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On making, breaking, and remaking the habit of daily writing

Toward the end of spring semester 2016, I started writing an essay a day. I enjoyed it. (Well, I mostly enjoyed it.) It was certainly a difficult time of the semester. But sitting down to write about something of interest each day was useful. People asked how I was able to fit it in. I’ll admit that I’m not quite sure, since I was busy. But it was clear that once I’d written the first week of essays, that it had become a habit. Each night at about 8:30 p.m. (okay, Michelle will tell me that it was really 10:30 p.m.), I’d put aside whatever work I was doing, and work on the essay. In many ways, it was easier (or at least more comforting) to write the essay than it was to miss a day.

And then … we traveled, the semester ended, summer research started, and more. And I missed a few days. And it felt easier each day not to write the essay than to write the essay. I thought more about the hard parts of writing the essays (picking the right essay to write, deciding how much I was going to rant about a particular topic, etc.). I also found myself asking about the benefits of writing these essays. In some ways, I was hoping that regular writing would make me a better writer, or a better thinker, or less upset about some topics, or something. But I’m not sure that I accomplished any of those things. I’ve been writing for long enough that it will take a lot of work to change my tone. I’d also have to spend much more time editing than I’ve been spending on these essays. And, as I think we were told at the end-of-summer chairs’ meeting, writing a rant about a topic doesn’t generally make you feel better about the topic.

So, the summer came and went. Each week, I’d tell myself You should really start writing again. But I didn’t. Each week, I’d tell myself Until you start writing again, you can’t complain to Raynard about the web. Then the end of summer came, and it was clear that I could not do all the work that I had to do before classes started. So I delayed again.

Are my classes completely prepared? No. Are all my administrative tasks done? No. Will my classes ever be completely prepared? History suggests not. Will my administrative tasks get done? I hope so, but they seem to multiply. Each one I complete leads to others. So maybe it’s okay that they never get finished.

Should I start writing daily essays again? I really do want to write the public note to Raynard. I really do want to write about alcohol on campus. I really do want to write some of the positive things about Grinnell that I planned. Conversations today suggest that I should write about why I really do trust that most offices on campus have students’ best interests at heart. I think I should write more about the joys of coding. And, in the end, I do think writing each day makes each day a bit better.

But I also worry that writing these essays will get in the way of the other writing I’m supposed to do: an increasing stack of recommendations, one or more grant proposals, probably some memos, a review of a paper, and more. It will be a challenge to do both sets of writing. (And no, it doesn’t seem to be a good idea to use the other writing as my daily essays.)

I also worry that there are other things I should do every day: Exercise, talk with Michelle, read, write a Processing sketch (nothing as involved as Sunny Shine’s, but something to help inspire my students or help me think more broadly) or other piece of code, spend an hour straightening, and more. Can I do all that? Probably not.

However, for the time being, I’m going to try rebuilding the habit of writing and posting an essay each day. Let’s see how well I succeed. I hope that you’ll see an essay tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. I also hope that after three or four days, I’ll be back in the habit of daily writing.

Version 1.0 of 2016-08-30.