How to be a writer

These are the steps you have to take.

1.Write daily.

By daily I mean every day.

By every day I mean every day, not every weekday or every not-busy day or every day I feel inspired.

Write to a word count or write for a specified amount of time.

On the weekend days or the busy days or the uninspired days, write less: a smaller word count, a shorter time requirement. But write. Daily.

Establish in your mind the unalterable truth that a writer writes.

A writer writes consistently. Continually.

A writer who does not write will stagnate and implode and get cranky and possibly turn to drugs or alcohol or Riverdance. I’m telling you, it is dangerous to ignore the need to write.

After you’ve written daily (every single day) for a while, you can take a break. Ease up. JUST KIDDING, NO YOU CAN’T, KEEP WRITING EVERY DAY. Ten words, maybe. Or a hundred. Write them.

2. Get the important work done first.

The important work is the writing.

A writer is someone who writes, yes.

A writer who wants to do something with their writing will come up with a long list of side skills that must be fully developed in order to succeed as a writer. (There is also a long list of side skills that are not needed in order to succeed as a writer.)

But the first and most important skill is the skill of writing. Do the important work first.

Side skills later. Side skills around the edges. Side skills after your daily writing.

3. Ignore the voices in your head.

…unless they are giving you a great story line.

When they are very loud and they are bothering you with questions and doubts, pretend to mute them. You can’t really mute them, but pretend for a minute that you can.

Mute. Press the button.

What do you hear if the voices are muted?

Most likely, you hear your self, your desire, your idea, your story, your need, your vision. Lock into that. Focus on it. Realize that all the other voices are outside forces that have somehow wiggled into your brain. They don’t belong to you. You don’t have to listen to them.

It’s difficult to ignore them, I know. Play a game called Not Right Now. When the voice tells you something that distracts or slows or stops your writing, say, “Not right now.”

Every time.

Keep saying it.

If the voice is terrible in its persistence, write down the thing it says on a little card or note and put it to the side and say, “Later. I’ll deal with that later. Not right now.”

Then do your daily writing.

4. Read.

As much as or more than you write.

Many genres. Many writers. Books, mostly. Also newspapers and articles and magazines and long-form writing and blog posts and courses and things.

But mostly books.

Write down what you think about the books you read. Write a review or a summary or mark up your book with underlining and sticky notes or whatever makes sense for you. But think about the books you read, and record, somehow, what you think. You’ll become a better reader and a more conscious and skilled writer.

5. Treat all writing with respect.

Don’t disparage any genre of writing. You can learn from every experience if you are willing.

Refuse only to write anything that is cheap, shoddy, or half-done: and that part of the matter is entirely up to you.

Content mill articles? Learn how to write quick, hook-worthy introductions and snappy conclusions.

Copywriting? That’s hard work. You’ll think more about reader perception and word choice than in any other writing type.

Any type of narrative, whether it’s literary fiction or erotica or personal essay, is about creating a world and telling a story. The skills from writing one become the skills you use in writing the other. The content is different, but the skills are the same.

Be humble and open-minded and you can learn from all types of writing.

Why you (yes, you) need to be a better writer (and how to get started)

More people need more content for more reasons, and that means that people are doing more writing.

Part of me thinks that’s really cool, because words! are! great! and I like that more people are using them and (one hopes) appreciating them.

Part of me weeps softly in the corner over my thesaurus and a well-worn copy of The Little, Brown Handbook.

Somewhere between the hundredth listicle and the thousandth “Did you know people do things? They do! You won’t believe what happens next!” title, the sad part of me took over. Now I’m a grumpy writer griping about the Oxford comma and conflicted about my own overuse of the word “just.”

If content isn’t “writing,” but is, I don’t know, “content,” then what are the rules for it? They aren’t the standard writing rules for, say, a book or a scholarly article or a well-researched piece of journalism. Those things take time, and thought, and editors.

Content has to move faster, get done faster, get produced faster.

But it doesn’t have to be terrible.

I love the content, I do

Maybe you’re a person who prefers Buzzfeed to books, but I bet you appreciate a well-turned sentence and appropriate adverb use. People who read content are people. People who read writing are people. Most of us are people who read both (and are people).

There’s plenty to appreciate about content, and the Internet that has brought this world of content into being. I appreciate the casual tone of blogging. I appreciate that I can self-publish a book and make sales without having to attend crappy, poorly attended conferences in crappy, poorly lit church basements. The middle-man removal is liberating, and I celebrate it.

I also want us to make better content. I want us to consume better content. I want us to demand better content.

How to make better content

Making better content means being better writers. That’s the part everyone gets ticky about. With the exception, perhaps, of extemporaneous Snapchat-style videos and image-only posts, all content starts with writing.

All of us who make content – video, podcast, infographic, blog post, article, so on – need to be better writers. But making content is both less and more than being good writers.

Making content is partially about being a good writer: the concept starts with writing, but it may end up somewhere very different. Or not. A blog post is an essay, but it’s an essay you plan, write, edit, proofread, format, and publish yourself. Maybe you also source images for it.

There are exceptions. Content teams in which the roles are assigned: someone writes, someone else edits, someone else does the graphics, someone else gets it all ready for publication. That’s the journalistic model moved to the Internet.

It’s a good model but it isn’t the only one. It isn’t even my favorite. I like the model that lets me control it all from start to finish. The DIY model. It’s liberating. It’s removed the cost and the barriers and made a lot of amazing things possible for a lot of people.

It’s also made a lot of terrible content possible.

My loyalties as a writer

I dislike that the do-it-yourself model often results in poorly written content. I’m a writer who makes content, as opposed to a content creator who writes. My loyalty is to the words, first and the Internet, second.

Well, no. That’s not quite true. My first loyalty is to learning; to asking questions and answering them, or trying to answer them. It’s mostly for myself.

My second loyalty is to the people who might benefit somehow from the questions and half-answers I’m chasing around with words.

My third loyalty is to the words. They are my tool of choice. They have served me well, even when I’ve treated them poorly.

My fourth loyalty is to the wide, wonderful web of the Inters, which gives me all sorts of access to information and research and books and other people and their learning, and all sorts of ways to share the words I’ve written with people who might want to read them.

How to make a better Internet

Writing for the Interwebs (with any success) means being proficient in using the tools and resources therein and, for best results, being a fast and good writer. A prolific writer. But not a prolific creator of crappy content. A prolific writer of good words which you can then convert into all sorts of content.

And it won’t be crappy content. It will be good content, if it comes from good words and if you do a halfway decent job of converting it to various and sundry Interweb-friendly forms.

We can have lots of different reasons for making content. And we can use content in lots of different ways. Whatever your reasons and uses, creating better content means creating a better Internet. And creating better content happens when you and I become better writers.

How to start being a better writer

The first way to become a better writer is to be a better reader. Don’t waste your time on crap content. Don’t share it to get a retweet, don’t comment on it to get a trackback, stop it. It’s crap, you know it’s crap, it’s not helping you and it’s not helping anyone else. It’s also creating patterns in your brain, recognition patterns, patterns that are teaching you what content is, what writing is, what it looks like, what it sounds like. You don’t want crap content creating those patterns. Why not? Um, because then when you decide to start writing so you can make your own content, you’ll make more terrible crap writing that you’ll turn into terrible crap writing and the Internet will be sadder and trashier because of it.

Don’t do that to the Internet. We all need it to work and to keep working.

The second way to become a better writer is to actually write. Every day. Daily. Once a day at least. All of the days in a row.

You don’t have to write very much. You’re busy and have plenty of other things to do (I get it, I like memes, too). There’s no required minimum for daily writing. How about as much as you can write in 5 minutes, or 10 minutes? How about a couple of paragraphs? You do a couple of paragraphs every day and every two or three days you’ll have a decent blog post. Wow! Content!

What’s even better is that if you do a couple of paragraphs every day, you’ll get better at paragraphs. Heck, you can even dial it back down to sentences if you want. Write 2 or 3 or 4 sentences each day. Focus in. Tighten up. Describe one thing well. Explain one concept clearly. Do that everyday and your writing will get better and better. You’ll also think clearer and have better conversations. Bonus. You’ll probably also feel less stressed out.

A secret about writing

You’ll probably also find yourself writing more than 2 or 3 sentences.

Writing is addictive.

This is the secret that “writers” won’t tell you. They complain and whine and moan about how difficult writing is (and it is, sometimes). They’ll tell you about deadlines and inspiration and writer’s block and word counts and editors (will they ever tell you about editors) but they won’t tell you about the magic. The addiction. The feel of it, when you know what you want to say and it’s percolated and simmered in your brain just long enough and you’re at the keyboard or the page and the words are flying and the coffee is hot and you’re in a little mind-groove of awesome and everything in the universe seems to align.

You’ll fall into that experience, along about day 10 or 12 or maybe 17 of writing every day. You’ll be thinking, “Ugh, why am I going to write these stupid sentences again. It’s probably not even helping me.” And you’ll think about not doing it today, but you’ll do it anyway, because you’re the kind of person who likes to give something a decent try, at least. And you’ll curse a little under your breath (or over it, who knows) and start stringing some stupid sentences together and then a thought will hit you and you’ll write it down and another thought and you’ll write it and then the thoughts and the writing are happening simultaneously, it seems, and you’re thinking and writing and you realize that you’re thinking through writing, the words are helping you think, you’re feeling this magic of seeing yourself create something you didn’t quite know you had in you.

That’s the magic of writing.

Of course, it doesn’t always feel that way.

But that’s okay, right? Because you’ll plug along and do that daily little bit of writing every day. Some days will be magic, somedays will be mundane, and all the days are valuable. Every day that you write helps you to become a better writer. A faster, tighter, cleaner, more focused writer.

You’ll be a better thinker, too. Because writing is thinking. Can you think? Then you can write. It’s thinking outside of your head in words anyone can see instead of thinking inside your head in words only you can hear. So if you can think, you can write. If you can write, you are thinking. As you become a better writer, your thinking becomes clearer and broader, more focused and more connected.

Writing is for everyone

Writing is not a specialized skill. It’s not reserved for academics and poets. Writing is a universal skill, a human skill, an important skill. It’s available for everyone. You can use it. You can be a better writer. It takes practice. That’s all. Practice, and reading good stuff.

So you’ll do this, and you’ll build up a little collection of writing and you can take that collection and do anything with it.

Make your content, in any sort of form. Turn it into a presentation or a video script or an ebook or a white paper or landing page or social media content or, you know, memes.

It’s up to you. There are your two steps: read better stuff and write every day. Do that for a while, then if you want to learn more about writing, there are plenty of ways to do that.

But that’s all extra. What you need to do to be a better writer you can do for free, on your own time, with your own tools and abilities as they stand. Read good stuff. Write every day. Why not start now?

How I organize my writing

This is a brief look at how I keep my writing organized, because I like hearing how other people organize their writing.

Also, did I say brief? Haha. Let’s not take that as a guarantee, okay?

Tools I’m using

I use Ulysses and I love it with all my heart. It’s smart and easy to use, streamlined but powerful. I can publish directly to WordPress, write in Markdown, export to PDF or text or ePub or DOCX or HTML. I can drag my images in there beside my text files and tag things with keywords and have folders (groups) and drag and drop files and folders to rearrange them and have a million nesting folders and back it all up via iCloud or Dropbox, and all with a simple interface that is never overwhelming or unnecessarily complicated.

Okay, so, now that I’ve sung my little love song for Ulysses (I like their blog, too), let’s move on.

Sets of folders

I have three sets of folders:

  • A set of folders for inputs
  • A set of folders for in-progress outputs
  • A set of folders for completed outputs

I also have an archive folder, which is where things go to die. Anyway.

Here’s what those sets of folders look like:

And expanded:

      


The input folders

My input folders are Ideas, Lists, Reading, Reference, and Swipe. The names are a kind of obvious giveaway as to the contents, but I’ll go through them anyway.

  • Ideas: where the ideas go to live until I pick on and start working with it; when I do that, I drag it to my in-progress folders. I separate “all the ideas” from the actual, chosen, in-progress ideas because there are always more ideas than time. I want to capture the ideas as they come in, but I don’t want to think of them as undone tasks, sitting there in my in-progress spot, making me feel guilty. So this input folder for Ideas is the holding place, the potential, the place where all the maybe-possibly ideas go and live (and sometimes die).
  • Lists: I like lists. I make a lot of lists. Sometimes I use the lists for reference, sometimes I pull a list or part of a list into something I’m writing, sometimes a list is part of a project, sometimes I want to get it out of my head, sometimes I don’t even know…
  • Reading: This is a folder of folders. The folders inside the Reading folder are PDFs, Highlights, Beta Reads, Book Notes, Research Notes. I keep PDFs I want to read (but don’t have attached to any particular piece of writing or research project here) in here, along with highlights from my reading, and notes on what I’m reading (some of which turn into book reviews).
  • Reference:I use the inbox for temporary notes and clear it out regularly. I use the Reference folder for notes that have some sort of info I, well, reference periodically. For example, it has several versions of my bio that I can use as needed for guest posts, a note with code snippets that I’ve used when tweaking the CSS on my website (something I probably shouldn’t do), and my blog’s taxonomy.
  • Swipe:The infamous swipe file. Anything from posts to book covers to excerpts to articles to … well.. anything I find that I like and want to remember, emulate, copy, steal, be inspired by.

The input folders are pre-writing, really. They’re the neat stuff, the cool thoughts, the bits and pieces that flow into my life from various sources and percolate in my brain and, sometimes, coalesce into interesting outputs.


The in-progress folders

This is where the writing happens. Here are the in-progress set of folders:

Organizing in writing stages

I think of writing as happening in four stages:

  • Stage 1: Develop ideas (researching, outlining)
  • Stage 2: Draft material (organizing, creating)
  • Stage 3: Improve quality (editing, revising)
  • Stage 4: Preparing format (presenting, publishing)

I like to have my writing organized in these four stages.

There are many times when I take one piece of writing through all four stages in a single work session, and don’t need to drag the file through each of the 4 folders.

No problem.

In those cases, I simply drag it from the stage 1 folder to the stage 4 folder (or to the appropriate Completed folder). Usually, I have lots of different pieces in various stages of the writing process. Since I like to batch process whenever I can, it helps to have these pieces sorted out by what task I need to do next. That way I can decide It’s time to batch process some outlines, baby! (as one does) and then jump into my stage 1 folder and start turning those ideas into outlines. Exhilarating! Wow. I need a mint or something.

The basic process

In 1-Dev/OL (Dev = development, OL = outline), I either create a new file, or drag an idea from my input /Ideas folder.

I start tinkering with it: write an outline, pull in research, write some thoughts and notes, whatever. At some point, usually when I a) have a complete outline or b) find myself typing paragraphs instead of bullet points, I drag it to the 2-Draft group. It stays there as long as I’m working on the draft, until I feel it’s complete enough to move on to editing.

Some files languish in the Drafts folder for a long time.

Anyway, once I’ve got the material down on the page and think it’s done enough, I move it to the 3-Edit folder. I put it through some sort of editing process (which is probably never enough) and then move it to the 4-Format folder.

At this point, if it’s a post for my own blog, I’ll proof it one more time for headings, spacing, links, images in the right place, and then push it to WordPress directly through Ulysses. I always push it as a draft to WordPress (not published) because I like to check the formatting one more time before I schedule or publish it. Sometimes I need to tweak an image size or I’ll add another link or something.

I love being able to push the post directly to WordPress from Ulysses; it is so much faster to have it all upload automatically, images and all, than to do it manually.

If the piece is for a publication, or a guest post, or is part of longer project (such as a lesson for a course),  I revisit the style requirements, if they exist, then format and save in the appropriate file type, and send it wherever it needs to go.

The file that’s still in my system gets taken down to the last set of folders: the completed outputs folders.


The completed outputs folders

This is simple: it’s a set of folders for my primary publications or content types. For example, the AM-Content is for what lives on my blog. I have a folder for Courses, one for Guest Posts, and then one for other publications I write for regularly and for any bigger projects.

That’s it.

This post may make it sound like I am super organized with my writing, but the truth is that I have about a million files in other parts of my computer, and another thousand in Google Docs, and some other hellishly large number in DropBox that aren’t all categorized and sorted like this. It’s taken me a long time to figure out how I like to work and how I understand organization. There are many approaches to organization, but not all of them make sense to me. I need something that I get, that is intuitive and meshes with the way I process information and understand my own working process.

Is this overly complicated? Probably.

Have I thought too much about it? Definitely.

Does anyone care? Most likely not.

Did I enjoy writing this post anyway? Yes. Yes, I did.

How do you organize your writing? I am obsessively interested in workflows, in general, and in writing workflows and organization in particular. Tell me (Twitter or email works best) how you do the organizing and workflowing for writing (or whatever).

How to write a thing

You can’t treat writing as some mystical, mysterious, only-for-the-called-and-gifted endeavor.

Not if you want to do much of it.

If it helps, think of it as content production. Personally, I hate that term. It’s like saying meal production instead of cooking.

But if it helps, who cares.

Whatever you call it, to do more of it, break it down. Then tackle one piece at a time. Maybe in order, maybe not in order.

Sometimes I start with #1 and take it all the way down the production line, 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5.

Other times I start with a random step and batch process whatever I have at that point of the production line. That’s usually more efficient (because BATCH PROCESSING IS MORE EFFICIENT pretty much always).

1. Pick it.

What are you going to write about?

I keep a list of topics going all the time.

If you read and write much, you’ll always have ideas to write about. If you have trouble generating ideas, try James Altucher’s method for being an ultimate idea machine.

Ideas but no capturing

Most people have plenty of ideas but don’t get around to capturing them. Most ideas aren’t worth capturing, frankly.

But it’s not obvious which ones are good and which ones aren’t. Well, sometimes it is obvious, but not always.

Capturing but no filtering

Some people try to capture all the ideas, all the time. They don’t filter, they just capture, and then later they go through what they’ve captured and apply a filter. At least, we hope that they do.

Some people wait for an idea to pop back up a few times before they bother with it.

Capture in a filter?

I am kind of in the middle. I filter while I capture.

If I think of something, and it seems interesting, I save it somewhere. If it seems like a boring or repetitive idea, I let it go. Unless it comes back over and over. Then I save it, and eventually I’ll play around with it and try to figure out why it won’t go away.

Sometimes (many times) it’s just my brain wanting to think through a potential solution for a problem, or figure out why some past experience bothered me, or understand the reasons for someone’s behavior.

I’m confused about people’s behavior a lot. I’m always trying to figure out The Why. Why did she say that? Why did he do that thing? What is she trying to accomplish? What is he avoiding? What are they after? These whys are not obvious (to me).

I like thinking about them, though. I like thinking about my own Whys. Most of the time, the real Why for something isn’t what I tell myself it is when I first make a decision.

You know what’s great about writing?

You don’t have to have an idea to start writing.

You can have a list of words and just randomly pick one or three and start writing about them. It’s a good exercise in finding connections.

You can look through your backlogs: a list of keywords,  your crummy first drafts, your folder of ideas and one-liners, the notes you made while reading, that stack of index cards, your saved research articles, that quote collection, your old journals.

2. Outline it.

I like to outline for big projects, longer pieces, and stuff that is complex or controversial or confusing (for me, anyway). I don’t outline for everything.

Outlining is a good way to get started writing when you don’t want to start writing.

Outlining is also a good way to waste time not really writing when you don’t want to start writing.

So, you know, use the power of outlining wisely. Don’t let it use you. It can be a gateway drug to the big P, is what I’m saying. The big P is Procrastination, obviously.

3. Schedule it.

Put it on the calendar meaning

  • the editorial calendar of your blog, if that’s what you’re doing or
  • the deadline you assign for finishing the thing.

If you’re writing a long thing, break it into chunks and put each chunk on the calendar.

You put it on the calendar to say you’re committed. You put a deadline on it to make yourself finish.

This won’t be helpful, though, if you are in the habit of breaking your promises to yourself.

Most of us are. I was for a long time. I was a real stickler for keeping my word to other people. But day after day I would make and then break my promises to myself.

Promises like this:

  • I’ll write one chapter a week.
  • I’ll get 8 hours of sleep.
  • I’ll eat better.
  • I won’t commit to so many social events next week.
  • I’ll quit saying Yes to everything that everybody asks me.
  • I’ll work on my favorite project tomorrow.
  • I’ll spend more time reading.
  • I’ll spend more time writing.
  • I’ll spend less time dealing with other people’s crap.
  • I’m going to sit down and plan out my week.
  • I’ll have salad for lunch.
  • I’ll write 250 words every day.
  • I won’t drink today.
  • I’ll make time for exercise tomorrow.
  • I’ll buy myself new underwear.
  • I won’t spend all my money eating out.

There’s going to be trouble when you’re doing that. It erodes something important inside of you. Integrity, maybe? We tend to focus on honesty and integrity as outward forces: Do you keep your promises to other people? Do you tell the truth to other people?

But it’s more important to learn how to tell the truth and keep your promises to yourself.

Quit making promises you don’t mean to keep.

Quit setting standards you know you won’t live up to. You’re training yourself to lie and you’re training yourself to fail and it’s not good for your ever-living soul.

Moving on.

4. Write a first draft.

What’s the ideal speed for a first draft?

  1. Go fast and get it down.
  2. Or go slow, one word, one line at a time.
  3. Or write at a steady pace.

Pace is up to you. (Depends on your deadline, really.) I like to write fast.

Whatever your pace: start writing and keep writing and try not to stop writing until you’ve finished the first draft.

If you’re writing the first draft of a long thing, we’re talking about finishing each chunk. Then eventually you’ve finished the first draft.

Ideal tool for writing the first draft: literally any software or app that will let you type words into it and save what you’ve typed. If you don’t have that, pen and paper.

I like writing on pen and paper in the earlier thinking stages: when I’m playing with an idea, making note of something, outlining. I like pen and paper for journaling. I like pen and paper for making lists, planning, and keeping myself organized. I like pen and paper for a lot of things. I don’t love pen and paper for writing a first draft but some people do.

5. Read it.

Read the first draft. Make sure it makes sense.

It’s also a good idea to have some people other than you read it and give you feedback.

I did this with a fabulous group of folks who were willing to be beta readers for The Real YouThey gave me some amazing insights. Stuff I wouldn’t have thought about or noticed, on tone, on organization, on supporting material, on flow, on word use, etc.

6. Fix it.

You can fix it as you read it. Or if not, you can mark it as you read it and then go back and fix it. By fixing it, I mean basic editing, fact-checking, and proofing.

I don’t mean heaving a big sigh and going back to rewrite the whole thing.

You can.

And maybe for some stuff you need to. But beware the Fixing stage as another entry level to the big P. Fixing can become an eternal endeavor. We want to make sure that doesn’t happen, because you have more stuff to write.

7. Format it.

Whatever that is for the particular thing you’re writing and the way you want to disseminate it.

8. Publish it.

Do it. Do it. Do it. Just publish it.

Publishing is like any other skill: you’re going to probably suck at first. The more you do it, the better you get. You improve your quality by practicing.

A mistake writers make is to focus on improving their quality by practicing writing, only. They don’t practice publishing. They think, I’ll just practice writing by doing a lot of it until I’m much better, and then when I am good enough I will publish something.

But publishing is its own skill. Separate from writing. Being good at writing will not make you good at publishing. Also, being good at publishing will not make you good at writing.

If you want to both write things and have those things published, you need to do both. Lots of both. Write a lot of things.

Publish a lot of things.

I have created multiple blogs. I can think of at least 6 right now. I have written a lot of content for each of those blogs. Guess how many of them are still around right now?

None.

I’m sure you could find some of those posts somewhere in the internet archives if you  search long enough. That’s cool, but a waste of time. They were mostly crap.

But they were practice. Great practice. Writing practice and publishing practice.

Guess how you practice something if you want to get really good at it?

You do it. For real. You do it for real.

Guess how many people used to practice publishing by doing it for real?

Not many. My sister and I used to practice publishing by sending actual letters on actual paper to actual people. Sometimes we wrote newsletters and mailed to all our friends. She wrote a novel when she was in high school. I wrote a lot of terrible poetry from the time I was ten to well into my twenties. I should start writing poetry again. It’s great practice at writing. It wasn’t great practice at publishing, though.

Guess how many people can practice publishing now?

Everybody. Anybody. You and me, that’s for sure. I started to practice publishing when I was in high school and the Internet became a thing we could all use and everybody got a Xanga blog and a Myspace account. I haven’t stopped practicing since then. One way or another. I practice by publishing. It’s mostly terrible. But I think I’m starting to get the hang of it.

 

 

 

 

Writing is a myth

Writing is a myth. No one’s writing. No one knows how. No one can get it right, ever. Writing is folklore, witchcraft, uncensored heart bleedings and all that. Nonsense. Trivia.

Writing comes from the blunt parts of things, the edges, the rough-cut, hand-sawn wood ends that get thrown into the reject pile. The scrap yard, that’s the place for writing. It’s a heap of fodder, a heap of refuse, a pile of twisted burning wreckage of humanity refusing to nub itself down into tidy piles of sawdust. Writing is a voice crying in the city, in the hillside, in the airplane, in the train, on the mountain, in the valley, in the White House, on the great walls, all of them, it is a great voice crying, crying, crying, crying.

Writing is collective, a voice of all ages, of all times. It passes down from an ancient hand to a future one. Writing never pauses for the present. It never waits, contented, for the future. It never lingers, silent, in the past. It is restless. It is NOW. It is bold. It is the river rushing. It carries the trees down the mountainside. This is me! I am here! It screams. It is not your grandmother. It is your grandmother before you knew her, when she was young and untethered and crazy with lust and possibility.

Writing hurts you. It hurts you to read like it hurts you to hear true things said. True things hurt you because they cut down the lies you like to hide behind. You don’t want to hear this nonsense. (Writing is nonsense, remember?) You don’t want this streaming voice to push down your matchstick house. Oh dear, oh dear, where will you live now? What will you do? Where will you go? You’re terrified. It’s okay. We all are. Just admit it. You can quit playing hide and seek when you realize none of us are seeking. All of us are hiding. Now we all know, so it’s safe. Let’s quit hiding from each other and start seeking something better together. Writing reminds us that we could do that, if we want. Writing says, Quit being a coward. Writing says, Lead the way. Writing says, Just try it.

Writing is a little heaven. Writing is a little hell. Writing is a little bit of earth, distilled, into a drop, so you can hold it and really look at it. Just for a moment, then you have to drop it. It burns. It boils. It dissipates into steam and goodbye, it’s gone. You can’t exist on writing that’s come and gone in your brain before. It comes. It goes. You need more. One word or sentence or story or paragraph wakes you up because you read it at the right time. That’s perfect. But it won’t be the one that wakes you up next time. You’ll need a new awakening and that can’t come from the same line in the same story. You can revisit that place. But if you want to move forward, find new things to read. Find more writing. Or write it yourself.

Because everyone can write. Writing is common. Writing is common ground. Writing is a shared skill. Writing is just talking to more than one person at a time. Oh wait. We call that “Speaking.” Or “giving speeches.” That’s why so many authors go on to spend most of their time being professional speakers. That’s why so many potential writers float toward that speaking genre instead of writing. Speaking is good, too, and giving speeches. Very motivational, stirring, encouraging. All of the beautiful things writing is, in many ways. But not quite writing. Why not? Because writing is you talking to many people but on their terms. They get to hear what you have to say when they want, as they want, alone. No crowd energy. No peer pressure. No social cues. Writing is cutting out the body language and tone of voice and jokesy tells and hey-buddy-we’re-all-together-in-this cues. Writing means you have to trust what you say has enough weight on its own to matter to someone who reads it. It might not. There’s a good chance it might not. If you want to write, that’s a chance you have to take. It’s not a big deal. It feels like one because we talk about writing as if it is Some Big Thing when it is, in fact, just Another Thing. It is important, sure, but so is talking and eating and copulating and we do those every day as if they are No Big Thing so surely we could wrap our minds around writing and do it as just Another Thing too.

Writing is just another thing. No capital letters needed. Writing is the socially awkward cousin you have to invite to your wedding. Writing is that one friend from high school who won’t forget you. Writing is the cough that keeps waking you up in the middle of the night. Writing is the weird sound your car makes on cold mornings. Writing is fucking annoying. It won’t leave you alone. You tell it to and it won’t, and that’s the whole problem with writing. It’s just another thing, not a big thing, but when you treat it like just another thing and say, Hey Writing, fuck off, you’re not a Big Thing, well. It won’t. It lurks and lingers and sneers and grimaces and flops on top of whatever you’re doing and sneezes in your face and Oh, that might be my cat, actually, but that is also precisely how writing is. That might explain why so many writers like cats.

Writing is like learning how to play the violin. When you are 5 years old and you start learning Twinkle Twinkle Little Star you will sound like hell. But you will be so proud of yourself, and play for all the people and they will endure the screeching banshee-rattle music and clap politely (and with great relief) and you will feel as if you have done a thing well. You’ve been awful but you don’t know. This is how it is with writing a Single Thing. You will labor over it and with all that labor you will think it must be pretty good. It almost certainly isn’t. Some people will clap politely for you but most will find a way to be sick when you invite them to your second violin concert. But then you practice and practice and over the course of years and many painful concerts you learn what music is. And one day you are 27 years old and playing a beautiful song for a great many people and they are clapping genuinely and you think, Wow, I made so many mistakes, that could have been much better, I can’t believe they like it, I need to go practice more.

Writing is power. Writing is energy. Writing is connection. Writing is real people saying real things to each other. Writing is a community that can cross every barrier someone tries to put in place. That’s why writing scares people, big people and little people. It scares big people because of what it could damage. Writing can topple systems. Writing can end wars. Writing can open eyes. Writing can erase lies. Writing scares little people, like you and me, because it means responsibility. It means power, and we haven’t had that. What would we do with it. How would we use it. What would happen. Maybe the big people are right. Maybe we shouldn’t have this. Maybe we should just…

Be silent? Writing can’t be silent. It is never silent. It is always quiet. It is the rumble beneath the avalanche. It is the glowing ember beneath the wood. It is the sonic boom thousands of feet under the surface. You say a word and it drops, boom, and the energy goes out, quick and quiet, and you can’t stop it now. And people look around and think, Where did that come from. How did that happen. Didn’t see that coming.

Well. That’s just because they weren’t reading.