What Words Can Do

This past weekend, I attended a men’s retreat out in the woods. For the greater part of a day, we sat in a circle, facing each other, sharing the words that wounded us and the ones we longed to hear. Words can do a lot, it seems, depending on how you use them.

What Words Can Do

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A few days later, there are still phrases that were spoken in that circle that continue to reverberate in the walls of my mind. Like:

You are so lovable.

And:

It’s not your fault.

And:

No one has more integrity than you.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about what words can do. They can cut a person down or lift them up. They can overwhelm another with beauty or devastate their soul. I am always searching for the words that want to be said because when you find them, they can change everything. As Kerouac said, “One day, I will find the right words, and they will be simple.” My hope is the same.

As a man, I struggle with offering and receiving the gift of affirmation. But we all want to hear and share the right words, don’t we? There’s nothing worse than opening your mouth and wishing you hadn’t, creating one more mess you have to clean up.

This past week, I did an interview on the healing power of words, and it dawned on me that this cannot be stressed enough: Words can heal, or they can hurt. And if we aren’t practiced in the art of wielding these weapons well, we can do a lot of damage.

So, I implore you: Please choose the words you use wisely, the ones you speak and the ones you write, the ones you post, and the ones you publish. Because it’s not just sticks and stones that break bones.

Words wound, too.

This, I think, is more important than it’s ever been, at least in my life, as a pandemic along with an election year in America seems to elevate the tension between us. What we say to one another matters now more than ever before. So, how do we find the right words? The ones we are all longing to hear?

It’s simple:

First, you need a regular writing habit.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again, if you want to get good at something, find a place and a time of day when you can consistently do it, and that includes writing. For me, that’s often first thing in the morning, after I get the kids off to school and drink my morning coffee. But when it can’t happen then, I grab a little time in the afternoon or evening.

This is a ten-year practice for me now, and my commitment to it is so strong that I can’t not do it without feeling like something is “off” in my day. It’s not guilt, per se, just a sense that I am out of sync with myself and the rhythm of my day is rocky. When I decided to call myself a writer, I could no longer not lean into that identity. When I began calling myself a writer, it forced me to take the daily habit of writing much more seriously. You may want to do the same.

So whether it’s early in the day or later, set an intention to write every day, if you can, and try to stick to it. Don’t force yourself to do it—shame is not sustainable. Instead, get honest and clear with yourself: Is this something you really want to do? If yes, then make a commitment to yourself, and keep it. We cannot be trustworthy if we can’t even keep the promises we make to ourselves. I have decided that I will be the last person in my life to disappoint.

Second, write with a goal in mind.

Decide when you’re going to be done. I tend to write a minimum of 500 words per day, whether it’s a poem or a newsletter, or a part of a book—it all counts. My goal is to get words down on the page. That’s it. Do this enough times, and the heavy lifting loses its burden. Like anything, practice makes it easier and allows you to increase the intensity of the activity.

Finally, as you go through your day, trust that words come—and have a means of organizing them. Writing, for me, is a spiritual practice, which means it is a dance between chaos and order. If there’s too much order, you can lose the inspiration; and with too much chaos, it’s hard to finish anything.

This, I think, is where most writers fail: they don’t know how to organize their writing, and as a result, they have a lot of loose ideas in notebooks or saved on a hard drive somewhere, and this messiness in itself does not make any kind of meaningful work. At the same time, there are those who take art and try to turn it into a formula, and my experience of creativity is that it is always a bit of a beautiful mess.

So, I need a system that allows me to be a little messy without getting lost in the chaos. And lest you get spooked by a word like “system,” understand that all this means is a repeatable way of doing something. In my case, I follow a simple process that allows me to capture ideas all day long through random notes on my phone, then take one of those ideas and translate it into a draft the next day, and from there edit an older piece of content from a previous day of writing. That’s it; that’s all I do:

  1. Come up with at least one day every day.
  2. Turn one of those ideas into a 500-word draft and save the editing for later.
  3. Edit a piece I wrote from a previous day.

I call this the 3-Bucket System, and it’s what works for me.

I’ve had a regular writing habit for over a decade, and it—along with my daily walks—is the best thing I ever did for my creativity. I highly recommend it.

Someone once told me that a man who doesn’t trust his strength hurts people. I believe that. Similarly, a writer who doesn’t know the power of her words can wound others. So, dear creator, take care with the words you share. Don’t be too brash. Delicately usher your meaning and stories and ideas into the world with gentleness and ease, allowing them to land where they need.

Practice this art of connecting your heart to the readers but crafting something small every single day. There is no other way to learn this.

By, the way, if you need any help with this, I’m hosting a series of free, live trainings this week around creating a writing habit. Learn more at writeabestseller.org/habit.

What would a regular writing habit do for you?