This update is a few weeks overdue. Despite the lack of updates, I have been faithfully keeping up a daily freewriting practice. Recently I have been more consistent, writing every day, if even for 5 minutes, and have seen some pretty significant effects.
Here are a few of the things I’ve noticed since I’ve been journaling/freewriting (nearly) every day for the last 7 weeks.
1. Daily routine
If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you know I am enamored with the idea of daily routines. In fact, one of the reasons I started this blog and this freewriting experiment is because I was struggling with establishing a routine for working at home. I have never been a work from home person. However, I don’t have campus desk space or a cafe that’s particularly convenient to where I live, so I decided to challenge myself to work from home for the next few months.
Before I began regularly freewriting, I was occasionally inspired to write out my ideal morning routine on a post-it. It went something like this:
I won’t go into all of the reasons why this routine is comically unrealistic routine for me, but here are a few. Though Fantasy Me loves morning runs, actual me prefers cardio in the afternoon. I also live in a small studio with my husband who is a late-riser and pulling this routine off without waking him would involve headlamps/flashlights and a lot of tip toeing.
Freewriting has helped me to understand why, after writing a post-it like this, I was setting myself up for disappointment when I failed to do everything on that list. Daily freewriting has provided a space for me to reflect on what I am seeking in a routine, what’s working, and what isn’t working about my approach. It allowed me to stop clinging to a fantasy routine and work toward a routine that was a better fit for me.
Even really obvious lessons, like my realization in week one that watching TV in the daytime wastes my brain’s best hours, were made more impactful when I put them into writing. Over the last 7 weeks, I’ve been more successful at working from home and establishing a routine than ever before. I attribute much of this success to the daily insights I’ve gained from freewriting that has led me to make the necessary tweaks to my schedule.
Over the last 7 weeks, I’ve been more successful at working from home and establishing a routine than ever before. I attribute much of this success to the daily insights I’ve gained from freewriting that has led me to make the necessary tweaks to my schedule.
My routine isn’t finished forming and it will continue to evolve as my commitments and circumstances change, but I will definitely keep turning to my freewriting for guidance about my daily routine.
2. Accessing my “writer’s brain”
As a graduate student in the humanities, rarely a week goes by that I am not expected to produce some piece of writing. Between grant proposals, conference proposals, seminar papers, and research drafts, writing is a huge part of what we do. The thing is, despite all this writing, it can be hard to find your voice as a writer in academia. And not knowing your voice can prove to be a major obstacle when you’re trying to increase your output.
Freewriting has helped me to identify my voice and has made the once painstaking act of putting words on the page slightly easier. The other day, I sat down to write a 1000-word proposal about research that I haven’t yet completed. I did some freewriting about the fact that I was experiencing some trepidation about this proposal going into it and because of that, I had been putting it off. But when I finally sat down to write, I was surprised at how easily the words came. In fact, the editing was much harder than the writing process (which is how it should be but is rarely ever the case for me).
I love external accountability. Give me a good deadline over an open-ended project, or an exercise partner over going it alone any day. The thing about doing field work abroad, however, is that it often feels like you are all alone with your project and creating accountability can be a challenge.
It feels a lot like this…
A surprising benefit of freewriting is that my entries serve as an accountability structure to myself. For some, a to-do list would suffice for accountability, but I tend to approach to-do lists like soft suggestions rather than required tasks.
Unlike a to-do list that passively nags when tasks roll over to the next day, my freewriting journal is the space where I explore what motivates me and what doesn’t, celebrate small and large victories, and investigate the days when everything falls off the rails.
It’s a record of what I’m working on in real time and a useful tool for looking back on the days, weeks, months, and years. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, sometimes patterns emerge that I wouldn’t have known without freewriting. My freewriting habit is more than a to-do list because it allows me to coach myself through the things I want to get done, anticipate stumbling blocks, and brainstorm ways I will overcome those stumbling blocks.
4. Know thyself, forgive thyself
I’m going to get a little philosophical for a minute. Beyond the ways freewriting has influenced my productivity, it has taught me about myself. Knowing yourself is an essential key to happiness and success. Aristotle called it the “beginning of all wisdom.” And because we are dynamic, ever-changing creatures, the job of knowing ourselves is never fully realized; we are constant works-in-progress.
My freewriting space contains a lot of self-doubts, questions, fears, and judgments. But the act of externalizing those thoughts has the (unexpected) effect of profoundly weakening those negative feelings’ and thoughts’ hold on me. Reading back what was previously left unchecked to swirl and proliferate inside my head allows me to view myself with more objectivity and compassion.
Can journaling make you more productive?
I started this experiment wanting to know if journaling (or as I am more inclined to call it, freewriting) could make me more productive. My answer after this 7-week experiment is a whole-hearted yes. The terms of what/when/how you freewrite can be tailored to suit your own needs and goals, but I believe everyone could benefit from a freewriting habit.
If you have questions about freewriting or want to share your own thoughts and experiences, comment below or reach out on Twitter @daily_academic.