Don’t Get Frilly With Me

To be a writer, you have to write.

Obvious, I know. But recently I’ve been thinking about how often we skip over ‘first principles’ — the basic, fundamental facts — in pursuit of stuff that’s more glamorous or exciting.

Between ghostwriting, coaching, editing, doing podcasts, going to events, and writing these newsletters, I spend a LOT of time talking to people who want to write.

It’s vanishingly rare that anybody ever wants to talk about the actual steps of writing.

When people start thinking about writing, they tend to skip this foundational bit of actually doing it and go straight for the frilly final-stage stuff.

Two or three times a month someone will reach out to ask me to edit their book before they’ve written a word.

Once a quarter or so, someone will email me fretting about how to upload their book to Amazon when they haven’t even figured out when the central point of their book is. 

You don’t have to be edited, or marketed, or published, or interviewed, or adored. All those things might come later.

But to get to any of those things, first you have to write.

To begin, you have to have a thought or an idea that you consider interesting or urgent or that you would like to explore more.

Then you have to sit down with a notebook or laptop and figure out how to describe that thought or idea to the page, get your hands to manifest what’s in your brain.

You might have to repeat this a few times before you really find the words that capture the essence of what you imagined. That’s normal; I’ve rewritten this email from four different angles so far.

Repeat this process regularly. Write about different things. Write about whatever interests you.

Write about breakfast (the best meal of the day, obvi), about your kiddo’s cute little toes, about that thing you can’t believe that guy said to you.

It seriously doesn’t matter what you write about. Writing doesn’t all have to be deep personal analysis or glorious communion with the muse. It can be, but sometimes that’s intimidating, and if that stops you writing, give yourself permission to get silly.

One of the most famous poets of the twentieth century wrote about his socks.

It also doesn’t matter if what you write is ‘good’.

Every author I know of has withheld twice as many words as they’ve published; usually more. Elizabeth Gilbert talks about writing 500 pages of her book Committed before she started writing what was actually published.

It’s going to take a while for your skills to match what you dream of achieving (The Gap), but that’s fine. It’s like that for everyone — even the people with ‘natural talent’, who usually get outpaced by the people who have to work harder for it.

I’ve been doing a lot of YouTube yoga lately and when it comes to the harder poses, the teacher always says:

Accept where you’re at in your practice. Allow yourself to wobble. Allow yourself to fall. Keep your sense of humour.

The point is to practice. To keep showing up and doing it. To bring your curiosity and empathy and critical thinking and sense of humour to each new session.

This is what makes you a writer. If you want the frills later, they’re easy to find.

But write first.