did the many mornings that began with a cup of coffee and a spiral bound notebook, writing three pages nonstop.

What do you believe in? What do you tell yourself is impossible that with a little digging could probably  be exposed as untrue? Are you a daily practice kind of person? What is your particular kind of brilliance? Go ahead, brag! We’d like to meet you! We creative, lazy-crazies need to learn from each other. No one else quite knows what to do with us!

© Phyllis Capanna
© Phyllis Capanna

by Phyllis Capanna © 2014 joyreport

All content is the sole property of Phyllis Capanna and joyreport. If you are reading this content on another site, it has been reposted without the author’s permission and is in violation of the DMCA. © 2014 joyreport

Oh, and p.s. THANKS for reading all the way to the bottom of the page! I’m trying a blog hop this week hosted by the Mind, Body, Spirit Blog. Click on the link and check it out!

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4 thoughts on “Of Word Counts and Daily Practice

  1. That we are a gift and that we are enough we probably need to remind ourselves every single day at some point. And that’s how my daily practice keeps me believing it; it keeps me more grounded and connected to this Higher Power that gave us the gift of being here as a gift. I am glad to hear you stuck to your gifts and are giving them the value they deserve.
    In my opinion, you hit the nail with this sentence here: “The point is to be aware and awake and present to what is happening, and to respond”. One day, all of a sudden, our gift may change, since everything changes; and we’d better be present so we can be ready for that.
    Thanks for sharing.
    -Thereza

    1. Yes, I think I might be in a gift-changing time right now, and thanks for the reminder that it doesn’t have to freak me out! Thanks for stopping by. Looking forward to sharing the journey with you.

  2. Phyllis I just love this post! I too am a fan of the Artist’s Way, although I will confess I have not been as consistent as you! I tend to write when the inspiration hits me. Sometimes it will come nonstop for months and then it stops. I have learned to wait. To not piss off the Muse by doubting that she will return. My daily practice? I do have a daily practice, but it cannot be defined as such, because, although I connect with my soul and Spirit daily, I tend to connect in different ways. Sometimes it is while my body is engaged in physical activity. Sometimes it is sitting quietly. Sometimes it is while my body is doing my mindless sorting of the mail at the Post Office. However I will have to admit that the Muse shows up usually when I am not thinking about her. When I am watching television.. ha ha. Or getting groceries. Or driving.

    Thanks for sharing your journey! I look forward to a wonderful connection!

    1. Joy, thanks so much for reading and commenting. I sometimes think listening for inspiration is like looking at stars: some you have to look at indirectly in order to see them…like when you’re in the shower or waiting in traffic!

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