The Scariest Moment

You know that thing you need to do? That thing that scares you? That thing that everything within you dreads doing?

That thing is only scary and fills you with fear because you haven’t jumped in. You haven’t started yet. 

“The scariest moment,” King said, “is always just before you start. After that, things can only get better.”

Most of the things we dread don’t turn out as terrible when we get up close and personal with them. Once you overcome your fear and begin things only improve. 

So hear’s to getting started. To rolling up your sleeves and taking the first step. That's the hardest part. It's all down hill after that.

On the other side of that first step is the freedom that comes from beating fear. The freedom that comes from engaging discipline and doing things inspite of fear. 

Four Things That Will Increase The Likelihood of Working On Your Dream

Tim Ferriss has a phenomenal podcast, on which he peels back the layers on today’s top performers. He scores big name guests like Kevin Costner, Jamie Fox, Malcolm Gladwell and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Each intriguing conversation yields powerful advice and entertaining stories you can learn from.

I’ve listened to The Tim Ferriss Show, since reading The Four Hour Work Week a few years back. That book was so helpful and inspiring in my journey from corporate life to small business owner. Tim’s podcast has been little different. Each time I throw my headphones in I find something of value and interest, no matter the subject or guest. A few of my favorite episodes are conversations with Mike Rowe, Pavel Tsatsouline, Kevin Costner, and Derek Sivers.

I'm taking a page from Tim in today's post. I'm sharing the tips, routines and habits that constitute my writing life. I’m not a big-time author, published writer or anything close to famous. I’m a guy dedicated to his craft, seeking to get better every day and who wants to help you do the same. What follows are thoughts and snapshots of my world, I hope you find it helpful.

Get Out of Bed

For most of my life, getting out of bed has been a struggle. In middle school and high school, this was especially true. My mom would have to poke and prod me for what seemed like hours to get me up each morning. In college, little was different. I would stay up far too late and sleep as much as I could the following day. On more than one occasion, I slept through my 7 or 8 am classes. I lacked the self-discipline and drive to get up early.

Then came real life and with it the responsibility and accountability of my first job. I couldn’t hit the snooze, roll over and sleep in any longer. I had a defined place I had to be each morning. Being late, was no longer an option. This change was good for me. When I had a reason to be up, and a plan for what I was going to do, getting up wasn’t a big deal.

I roll out of bed at 5:30 am, most days. I walk to the kitchen to pour myself a cup of bulletproof coffee and sit down at my computer to write. I write until my wife gets up at 6:30 am. At which time I pour a second cup of coffee and spend thirty minutes to an hour reading God’s word. By 8:00 am I’ve written for an hour, spent 30 minutes to an hour in the Bible and walked our two sweet pups. I’m locked and loaded to start my work day.

I treasure this morning routine. It feeds my soul and helps me win the day. Before I started this routine, I struggled to find the time to write. Attempting to fit writing into any other corner of my day wasn’t working. Too much was going on once the work day started to squeeze writing time into the day.

Then it hit me. I could be selfish at 5:30 am. There would be nothing to distract me. No email, phone calls, or meetings. I could work on exactly what I wanted and that’s exactly what I did. I started getting up early.  

No matter how crazy my day gets or what curve balls get thrown my way, I will have spent time working on something personal. The craziness of life no longer remains an excuse for not getting things done. Of course, I miss days here and there. Maybe we were up late shooting a wedding, or traveling with family and I don’t get up as early. Grace abounds in those circumstances. I’m not going to beat myself up for sleeping in, I’ll just make sure I get up the next day. Getting out of bed and tackling a small piece of writing each day has become too important.

Prime the Pump     

I enjoy watching good movies on the couch with my wife but would rather read a good book if given the choice. Reading fuels my writing. It gives me ideas to ponder, words to look up and examples to follow. “If you don't have time to read,” Stephen King said, “you don't have the time (or the tools) to write.”  I’ve taken King at his word and have come to agree. As a writer, you prime the pump by reading good and sometimes bad writing.

“You are, in fact, a mashup of what you choose to let into your life.” Austin Kleon said, “You are the sum of your influences.” Reading is only one form of input. If you are going to grow as a writer, you are going to need more influences than great books. You’re going to need to fill your mind with exciting and fun experiences, music, and more. It is from this well, your ideas spring.

I call this priming the pump. Before any bit of writing goes out into the world countless hours get spent hiking, listening and reading. Input precedes output. We must tend to the things that influence what we create if we want to improve our creative endeavors.

Do Something Every Day

“What you do each day,” Sonia Samone said, “becomes what you did last year.” The truth is, the things you get done, come down to the small habits and routines you do daily. Change and growth are incrementally obtained. The only way I know to get something written is to sit down and write. There isn’t a hidden formula. You have to actually write.

The things you’re good at in life, take time and practice. Writing is no different. If you want to improve and get more out there into the world, you must consistently write. You need to be writing every day. The time of day isn’t important, time spent writing is.

As I’ve shared, I write daily. Writing daily doesn’t mean publishing daily. I write many things that will never see the light of day, most of it for good reason. For every one good page of writing, I stumble upon, there are dozens of terrible ones. You don’t get to write only good things, often the road to the good runs through the bad along the way.

“You always throw out your first pancake,” Seth Godin said, “so get cooking.” Don’t let a few mangled sentences and dry prose stop you, keep at it. Show up every day committed to your task. Do the work required. If writing is an inspired thing, make yourself easy for inspiration to find. Consistency is inspiration’s best friend; they hang out a lot.  

Don’t Think About the Final Product

Few things suck the life out of the act of writing or creative work quite like the tyranny of the finished product. You have this picture of what it’ll look like, what people will say about it and even how it’ll improve your reputation. No wonder you tighten up and have trouble finding the ‘right’ words. You’re so concerned with the final product, that you can’t get anything done.

Pay little attention to your finished product while working. Get your idea on paper or canvas. Vomit it all up on the page, every last piece. Once you’ve got it all out there, you can then go about the work of crafting it. The best way I know to write is to work without the end in mind. I don’t develop any preconceived notions of what completion will mean.

What I’ve given you here is one aspiring writer’s guide. It isn’t definitive or even groundbreaking. It’s a quick run through a few of the habits and routines I use for writing.

1. Get up early

2. Read a lot

3. Write every day

4. Don’t focus on the final product


These four steps have helped me grow and develop as a writer. It's my hope they’ll do the same for you, whatever your creative goals may be.

Four Things I Learned Reading The Way of the Writer by Charles Johnson

 

My wife and I were at Barnes and Noble to return a book we’d received three or four copies of as gifts. I meandered through the aisles on the hunt for a new addition to my ever-growing collection of books. What should catch my eye, but Charles Johnson’s The Way of the Writer. It drew me in as I fanned its pages for the first time, landing on a spreadsheet in its middle, but more on that in a moment.

I tossed the book onto the stack of dozens like it when we got home. I figured I’d get to it months down the road, but my curiosity got the best of me. Within a few hours I found myself kicking back with it in one hand a pen in the other.

Johnson approaches the art of writing in much the same style as Stephen King in On Writing. The Way of the Writer serves as part memoir and part instruction manual on the craft of writing. Instead of coming from the perspective of a famous novelist, it flows from the pen of an academic. Johnson has much to share even in the early pages of this work. I’d like to share four of my biggest takeaways with you here.

1. Writer’s Notebook - When someone mentions something two or three times it's important. Johnson refers to his writer’s notebook at least a dozen times throughout the book. On its third appearance, he explains that it is a “collection of images, ideas, scraps of language, character sketches, overheard conversation, and so forth.”

I find this to be such a plain and excellent idea, that I’m ashamed to admit I hadn’t thought of it sooner. Of course, a writer should be writing down what pops into their mind at all points of the day. Relying on memory alone isn't enough. I’ve carried a notebook with me for some time now but writing down bits of overheard conversation hadn't crossed my mind. I’ll have to be more diligent in my eavesdropping moving forward. I can't think of a better way to train my ear for true and real uses of language.

2. Quotes Spreadsheet - I landed on page fifty-two while first flipping the book’s pages. It contains a spreadsheet of what the American Book Review once considered the top 100 first lines found in novels. I thought it was a gathering of quotes and lines from various books upon first discovery. It wasn't but that didn't stop me from running with the idea. I created a spreadsheet for collecting everything I’ve underlined, copied and enjoyed in pieces of writing. Below is a smattering of entries so far in my reading of The Way of the Writer:   

  • To the degree, then, that I believe the health of a culture can be measured by the performance of those who speak and write its language. If that thesis is credible, then perhaps we should be worried by the coarseness, vulgarity, and at times obscenity that we encounter so often today in American speech.
  • The problem, as I see it, with vulgarity is that it is unexpressive, a failure to reveal things in a fresh way. Rather than liberate our perception, vulgarity calcifies it.
  • 90 percent of good writing is rewriting.
  • Writing well is the same thing as thinking well, and that means we want our final literary product—story, novel, or essay—to exhibit our best thought, best feeling, and best technique.
  • I write, first and foremost, in order to discover and clarify things for myself. (And that's why I write a lot; there are countless subjects I want to explore in this vast, mysterious universe we inhabit.) If I couldn't do that, then I wouldn't write.
  • Most of the ideas expressed by writers today are not new. Far too many writers are simply unaware that an idea they believe is original was actually thought and expressed—and presented with eloquence and sophistication—more than two thousand years before they were born. Writing well is thinking well. That necessarily involves knowing—and caring about—the best thoughts of others.

3. Interviewing Idea - “At the end of 2010,” Johnson said, “the poet E. Ethelbert Miller, who was recently inducted into the Washington, DC, Hall of Fame for his contributions to literature and public life, presented me with a proposal that at first glance might have seemed preposterous. He asked if he could interview me for an entire year.” What an incredible idea! Think of all you could learn about an individual, their work, and view of the world. It is a project boiling over with possibilities to take a deep dive into another’s world. I’m not 100% sure how I’m going to use this spark of inspiration, but it will at the very least involve an interview or two.

4. New Words - “A literary work is first and foremost,” Johnson said, “a performance of language” Fewer words from his pen have rung truer halfway through The Way of the Writer, than these. Johnson’s love for ornate language is on full display throughout his writing. On at least three different occasions, I’ve had to pause and research terms he’s used. Words like oeuvre are opportunities to learn and play with parcels of language I haven’t encountered.