You Can Only Vomit What You Eat

It’s a bit gross, I know, but it’s true. You can only vomit what you eat.

Whether you’re working on becoming a better writer, a better artist, a better boss — what you produce is closely tied to what you consume.

Let’s say you’re trying to be more honest with yourself in your private writing.

Reading novels with unreliable narrators or delusional characters is not going to help you. Reading autobiographies whose authors just blame everyone else for their problems is also not going to help you.

On the other hand, novels about characters who realise that no one is coming to save them, and decide to save themselves? That’s gonna be some good stuff. Or memoirs by writers who finally got sick of their own BS and decided to do something about it? Hell yeah.

This is about consuming critically.

Consuming critically just means paying attention to what’s going into your brain (and, by extension, your body).

I’m not talking about criticising what you consume, but thinking actively about what you’re consuming, deciding for yourself what you think about it, whether it’s right for you.

Everything that goes into you comes out somewhere, and so you have to put the right stuff in to get what you want out.

I’ll often discard books populated with hateful characters or whose author is just bitching about stuff they could change.

I don’t want to be like that, and I don’t want that in my work.

Decide what you like and what you don’t. Decide what you want your work to be like.

This applies to everything — music, cooking, art — if you want to be good at something, consume a lot of that thing. Compare what you consume; learn to spot the subtle differences.

Train yourself to notice what’s being communicated, both explicitly and implicitly. Learn to recognise the rules of the form, so that you can spot when the rules are being broken — and if it’s working.

Develop your own critical theory of your thing.

There will be plenty of people doing interesting stuff in your chosen space. Learn from them, understand what they’re doing (ask if you have to), but don’t let their approach overwhelm your own.

Figure out for yourself what feels necessary and what’s just distraction. The more you consume, the more attention you bring to it, the clearer this will become.

This is how you get great at something. Read, taste, listen, watch. Pay attention, question what you notice, and make the moves only you can make.