How I Write
Behind the scenes of this plucky little newsletter
Writing is hard.
“No shit, Rick,” is what you’re probably thinking right now. Mentioning writing to most people conjures up memories of school essays and term papers accompanied by frantic all-nighter sprints to make a submission deadline.
This newsletter stuff is even harder though. Putting one out every week (while trying to keep the quality up) is a slog. I often find myself anxious, dreading having to sit down and stare at a blank screen. Sometimes I already have an idea or notes to work from but the doubt creeps in any way. I then convince myself that the quality won’t be good enough and that I need more time to truly flesh out my current assignment. In fact, I feel this way right now.
The process of forcing myself through this is roughly akin to what I suspect chewing a mouthful of glass must feel like. I haven’t tried it but I just KNOW it probably feels the same. If you’re feeling adventurous, maybe you can try both and write in to tell me which is worse.
(It’d be totally crazy if one of you actually chewed glass. You shouldn’t do that. There’s no way I’m supposed to have that much power over people. If I do though, and you did it already, uhhhhh sorry? You’re well on your way to being my most dedicated subscriber though.)
So to help solve these problems, I recently met with a writing coach. Surely he could guide me to greener pastures. I figured there’s got to be some sort of secret or tip I’m missing. Isn’t that why there’s thousands of listicle articles giving easy ways to do certain tasks? If I could just get the right piece of advice, I just knew I could turn this thing around.
We only spoke for 30 minutes, but it turns out there ISN’T a magical solution. Shocking, I know. Unbelievable. Who the hell is in charge of life and why’d they go and make it hard? He had no answers for me. Of course, there’s the possibility that he’s holding out on me, like a dad who hides all the candy on the top shelf where the kids can’t see. I kind of doubt it though.
He did, however, bring up the “V” word. He was very clear that I needed more of it in my writing. I know, you’re probably thinking about vaginas or viagra or venereal disease (you pervert, you), and maybe I do need more of those things (not the disease though). What he was really meant was far scarier:
It’s a word I've been hearing a lot lately, from him, therapists, friends. My body and mind dislike it a lot. When it comes up, they both gang up for a 1-2 punch to try and convince me to stop. The opening salvo is body going for the straightforward prolonged, clammy sweat. My brain is equally un-subtle, preferring an inner monologue of “oh shit, not vulnerability! Quick, change the subject to something boring - oh, ask them about their home repairs!”
I’m trying my best to embody it more though. That’s what this essay is, btw, if you didn’t figure it out. I’m a bit like the Wizard of Oz, just a confused little man behind a curtain, trying to keep the whole kingdom running while fending off attacks from the witches and flying monkeys.
So welcome behind the curtain of what it’s like to write. At least for me, right now. If you’re a writer too, maybe it’ll help you realize you’re not the only one struggling to write. More crucially, it’s going to help me because I have a deadline and you, being a voracious content consuming citizen of the Internet, need to read SOMETHING. And let’s be honest - it might as well be this.
Eventually, every writer writes about writing. Steven King, Steven Pressfield, other writers not named Steven - they all do it. It only makes sense that after four entire months of pumping out a single essay every week that I would have mountains of insight to provide. So, in classic listicle advice fashion, here’s my top three pieces of advice:
Avoid writing at all costs
This part is absolutely key. Definitely avoid writing to help ensure the brain and body freak out the maximum amount possible. I like to check my calendar and determine the latest possible point in time I can write and still get something posted by deadline. Then I only write once I’m already past that point, where I can either write or have to deal with the feelings of guilt and embarrassment of missing a deadline. Anxiety, guilt, embarrassment, fear…yeahhhhh, that’s where the good writing is.
Having established this timeline, I stick to it religiously. All other free time can be spent as frivolously as possible. In fact, I bought a new mug specifically so I can re-enact this meme at every opportunity.
If you’re smart, you’ll listen to someone like Jerry Seinfeld or Neil Gaiman, who both recommend creating a daily habit where you have to write for an hour (or whatever length of time). During this time, your only choices are to write or stare. The thinking is that eventually you get bored enough where writing presents as the more enjoyable activity and you actually get some work done.
I have tried this method, with poor results. My rebellious brain is perfectly content to do nothing. I will sit and stare at the wall for an hour if it means I can get out of writing. Staring still comes with guilt and anxiety, but it feels like I’m definitely trying, even if I’m really not. Soooo, call that productivity in some weird, demented sense of the word. I think this advice works for other people though, so your mileage may vary.
Ignore the dozen half-baked articles you already have in favor of starting from scratch.
As mentioned earlier, when I do finally sit down to write, I almost always ignore every idea or partial article I already have. My internal monologue has a PhD in convincing me that my good ideas are mediocre at best. Someone with a real degree would undoubtedly call this self-doubt and probe deeper.
There’s no time for that though! Remember, this is the last possible minute. Even if a particular idea was outstanding, my electric meatball is programmed for avoidance. The inner script is that I couldn’t possibly do such a great idea any true writing justice in the limited time available to me. Better to just save those ideas for Future Rick, who’s totally going to buckle down and be disciplined and a perfect little writer who nails every piece and has no problems whatsoever.
To add to the difficulties, I will invariably be disrupted during the two measly hours I have blocked out for writing that week. I will become irritated that the universe dare not cooperate with my shoddily conceived plans. Okay, sure, some of it MIGHT be my own fault and the irritation is really better directed at Procrastinator Rick. Don’t worry, I feel it plenty (there’s that guilt again). It sure is much more convenient to make the universe the villain though. So far, I always find a way to get it done.
My entire process as described so far is summed up in the below tweet. Since it’s from another writer, it must mean that this is common and I’m actually a real writer™. So again, if any of this is ringing true, just know you’re not alone.
Take a nap
This is the secret to my best writing. Every single piece I’ve written that I consider higher quality, has been written after waking up from a nap. Without fail. Whichever piece is your favorite so far, know I probably napped before it. By the way, I didn’t have a nap before writing this piece soooo you be the judge here.
Nobody cares if you take a nap when you’re starting off. If what you’re writing is a medical order that will save someone’s life, then yeah, you should probably handle that ASAP. Like, I give you permission to stop reading and send that message. Otherwise, if you’re trying to write, go take a nap or something.
For me, a nap turns my normal brain into a super brain. Normal Rick lacks focus and motivation, despite working super hard on sleeping better. Nap Rick wakes up and, for a brief few hours, is the fully functioning, driven, smart writer I always suspected he could be. This transformation lasts just long enough to save my ass. I don’t always have the luxury, but I can’t recommend it highly enough for everyone.
That’s all I’ve got right now. I hope that was helpful or entertaining or at least helped you realize other people are struggling to get things done. I know it helped me because this is officially a newsletter edition now.
And just to close the circle on the whole writing coach thing - I don’t have the money to hire him right now. Eventually I’d like to, but so it goes. I just thought I should clear that up so you know my continued ramblings are totally on me and not a reflection of his coaching prowess. I will still be testing out if his central thesis of being more open and exposed emotionally is a strong one.
So expect more of those “V” words, especially the big one. I will vigorously validate how viable and versatile Vulnerability is on the valorous path to victory. ……..vagina!
(I had to)
3 Funny Things
If you’re an NFL fan, you’ve gotta read Drew Magary’s yearly “Team Sucks” series. He goes through and mocks every team in the league, in great detail, to the delight of every fan with a decent sense of humor. Pittsburgh is my home team and Drew nails it here again, as usual. We’re definitely winning the Super Bowl though and the KP8 hype train is in full swing here. Choo choo!
Curb Your Enthusiasm is one of my top 3 all-time shows (along with Seinfeld) so I am here for ANY reference whatsoever to it. So naturally this little parody was a stone cold lock to make this week’s 3 Funny Things.
This guy glued a toy horse to his phone for…reasons which are unclear to me. The results, however, have me rethinking my entire sense of phone case fashion. Maybe you will too once you see it. I’m more confident than ever that a small animal photobombing my pictures would be hilarious and get me more insta likes.
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