Augusten Burroughs on why to write every day

I had the privilege of hearing Augusten Burroughs speak at the Atlanta Writers Club Centennial Celebration on Saturday night. His keynote speech took the form of a Q&A session, which was a little disappointing to me: he’s such an excellent storyteller that I would have preferred more of a monologue… or even a reading from one of his books.

But it was still enjoyable to hear him give writerly advice, and some of his answers to the questions from the audience had a surprising twist. For instance, he recommends writing every day, but not just for the reasons that we’re usually given (like keeping your creative juices flowing and building your word count). Instead, he thinks daily writing is worthwhile if only to build your hand strength, so that your pen or computer keyboard can keep up with your thoughts. I loved this answer because it’s so simple and practical.

Today, I mark one year of free writing every day for 10 minutes (well, almost every day; I usually take weekends off). I’ve always kept a journal, but I used to write in it sporadically – once a month or so. Last year, at the suggestion of my career coach, I made a commitment to free-write for 10 minutes a day, and it has now become a ritual, just like brushing my teeth (but don’t worry, I don’t take weekends off from that)! I sit on my bed and write longhand, in a notebook, about whatever comes to mind. This morning, I wrote about what the front yard looked like when I let the dogs out to pee at 7 a.m. Knowing that no one’s going to read what I write is extremely liberating; when I mangle my sentence structure or choose phrases that don’t seem particularly literary, I don’t beat myself up about it. I just keep the pen moving, putting my inner critic on hold for 10 minutes.

Because I only write for 10 minutes at a time – typically filling about one page in my college-ruled notebook – I don’t have to shake my aching hand out at the end, like I do when I write longhand for longer periods. But I do find that my handwriting is steadier and my pen moves more easily across the page than it used to, so perhaps I have in fact built hand strength through this daily practice. Or maybe it has more to do with the mental strength that comes with keeping a commitment and permanently transforming one small aspect of my life. Whatever your reasons, I’d encourage a daily free-writing practice if you’re not doing it already. And if you have any suggestions for sticking with it (even on weekends), let me know in the comments!