Literary Dendrology: Feed your writing tree

Are you a writer?

Think about the question before you answer it. Yes? No? Kinda?

Most professional or former journalists, authors, poets, communicators and all those in between, respond with a brisk and emphatic “yes.” They roll their eyes at the audacity of such an indictment, contemplating whether they have time to keep reading this post.

People in other trades either say “no” because they don’t write for a living, or “kinda” when they remember the creative writing class they took in college, the journal they kept while backpacking through Europe or the mommy blog they just launched.

Whatever category you fall into, “Yes,” “No” or “Kinda,” you’re more of a writer than you think, and thus, very much a writer.* Unfortunately, this often gets overlooked.

Many motivated individuals get consumed by their careers. It’s not necessarily a bad thing and usually comes with the territory of having a strong work ethic and a drive to succeed. That being said, don’t forget about your writing at work. How do you come off in emails? What kind of thought do you put into post-it notes stuck to co-worker’s desks, birthday-card signatures or text messages? Are they conveying the messages you want? Your writing represents you, so make sure it’s acting appropriately on your behalf.

While your day job brings home the bacon, your extracurricular activities set the table.

A ton of valuable writing takes place outside of the workplace and gets lost in the shuffle. For example, when I was a full-time journalist, I struggled to keep a personal journal, write funny letters to friends or maintain a steady stream of posts on my travel blog. After agonizing over a story, hunched in front of a laptop all day, the last thing I wanted to do when I got home was spend the next 30 minutes blogging or scribbling in my journal. As a result my news- and feature-story writing grew stronger, while my creative and familiar writing weakened.

We, as writers (of every kind), need to exercise, embrace and most importantly, exhaust every channel. Staying up all night, skipping lunches and ignoring personal hygiene to complete a project, prepare a presentation or finish a story is commendable, but it’s what you do when you’re done that makes the difference. Feed that writing need with another hundred words instead of sedating it with a break on the couch.

Assign a goal, direction and priority to each of your writing avenues. Take 15 minutes to let loose and vent in your journal every day. Start a weekly blog for your small business to keep clients informed and up-to-date. Keep in touch with long-distance friends through annual letters. Every word you write affects every other word you write and the sooner you nourish all the branches, the stronger the tree will be.

“You always have to realize you are constantly in a state of becoming.” – Bob Dylan

So when a new writing opportunity presents itself, treat it as you would any other branch on the tree. These days, you can’t go an hour without coming across some reference to social media. Dig into it. How strong and effective are your tweets? Are you getting what you want from your Facebook status updates? Do you speak leet? WordPress says, “CODE IS POETRY.” What kind of poems do you write? These new branches might grow to produce fruit or whither and get pruned, either way, you’ve got to give them a chance.

Angelo Pierattini, one of my favorite Chilean musicians, told me “I want…to never be content with where I am. I always want to have the drive to create something new.” Words to live by, but easier said than done.

For example, my home “office” (pretty much a desk and a chair in an otherwise empty spare bedroom) grew stale after a few months of use. I began to avoid it because it equaled work for me. So now, when I set up my laptop to grind away at home, I make a concerted effort to change rooms. For the past few weeks, all my notes were laid out on the kitchen table. This week I’ve taken over the living room couch and coffee table. Next week it’s probably back up to the spare bedroom or maybe the balcony. How do you keep things fresh when it’s so easy to get comfortable and settle into a routine?

Trees, like people, have various sizes, shapes, colors and lifespans. You may have a perfectly-manicured bonsai, a newborn ficus or a sprawling cyprus. But whatever kind of writing tree you’ve got, the fact remains that it needs constant attention. So, care for every branch, give it fresh water daily and expose it to plenty of sunlight. Then, watch it grow.

How healthy is your writing tree?

*Not everyone agrees with this notion.