I write in the morning, before I turn on my phone or my computer. This last part being particularly important. I’ve found that writing first thing helps even me out and allows me to feel like I’ve accomplished something before I allow the world to invade my thoughts. This, though, wasn’t always the case; it’s only been in the past five years that I’ve come to understand the importance of ordering one’s day by importance. Or maybe it’s that the internet has gotten more terrible and now it’s easier to stay away.
I am a purposeful Luddite in some ways and an accidental Luddite in others. I’m not sure which applies here. I use Microsoft Word in part because I see no reason to change, but I probably also use Microsoft Word because I’m being lazy about change. I will say that I think Google Docs are an impediment to productivity. Anything that takes us online runs the risk of diverting our attention. Additionally, I think Docs et. al are a great way to pass the proverbial puck in the same way that a corporate email that says, “I’ll check on that!” really means you have no intention of doing anything about it anytime soon. *Climbs off soapbox*
It is possibly a sign that I am not all that intelligent that I cannot listen to music with lyrics while I write. So, I listen to a lot of post-rock/ambient music: Explosions in the Sky, Tycho, Mono, Eluvium, Sigur Ros, Russian Circles, and my favorite, Cloudkicker.
I try to start my days the same way: get up, eat breakfast, stretch/exercise, meditate, get to the place I’m going to write. Once I’m there, I’ll usually put on a “fun” song—something that energizes me, right before digging in. I’ve found that by keeping this routine the same (or nearly so), the “work” of getting into the writing has largely been taken care of. I still feel a small, nagging sense of existential dread (“what if today’s the day I forget how?!”) but I’ve made writing so much a part of my days that it feels like I don’t really have a choice in the matter.
If I’m writing a rough draft, I try to churn out 1,500 words, as fast as I can. I make note of that last qualifier because I think speed is important to prevent me from thinking too much. Because writing is a brain-based activity, it is easy to assume that we should be thinking as hard as possible. But I tend to disagree: I think we have to do less thinking and more reacting, just like we would in sports or music or sex. The thing we call cognition traffics frequently in judgment and that’s highly useful if we’re, like, identifying land mines. It is not all that useful if we’re trying to let go and create.
Another beautiful aspect of writing for a short, set time each day is the smoothness of the transition from not-working to working. In the olden days, when I would write in fits and starts—maybe a few hours one day, and then no hours for two days—it would take me forever to figure out what I was doing. Now, it’s almost instantaneous.
Writing is blood-letting, I mean, editing, as they say. Most of my “writing” is editing, in that I can only write the rough draft—the pure bit of creation—once. After that, everything is a matter of going back over and trying to make the thing better. Of course, there are spots where there are chances to start from scratch, but even those are constrained by what’s around them. So—getting back to the question—any editing I do of others’ work is very familiar; I just try to imagine that I’m them and that I’m working on this piece as if it is my own.
In the same way that I’m rigid about cutting off my work for the day at one hour or 1,500 words (depending on what draft I’m on), I try to take a fairly standard approach to the drafting process. I allow myself to work on the draft of a book for right at three months. After that, it goes out the door for feedback, and I work on another project. I’m then almost always amazed at how I’m able to return to that first project with a clear eye after three months’ work on the second project.
I suppose my approach to short-form is similar to my approach to long-form; I try to allow myself to write it badly first (the shitty first draft), and then I try to get some space between drafts. Of course, the time frames are way compressed, and what would be three months between drafts in a book becomes a day in a shorter work. However, the concept is the same: don’t think, get space, re-draft as long as someone will let you.
The answer to the second question is the same as everyone: not enough. As to the first and third: I read almost exclusively fiction because fiction tells more truth. And, the best writers are novelists and I tend to think we should push ourselves well beyond our own skill levels in the hopes that this will pull us along. For example, right now I’m reading Don DeLillo’s Underworld. I’m about 400 pages in, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to launch it at my bedroom wall shortly as he seems to have lost his train of thought. Nonetheless, it’s been a useful endeavor because the first 55 pages of that book were the best 55 pages I’ve read in a year. So, I’m hoping that just a tiny bit of DeLillo’s brainpower will have seeped into my own writing. Not because I’ll ever be able to write like him (or want to, gawd), but because if I can ape even a smattering of that skill, I’ll be better than I am.
Writing is not easy. However, writing is mostly about developing a routine. And developing routines comes naturally to me thanks to my past life. (We’ll get to that, I’m sure!)
I started writing because I was lonely. I was living and playing professional basketball in Athens, Greece, and a lot of very strange things were happening to me, but I had no one to tell them to. So I started writing them down and sending them out as email updates. I noticed pretty quickly that if I made them funny, people would respond. And in this way, I found another way to connect to people. That’s what I love about writing: the connecting, whether it’s between an author and me or between me and an author. Now, when it comes to making a living, I don’t know! I’m not sure—and this will sound trite—that you can do it well if you’re planning to make a living from your writing alone.
I will hope that, ten years from now, my answer to this will be different. But for now, it’s my newest book, Stories I Tell On Dates. I feel like all my years of writing non-fiction—for ESPN, for the Spanish newspaper El Pais, and for my own website, the now-defunct FlipCollective—have paid off, in that, while people may not love the book, the writing itself is almost inarguably effective.
Oh, I love On Writing by Stephen King, but doesn’t everyone? There are also a lot of books on writing that I hate, but there’s no need for me to trash anyone in a public space!
One thing I love about Writers Blok is the dogged determination some of our writers bring to their passion projects. One thing I hate about Writers Blok is the dogged determination some of our writers bring to their passion projects. I see this a lot with people who are easing into taking their writing seriously: they get too hung up on a project that isn’t going anywhere. Don’t get me wrong! I was the same. I used to cling to my ideas like a virgin with his first love. But I’ve learned that there was a reason Kenny Rogers sang about holdin’ ‘em AND foldin’ ‘em.
A shockingly large number, which is confusing to people because they usually can’t see a lot of commonalities between Nick Hornby and Nick Young. Sports are great teachers of persistence. I never had a game (or practice, or drill) go exactly like I wanted, and I had to learn to let it go and move on to the next game (or practice, or drill). It took me a long time to see that writing is the same: there is no perfect writing session, but there is beauty in striving for that perfection, even while you know it is not possible.
Competitiveness. One of the things people love most about sports is the (fairly) objective contexts in which they are played. If you are one of the world’s five best linebackers, you will probably get to play in the NFL (unless – or especially? – if you murder someone off the field). If you are one of the world’s five best writers, there is no guarantee that anyone will read a word you write.
Much, much easier. I remember so vividly living in my parents’ basement while training for camp with the Lakers. At that point, what I was trying to do seemed insane to most people. And yet, I did. So trying something similarly insane (like writing a book) feels like old hat!