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HOW TO WRITE BETTER STORIES IN 4 EASY STEPS
I’ve spent the better part of the past year writing and publishing this newsletter. Over that time, a lot of people have asked me how I do it. They ask questions such as, “How do you consistently write about such vulnerable, personal topics?” or, “What do your writing habits look like?” I thought I’d spend time answering everyone’s questions by sharing my step-by-step framework with you.
So without any further ado, here’s how you can achieve everything I have, IN JUST 4 EASY STEPS!
WRITE SOMETHING EVERY DAY
It doesn’t matter what you write or how you write it, but you need to write something every single day. Start small. Surely you can find fifteen minutes per day to blurt out some words on the page. Do that every day and you will write a lot of words over time. After all, 200 words per day x 365 days per year = 73,000 words. That’s, like, a book’s worth of words.
CAPTURE YOUR IDEAS
Great stories don’t appear out of thin air. Not even totally made-up fictional stories. Since you will now be writing every day, you will be thinking about writing every day, which means you’ll have lots of ideas pop in your brain at random times. You need a way to capture those ideas. People often debate the merits of different note-taking tools like Evernote, Notion, Roam, Apple Notes, and countless others. But the best note-taking system is the one that’s closest to you when an idea emerges. Get your ideas down ASAP!
HAVE LIFE-CHANGING EXPERIENCES
And preferably really difficult, brutal, unexpected, possibly traumatizing experiences that leave an indelible mark on your psyche.
But first, you need to live a happy childhood. Graduate high school with a less than stellar GPA. Learn to play the bass guitar. Attend junior college and transfer to a bigger college. End up joining a band instead of going to classes at said bigger college and get put on academic probation.
Take the band more seriously than your peers. Practice your ass off, play countless shows, and eventually land a record deal. Record an album. Shoot a music video. Go on tour. Release your debut single to the world. Watch the twin towers fall on 9/11 and your hopes and dreams of becoming a rock star fall along with them.
Get a job at a golf course. Play online poker on the side. Start making more money at poker and go pro. Play in the World Series of Poker Main Event and get knocked out just before the money bubble by the guy who wins four million dollars for finishing in fourth place.
Get married. Stop playing poker and get a “real job”. Fritter your time away in the corporate world for years. Watch as your creative muscles atrophy. Consume other people’s creative work instead of creating your own.
Get divorced. Question what went wrong and what you’re doing with your life. Consider giving up your two pugs for adoption but later decide to keep them because you need little furry companions in this trying time.
Join OkCupid. Fall in love with the first woman you meet up with. Worry that you’ve found someone too fast because your divorce technically isn’t finalized yet. But know in your heart that she is special. Bring your pugs along and move in with her, her four-year-old daughter, and two cats after just four months because your roommate moves out and you can’t afford rent on your own. Later realize it’s one of the best decisions you’ve ever made.
Yearn to do something creative. Dabble in music production but never finish any tracks. Feel like you’re too old to pursue music as a profession again.
Get married. Don’t make such a big deal about it this time around and only invite close family members. It’s another one of the best decisions you’ve ever made.
Learn that your dad is diagnosed with prostate cancer. Be grateful that the doctors caught it relatively early.
Decide it’s time to have a baby because you’re not getting any younger. Worry that you’re infertile because it’s taking too long for your wife to get pregnant. Meet with a fertility doctor and feel like she’s pressuring you into IVF like she’s pitching you a timeshare. Get results of your sperm count test and they’re normal. Share the exciting news with your wife on the phone before going on a trip. But she already knows she’s pregnant and she waits to tell you until you get home. Break down crying in relief and pure happiness when she shows you the plastic stick with a plus sign on it.
Wake up to wildfires in the middle of a windy night a week later. Scramble to find an N95 mask for your pregnant wife. Evacuate your home. Be relieved that your home and family are safe a week later.
In the middle of another night, your daughter is born on her exact due date. You see she’s not breathing. You watch as a doctor performs CPR on your minutes-old daughter and saves her life. You feel helpless as she’s airlifted to another hospital. In the ensuing week, you feel helpless again as she stops breathing and the doctors and nurses save her life again. Twice.
You watch her grow stronger. But you learn she has cerebral palsy, a life-long disability, due to the lack of blood and oxygen to her brain at birth. You get thrust into a world filled with neurologists and gastroenterologists and pulmonologists and physical therapists and occupational therapists. You feel your life turning upside down and you adjust your expectations for your future.
You see your dad’s health deteriorating. You recognize that he’s running out of treatment options and his cancer is spreading. You talk to him on the phone more than you ever have before. You listen as he tells you he wishes he could visit but he needs to see the doctor for treatments too often. You feel frustrated when COVID hits because it means you’ll see him even less often.
You feel the urge to tell your story and have an idea for a book. You start writing your stories and sharing them online. You join online writing communities and make incredible new friends. You keep writing every day and working hard to hone your craft. You’re overwhelmed by the positive feedback on your personal, vulnerable, and sometimes funny stories and you make connections with readers all over the world.
You get a text last Saturday night from your mom saying your dad is in the hospital with chest pains. You feel relieved when you’re on speakerphone with the doctor and he says he thinks it’s pneumonia and it can be treated easily with antibiotics. The next morning, you check in with your mom and hear that your dad had an awful night. You get back on speakerphone with the doctor and hear your dad say he’s tired of fighting and he wants to go home. And that’s when you register that the end is close for him.
You book the next flight to Vegas. When you arrive at your parent’s home, your dad is heavily sedated but he sees you and says, “Hi, bud!” He sounds excited to see you, but you look into his glossy, drugged-out eyes and you’re not sure if he’s truly seeing you. You sleep on his recliner just steps away from his labored breathing and wake up every few hours to give him more pain meds. You wonder why the law requires us to watch our loved ones suffer when it’s their wish to die quickly and painlessly.
The next afternoon, your dad is struggling to breathe even more. You walk to his bedside, lean down, and tell him, “You don’t need to keep fighting, dad. We’ll be okay and we’ll take care of mom for you.”
You’re tired because you slept like crap the night before. Your brother says you should take a nap. An hour later, he wakes you up to tell you your dad just passed away. You jump out of bed and suddenly grasp that you can’t do anything to help your dad. You give your brother a hug and he breaks down sobbing. You see your mom standing next to your dad holding his hand and crying too. You walk over to her and she collapses into your arms. You haven’t cried yet and you wonder if that’s okay. You know you loved your dad and he loved you too. You’re glad he isn’t suffering anymore and you honored his wishes.
An hour later, when the hospice nurse arrives, you help dress your dad’s already stiffening body. His arms are cool to the touch. But when you move him onto his side so she can clean him up, his back is still warm. You realize this is the first dead body you’ve ever seen outside of an open casket funeral. The brutal reality of the fragility of life hits you.
Over the next couple of days, you help your mom with various post-death tasks. It’s clerical work that nobody enjoys doing. You and your mom go to your brother’s house to eat dinner and enjoy time with his kids. You talk about your dad and how he worked so hard to make things easier for us after he passed. You talk about how he flew helicopters in Vietnam and how he still had friends from back then that he would talk to almost daily. You wish you all lived closer together so you could see each other more often.
You board a plane to head back home. You wish you could stay to help your mom more, but you’re also missing your family.
As the plane prepares for takeoff, you think about how strange it is that your dad is gone. You know his body is still intact in a morgue somewhere in Vegas, waiting to be cremated. But he’s gone. Out of sight, but not out of mind. As your plane takes off, you look outside the window and see what looks like a military helicopter slowly descending to land. You feel something. Not sadness necessarily. Pride, maybe. You’re not sure. But it feels emotional and it feels a bit like closure. You say “goodbye” to your dad in your mind as your plane rises into the sky and turns toward home.
Later that night, you write these words because you need to write every day and you need to process this life-changing experience.
You wake up the next morning and you see your daughter. Her eyes light up and she smiles when she sees you.
And you realize that life can be tough and fleeting but it can also be beautiful.
DON’T USE SEMICOLONS
Just write two sentences instead!
Thank you to everyone who reached out to me this week after my dad passed. It meant a lot to me.
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