Observe always. Write often.
Hey Lyle Letter #010
It’s been far too long since I’ve tackled an advice column question.
Before I dive into my answer, I want to quickly thank the two new paid subscribers that rolled in this past week. We’re officially into double-digit territory. And nearly into triple digits donated to the Cerebral Palsy Foundation. If you’d like to help get us there, grab a subscription here.
What does your writing routine look like? How do you write and publish so consistently?
I’m not one of those writers who grew up loving English class and spending an inordinate amount of time at the library devouring books.
The possibility of writing actually being a fun thing to do with my time has been hidden from my conscious mind for the vast majority of my adult life too. And yet, writing has been a leisure activity for me somewhat regularly—especially when compared to the average person—for most of my adult life.
In my band days, I wrote missives in our tour diary (before I’d ever heard of the word blog before).
I wrote a handful of posts on my own WordPress blog for a while.
I wrote some more on a platform called Svbtle for a while.
I wrote even more on Medium for a while.
But my writing was sporadic. At one point, I remember thinking I wanted to become a thought leader writer in the tech space. Eww. I even said it was one of my goals aloud to another human being. To Noah Kagan, no less—someone who’s an actual thought leader in the tech space. He shot me a pained look and said, “No, fuck that noise, dude. That’s a terrible goal.”
I’m telling you Double-A, if you had said the phrase “writing routine” to me back then, I would’ve thought it was an oxymoron. Because I had no routine to speak of.
Fast-forward to the summer of 2020. I wanted to write a memoir. But I had no audience to speak of. The ~1,000-person email list I had built previously had been purged by Mailchimp due to a few years of inactivity. I truly had to start from scratch. And every bit of advice about book writing said to build an audience first.
I knew I needed to step up and become a “real” writer. Meaning a writer who, y’know, actually sits down and writes regularly. That is, a writer with a writing routine, you might say.
Instead of putting blocks of writing time on my calendar or creating a spreadsheet for tracking how many words I wrote each day or whatever, I simply committed to publishing one post per week, on a specific day. Not only did I pick a specific day, but I picked a specific time of day. That’s when I noticed Substack allows you to pick a publishing time down to the minute. I chose 8:08 am PT as a nod to the infamous Roland TR-808 synthesizer that started the trend of booming bass drum sounds in hip-hop, which you can also hear all over pop music these days.
That weekly appointment has since become the most solid entry on my calendar each week.
It’s a forcing function. No matter what, some sort of writing has to squeeze out of my brain, down through my fingers smacking on my keyboard, and onto the internet for you to read, Double-A.
It took years of inconsistent writing that went basically nowhere for me to finally get fed up. I was tired of the fits and starts—I wanted to commit to showing up consistently. And I knew consistency was my path to improving my prose, growing an audience, and, ultimately, embodying what it means to be a writer. Meaning someone who writes regularly, and even thinks about writing regularly.
Okay, so committing to a publishing schedule is great and all. But it’s not like those early pieces just came pouring out of me. I mean, some sort of did. Others most certainly did not.
Very early on—perhaps even before I launched, I’m not sure—I heard a great piece of advice on a podcast. It came from an author who had written something like 80 novels. I don’t remember the exact number, aside from the fact that it was huge. Of course, the question he got asked all the time was some version of “How do you do it?” His answer: “I write 200 crappy words per day.”
I loved the simplicity of it. And how low the bar was. Writing 200 words—and crappy ones at that—is easy. You can do it in like 10 minutes, Double-A. Maybe less if you’re a better typist than me—which wouldn’t be surprising in the slightest.
I adopted the practice and found it liberating. Most days (or nights, really, to be more accurate), I’d crank out far more than 200 words, because once I got to that amount I started to get on a roll. Some days, I’d get to 200 and stop because I wasn’t feeling it or I had some work thing to attend to, or whatever. Those daily word counts would compound, and by the end of the week, I usually had something good enough to publish.
This was all well and good for months, Double-A. Until I got another bit of advice.
It came at a time when I was feeling stressed. My daughter Em was struggling with complications from her cerebral palsy disability at home. My dad’s cancer had taken a turn for the worst—he passed away only a few months later. And despite our best efforts, we were losing clients at work. I expressed all of these things during a Foster group coaching session with. I said how life had been crazy that week and how I hadn't written my last published piece until the night before.
“Wait, I think I read that piece. And I liked it,” Sasha said. “The good news is now you know that you can write a piece the night before. If you have to.”
At the time, Double-A, that quick bit of advice was freeing. Almost too much so. Because it gave me a license to procrastinate.
Since then, I’ve done the write-the-night-before thing way too often. In fact, I’m doing it right now. I’ve recently answered similar questions with some recent coaching clients, which helps. Besides that, next to none of this advice column piece was written before Friday night, other than a short bit in my Apple Notes app.
And yet, Double-A. I’m a more consistent writer now than I was back when I was cranking—and counting—out 200 crappy words per day.
One thing that tends to happen when you get into the habit of writing is that you think about writing more often. At some point, you’re writing so regularly that your brain is sort of working on writing ideas in the background all the time. You’re doing dishes and think of a title for a post. You’re on a plane and it sparks an idea for a short story. You notice the sound the wind makes when it whips through the trees and you jot down the description.
Maybe you use these things in your writing, Double-A. Maybe you don’t. It doesn’t matter.
What regularly writing—and publishing—does is make you a better awareness machine. Absolutely everything you observe in the world can be fodder for the written word. Anything and everything can be something worth showing up for and writing about.
Let’s get practical for a second, Double-A. If you’re just starting your writing journey, figure out how to write consistently. Try the 200 crappy words per day thing. Try setting a timer for 30 undistracted writing minutes first thing in the morning. Try blocking off writing time after lunch on your calendar. Find whatever works for you. Eventually, after some amount of time that’s different for everyone, you’ll get to the point where writing is ingrained in your psyche.
Observe always. Write often. Do it enough, Double-A, and you can call yourself a Single-A, Author.
If you want more of this type of advice for yourself, go to lyle.coach and book a coaching session with me. Keep in mind, it’s free upfront and pay-what-you-want on the backend.
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