On second thought (Aprildaily post-mortem part 2)

I wrote yesterday that I had to forget the reader in order to complete my #Aprildaily project. I wrote that in order to publish a ten-minute free write every day, I had to pretend nobody would read what I wrote.

When I hopped in the shower after pressing Publish on yesterday’s post, I realized the whole “forget the reader” thing was a lie.

I did not forget the reader. I did not forget that the writing I was doing was going to go out into the world. I knew, in the back if not the front of my mind, that what I wrote was going to be public. And it was that knowing that led me to write fiction.

During the first three months of 2015, I truly wrote as if nobody was reading. I wrote that way because nobody was reading. The words were kept safe in my composition books, and when I penned them, I wrote to myself. Journal entries, mostly, though some were free-writes from prompts. And during those three months, I didn’t write a word of fiction. Attempting fiction intimidated me, and it was too easy to slip into diary mode when I knew the entries would remain private.

When I knew those words would be released into the wild, though, when I vowed to publish a free write every day during the month of April, diary entries were off the table. So if I pulled a prompt from the box that would have been too “Dear Diary,” or that would have been a cliché personal story, or that I had no personal story for, fiction leaked out instead.

And that was the beauty of this project: it was the publicness of it that shaped the writing, and that permitted unexpected things to happen. At the paper level, I did stick to the rules of keep the pen moving, capture first thought, and do not self-edit during the ten minute writes. But at a higher level — at the ideas level — the awareness that the writing would be published started my pen in a different direction than if I knew from the get-go that the words would never be read.

At several points during the month, since the work was public and I therefore analyzed it more, I noticed patterns that I wanted to break, or I got bored with myself. How many posts am I going to write about food or nature? How many times have I written the words “I,” “my,” “me”? And if I was bored, surely someone else would be bored too. So when I pulled a prompt like “fingernail clippings” or “a receipt for flowers,” scenes presented themselves — scenes that included strangers and did not include me — and I wrote them. I don’t think I would have taken that leap in a private journal. I was not brave enough to attempt fiction. But now I know I can.

And with that, I will end my analysis. Thank you so much to all of you who contributed prompts, who read the posts, and who liked and commented — you kept me going when it was hard and scary, and your support gives me the courage to keep pressing Publish.

Aprildaily Post-mortem

I was afraid to walk on that stage and show the audience my kitchen-table self. — Brené Brown

At the beginning of 2015, I resolved to write 10 minutes per day. I use a pen and paper, set a timer, and I write whatever thoughts pop into my head. For the first three months of the year, I wrote in my notebook and rarely published the free writes: they were raw, rough, misspelled, unpunctuated; they wandered, had no story, were diary writing, exposition, or stream of consciousness. In other words, they were naked, and there was no way I was going to share them.

I felt strange doing so much writing and so little blogging, though. For the first time in almost four years, my blog went dormant. So on a whim one day, I asked my you, my readers, for prompts. And you delivered. You delivered so generously, in fact, that I felt compelled to publish whatever I wrote from the prompts you provided.

During the month of April, I pulled a prompt each day, set a timer for ten minutes, wrote, and published. And it was scary, y’all. I published raw thought, typos, meandering nonsense. I put the inner workings of my brain out into the world, and it made me feel really vulnerable. My self-talk was terrible – “Nobody’s going to want to read this,” “Who cares what I think about rocks?”, “This is boring.”

But.

I know as a writer you are always supposed to consider the reader. In this case, though, I had to put that consideration aside or it would have gotten in the way. I would have self-edited during the free writing portion; I would have never pressed Publish. I had to pretend like nobody was reading.

And writing like nobody is reading was liberating. I wrote fiction, y’all. I’ve never written fiction. I read fiction — fiction is my everything — but I’ve always shied away from writing fiction because I didn’t know how. I don’t have stories inside of me. I don’t make stuff up. I’m a terrible liar, I’m not creative or innovative, I can’t make something from nothing.

Those were the things I told myself before this experiment.

Now, I know what it feels like to have a narrative come out that I didn’t know was there. I know now what authors mean when they say, “I don’t know what happens next,” or, “I had nothing to do with it – the story wrote itself.” It only happened a couple of times during the month, but those couple of times were worth all of the fear, all of the vulnerability, all of the nakedness that came with taking this project on.

Quote from Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown. See also her TED talk, The Power of Vulnerability.