The Value of Unstructured Writing

When I think about the work that some other writers get done in a day – or what they say they get done – I am amazed. Flabbergasted. Especially when I compare my own work-related activities. Part of the problem is that I don’t really credit some of the writing I do as important. I’ve always tended to think of unstructured or unpaid writing as goofing off, but that is misleading and part of a mindset I’d rather let go of.

For instance, many mornings, or moments when I feel stumped, I spend time writing in a journal. Later that time feels wasted. Writing has always been the way I work through problems. It helps me think things through, and look at them a little more objectively. It calms me. So, sometimes, I journal about things that I’m worried about — a disagreement with my husband, feeling annoyed with my messy house, money, or any other of the approximately 2 million things people tend to worry about.

But there are other times that my journal entries serve as a starting point for blog posts and articles. It’s a place/time/way to tease out ideas and see if they are worth exploring or not. Sometimes I will reread past journal entries and find a single sentence or a paragraph that sparks another idea that turns into a new kind of marketing to test.

My “journal” is actually a document titled “Writing Exercises & Ideas” and it is a jumble of all kinds of things — often useful things. It’s where I end up noting points in other people’s work that intrigue me, or silently arguing with experts. It’s also where I play with ideas for fiction, and think about my professional life. There are some pro/con lists, and lists of things I want to learn, and entries where I just dream of what I want (sometimes it’s a description of me completing a marathon, or a description of what our house will look like when it is all finished, or a description of what I hope my career looks like in 15 or 20 years.)

Time spent thinking, dreaming, planning, deciding, and exploring is not time wasted. Changing how I view my own activities – acknowledging that writing in my journal is productive and useful – feels like an important shift. It all goes back to my personal narrative, which is an idea that has been on my mind for a couple of weeks now.

Are there any parts of your job that you feel vaguely guilty for doing, but that contribute to your overall productivity? Have you ever had to shift your thinking in order to realize that productivity? 

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