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Publish and/or Perish

One thing I’ve been struggling with regarding my New Year’s resolution is the urge to publish. I talked a bit about what that resolution is, and why I’m doing it, previously; but the short version is to spend an hour a day writing just for me.

Not for my job, or e-mails, or tweets, but pure, turn off the internet and buckle down writing.

As always, life finds a way (to wreck your resolutions), so even barely into January there have been two days where I’ve missed my opportunity to write. But the biggest obstacle, I’ve realized, is my aggressive need to publish something.

For the past few years I’ve worked professionally as an entertainment journalist, which means I’ve often published anywhere from 5-10 articles a day. As I moved into management I’ve published less, but the muscle that got me churning out those pieces is still flexing. Every day my fingers don’t dance over a keyboard, wrapping up the latest TV or Movie or Comic Book news, I feel wrong.

So now that I’ve decided to write every day, it feels like I should publish something every day: write it, pub it, on to the next thing.

The problem is, not everything I write is good. In fact a large portion of it is dumb crap that a high schooler would be embarrassed by.

This is something I understood inherently back when I was regularly writing sketch comedy. I would generate 20-30 sketches per show, just to get one live on stage. Often they were in collaboration with other members of my group, but we knew that coming up with so many ideas would help us understand what ideas were actually any good.

It’s the same thing I would tell students in my writing classes: write one thing, and that’s the best thing you’ve ever written. So write more than one thing.

What that means is you need to generate, say, a hundred pieces to really understand the scale of quality you’re creating. Once you reach that hundred (metaphorically speaking), you’ll realize that 10 are awful, 80 are just fine, and 10 are actually good (if you’re lucky).

That’s not how entertainment journalism works (or at least that’s not how it works, but maybe should work). It’s usually a one to one ratio for writing to publishing, and the amount of social traffic and unique visitors you get to your content is how you know a piece is successful.

Though I’m still working as an entertainment journalist, for this New Year’s resolution to succeed I need to get my head out of that mode. It should ultimately be a good exercise, to allow my head to be in the daily churn during the day, while allowing the other side of my brain to relax and focus on allowing for failure, as well as success at night (or early in the morning). I’ve seen multiple times before in my own life that exercising multiple skills simultaneously leads to a strengthening of all skills.

The good news is that I think I’m starting to get there. Yesterday I wrote something extremely mean-spirited on my long subway ride into work that I don’t think I’ll ever publish (it’s not that funny, and do we really need more meanness in the world?) — and that’s the point. To free myself from feeling everything I write has to be put out there, so I can know when something is truly good. Or at least, not bad.

(It also helps to jot off a few more personal, blog style notes here to stave off the urge. In case that wasn’t clear.)

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