How to waste 5 years trying to start writing
another krappy newsletter #33
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Greetings from Northern California!
I started a new job yesterday. I am currently “drinking from the fire hose.” Which is a stupid, overused idiom someone says to every new employee at every new job ever.
It is a dumb phrase because you don’t even give someone a good idea of the consumption rate with your general statement about fire hoses.
What diameter is the hose?
What PSI is the water coming out at?
Is the hose even on?
Not every fire hose is the same, ass clown.
Take it from me. I read a single Quora post on this so I am the residential authority on fire hoses now.
A brief mansplanation of different fire hoses:
Booster lines are usually used for grass fires or small trash fires. They give about 50-60 gallons per minute at 40-50 psi.
The standard hand line with a fog nozzle is about 100-125 gpm at 100 psi.
Replacing the fog with a smooth bore tip (about 7/8 inch tip) will get you about 200 gpm at 80 psi.
So if we were going to make the statement actually mean something:
I am drinking out of a standard hand line with a fog nozzle and they might replace the fog with a smooth bore tip next week.
Wish me luck.
I enjoyed writing the long essay last week and I got feedback that most of you enjoyed reading it as well. As someone who listens to feedback, I am going to write you another essay.
On to the newsletter!
How to waste 5 years trying to start writing
I started writing longer pieces on my blog in 2015. However, it took until 2020 to get myself to write long pieces consistently (now mostly on Substack).
Objectively, this is a pretty terrible track record. So color me surprised that I am suddenly receiving a lot of questions asking me “how to get started writing.”
I guess in a way it makes sense for someone who is not writing to seek writing advice from someone like me instead of George RR Martin.
Like what is George RR Martin going to tell you that is going to relate to you?
“Have you considered spending 7 years of your life writing in solitude?”
“Well why don’t you just have the help do those time consuming tasks like raising your family and spend that time writing instead?”
So maybe I am the right person to give the person with no writing experience and a full time job advice about how to get started writing.
But I am conflicted about giving advice like this. There is the other part of me that knows most people who are seeking advice are stuck in this “advice consumption as procrastination” spiral. They seek, but never take advice. They are asking me a question so they can tell themselves they made progress toward their goal. Asking for help or reading advice books is sometimes enough to keep you procrastinating for another year.
I know because that was what I used to do. I was in search of the perfect article or book that was going to lay it out for me in such a way that I would launch into writing essay after essay, week after week. I was in search of brilliance. A muse. A magic bullet.
What I really should have been solving for was not being an idiot. As I have mentioned before, sometimes the best way to be great is to not be a dingleberry. So that’s what this article is going to be about. Solving the problem of “how do I start writing?” by asking what you shouldn’t do.
This is called solving by “inverting the problem.”
Inversion is a two step algorithm:
Write down how to do the opposite of the task you want to accomplish.
Don’t do what you wrote down.
This exercise helps you avoid stupidity which is a prerequisite for brilliance.
Below are four things to avoid doing and what to do instead if you want to start writing. Luckily, we also have the ability to draw from my past to inform us about the dangers of not listening to this advice.
What to avoid #1: Sharing your work with everyone.
So you somehow worked up the courage to write and publish a thing. You are about to hit send to everyone you know.
Here is some advice: Don’t.
Listen. People are mean and right now you are super sensitive. You are not ready for someone to hate the thing you wrote.
I get it. You read a Brene Brown book so you are all jazzed up about the power of vulnerability. You have convinced yourself that you are tough and criticism won’t affect you. But what if you actually aren’t ready?
That was what happened to me. I stopped writing consistently in 2015 because someone close to me criticized my work. I feel a bit silly looking back on that moment and realizing that this is what happened. But it is the truth. I didn't realize how fragile I was at that time!
Funny thing is that I don't think that person realizes they did that. One of those memories that stayed with me longer than it did with them. Have you ever thought about what you accidentally did to someone that launched them into years of therapy? It is like the butterfly effect. But the butterfly is kind of a dick.
At the early stages of something, there is a very good chance that you are not ready for criticism. I am not even talking about the pure hatred spewed from the anonymized Internet avatars of the world, I am talking about the mild indifference shown by a friend or family member that you over analyze.
Mitigation: Start in an echo chamber
Every creative act needs to start in an echo chamber. Releasing it immediately to everyone is a bad idea.
You need people to be supportive when you are being vulnerable. Find a group of supportive people who have a "way to go!” type of mentality. Have them build up your confidence over a period of time where you can get your feet under yourself. Echo chamber people sound like "Super interesting perspective. Have you thought about XYZ? You are doing great! Keep going!"
If you have the same slant as me where you trend towards being more of a critic, you absolutely do not recognize the value of those kinds of comments. You think they are meaningless and vapid, but in reality they are what keeps you going. You think that you are above needing peoples encouragement. You are not.
What to avoid #2: Not structuring a writing and publishing routine.
Writing takes a lot of time. You aren’t going to just haphazardly find the time.
But that is what I told myself for years: “I am going to make the time.”
The muse would move through me for like a week and a half as I feverishly wrote day in and day out….until I didn’t. Then I took a week off. Which became a month off. Which became a fiscal quarter off. Then the muse would find me again for three days. I would create something on a long flight…just to never look at it again.
The reality of the situation is that you need discipline to do anything consistently. Especially something that is hard to do.
Mitigation: You need a writing and publishing routine.
If you don’t have a plan, you are toast.
Words do not magically show up on a screen. You need to do that.
Words do not magically get sent to someone else’s screen. You need to do that too.
I now have a very simple routine. I write for 1-2 hours every morning. I ship one thing every Tuesday.
This ensures that I write and release something every week.
What to avoid #3: Overcomplicating the process
When I started writing, I posted one joke a day on Facebook every day for ~2 years.
Side note: This was before we decided Facebook ruined democracy. So it wasn’t weird to do that. Now if someone is posting every day on Facebook, they almost certainly are implicated in the storming of the Capitol building.
Like I was saying. I wrote a joke every single day on Facebook for ~2 years. My tens of fans cheered me on hard. I had a ton of momentum.
Then I decided to “move up in the world” and “get serious” by starting a Wordpress site. This was a horrible idea. The switch killed the habit dead in its tracks.
Little by little Wordpress chewed away at my sanity. The interface pissed me off. I actively get irritated by the amount of effort it still takes to post a photo. I would waste a day formatting a text box or an email sign in form just to have it not work. Kill me. I loathed getting back on the computer to write again.
I slowly went from posting one small thing every single day to not posting at all. All because the interface pissed me off so much that I actively avoided going to the site and updating it. It is crazy how the smallest bit of friction can stop us in our tracks.
Mitigation: Make it as easy as possible to do
You need to make a habit easy to do if you want to do it over the long term.
For writing, I recommend Substack. Distribution and creation is taken care of all at once. You essentially type stuff into a Google Doc and then hit send. Moving most of my content distribution to Substack was a huge boon to my writing productivity because I don’t have to think about anything except writing.
If getting started with Substack is too much for you, start by creating content on Twitter, Medium, or Facebook. There is no single correct answer here. Just do it. Fuck. Send me an email once a week where it just has your unedited thoughts if you need to. Do not over complicate this whole thing.
What to avoid #4: You do not feel like you are writing about the thing you should be writing about.
One common theme I see in people who tell me about their desire to “start writing” is “The Grand Vision”. They lay out this whole map of all the content they are going to create, the market they are going to address. Everything. You name it, they thought about it. But oddly enough, they have produced no content…
This is another form of procrastination.
I suffered from this over the last few years. I found the writing spirit in me once again and this time I was going to execute on this grand vision. One small hiccup, I felt like my writing needed to have some organizing principle before I ever produced a single article. Everything was “supposed” to be about “hardware engineering/ future technologies with a comedy slant”. It lead to me making nothing.
You see. My issue was that I was talking hardware 10 hours a day already. Frankly, I did not want to go home and talk to myself about it for 5 more hours. I wanted to talk about different stuff. To me, other stuff was a fun way to get away from work for a bit. For some reason though, I kept telling myself that you shouldn’t just do something because it is fun…that’s a waste of time. At least that is what I reasoned.
Retrospectively, it makes a lot of sense why I struggled.
To give you an analogy, I wanted to learn French and I wanted to learn calculus, so in order to save time, I tried to learn calculus in French. Of course that is a bad idea. I made something that is hard even harder. Only a psychopath would make that work.
Mitigation: Do not write about what you think you should write about. Write what you want to write about.
If I could go back in time, I would tell myself the following:
Write about what you want to write about in that moment. This will make writing fun and you will then look forward to doing it.
Write about whatever seems to catch your attention.
You have my permission to make something stupid because it makes you laugh. Like this gem that you published on September 11, 2015. Kind of rude of us to publish something like that on 9/11. Just a long and storied history of not taking ourselves too seriously.
While I have you, invest in Bitcoin. That shit is gonna blow up. I know. Everyone who invests in it really is the worst person ever. But you are gonna be rich if you listen to me! Ah shit I sound like them, huh? Alright never mind. I should have known you would shoot that down.
TL;DR - How to start writing
If you publish something weekly on a platform that is easy to use about a subject you want to write about to a group of supportive people, you will start writing.
If all of those conditions are not met, you might be confused why you cannot get yourself to do something that you say you want to do.
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Disclaimer: Opinions expressed are strictly my own.