Wednesdays are the worst days.
I have been writing almost every day for six months now. I have been able to publish 30 articles in 30 weeks. I have experimented with different styles: memoir, essays, humour, creative non-fiction, and fiction. Much of this writing has become the draft of a book, which now sits at 16,918 words.
To get there, I have developed a writing routine. I now understand that each phase of writing - ideas, outlines, drafts, edits, and revisions - needs its own space. This has improved my writing. Develop your routine, and your routine will develop you.
But none of that matters on a Wednesday.
Wednesday is the depths of hell. Wednesday is an abyss. Wednesday is a dark, dark lake. Wednesday is the day where I question what I am doing with my life.
To understand why, we have to look at the whole week. My week starts, as is the case for many other humans, on a Monday.
Monday is ideas day. I use Roam Research to store notes and ideas and browse its bi-directional link graph to help me find fresh connections. I conduct background reading. If I schedule video interviews, I swear a lot at Zoom.
My notepad is the more reliable tool on a Monday. After 40 years of life, I have finally settled upon my preferred blend: soft cover, dotted pages, size B5, Moleskine or Leuchtturm. On Mondays, the bleach-free paper is alive with potential. I can use coloured pens.
This is the best day of the week.
Tuesday is outline day. I enjoy this day too, even as the dread of Wednesday sets in.
I start work by loading up template structures that I've stolen from other writing blogs. I look through my notes, identify key moments of emotional resonance, and place them within the misappropriated structures. I bullet-point the key events, looking to reach 30% of the total word count in summaries and headings.
This is where I hope to discover what I'm actually writing about. I look for points of conflict within the text, somewhere I must make a decision. This is where I should find the main lesson or throughline.
It is never there, which explains a lot about Wednesdays.
Wednesday is draft day: 1,500 words.
The depths of hell; an abyss. The dark, dark lake. I question what I'm doing with my life. I question my choice of metaphors. I question my punctuation.
I start the day as a glorified typist. I turn off my phone and write without breaks, divining Tuesday's outline into prose. This part of the day is simple. So far, so godlike.
After an hour or so, I put the draft away and make a coffee. This is where I should tell you that I go for a walk, or reach to my bookshelves for perspective, or meditate.
In reality, I scroll Twitter urgently looking for validation and Mark Zuckerberg foil surfing memes. When I re-emerge, I examine where the piece is not working.
Unsurprisingly, that's everywhere.
So, I restructure the draft's constituent parts. I tidy up transitions. I delete convoluted sentences and erase ancillary ideas. I kill my darlings. I kill my darling's darlings. By the end, everybody is dead.
I work in Scrivener. It acts as a repository for research, character profiles and plot summaries. I track word count targets, save progress with snapshots, and make the most of the beautiful, distraction-free UI.
I want to kill that too.
The problem is that Wednesday is where the distance between where the writing is and where it needs to be is at its greatest. The ideas are out of focus and the prose is blurred. I don't know what the piece is about, or what I'm trying to say.
The idea of people reading it makes me recoil with horror. However, after some emergency surgery and a quick re-read, I copy and paste the bloodied remains into Google Docs and send it to my editors. They are people too, of course, but a different kind.
Thursday is edit day. I have one job: do nothing.
I am quite good at this.
Thursday eases the anxiety of Wednesday and brings Friday into view. I am nervous, but also excited to receive ideas on how to fix something that doesn't work. I am also excited to find new Mark Zuckerberg foil surfing memes.
While I'm waiting for my editors to return the piece, I often read it aloud, or have someone read it to me. The flaws (and sometimes the person I'm reading it to) glare at me. I just let them sit there.
Friday is revision day. The notes from the editors are in and even the most brutal, eviscerating criticism feels great. This is where, supposedly, I know what I'm writing about. And even if I don't, the end is near.
I work through the text in three distinct modes:
- Structure: editing on the story level (themes and throughline)
- Flow: editing on the paragraph level (pace and transitions)
- Prose: editing on the sentence level (simplicity and colour)
I use Hemingway for the prose edits. Hemingway is a text editor that highlights use of the passive voice (something, ironically, Hemingway the author made excellent use of in The Sun Also Rises). The text editor highlights adverbs and destroys them.
Sometimes, I resurrect them, sub rosa.
Next I make sure the ending is satisfactory. This can take hours or minutes, depending on random factors like the weather in the Ardennes, the price of Bitcoin, or the current state of my self-loathing.
The final act of Friday, after the ending, is to choose a title, a beginning.
Saturday is publication day and Ghost does all the work for me. It sends a newsletter to my mailing list and publishes the article to my site. I close the laptop and forget everything that happened in the days prior.
Truman Capote once sent a letter to the editor of Harper’s Bazaar, Mary Louise. He wrote, "All human life has its seasons, and no one’s personal chaos can be permanent: winter, after all, does not last forever, does it? There is summer, too, and spring, and though sometimes when branches stay dark and the Earth cracks with ice, one thinks they will never come, that spring, that summer, but they do, and always.”
Now, I'm no Truman Capote (I have zero issues with, for instance, triskaidekaphobia, the fear of the number 13) but even I know the only way to survive the cracked, icy winter of a Wednesday, which readers know nothing of, is to name it.
To survive the week, to make it through to Saturday, you have to acknowledge what is happening. Don't resist it. Move through Wednesday to Thursday and be present with the experience. Investigate it with distance and openness and coloured pens. Call it it by its name, call it for what it is: Wednesday, the day three days before Saturday.
This week's post was made possible by my editors, Anne Helen Petersen, Rhishi Pethe, and Tom White (who shared the amazing Capote quote with me). Thanks also to Julia who listens every week to my terrible first drafts.
Here are some links to some of the things I mention in the essay:
- More about how I use Roam Research
- Moleskine and Leuchtturm notebooks
- Hemingway (the text editor)
- Ghost CMS
- Memes of Mark Zuckerberg foil surfing
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