Hey Lyle Letter #010
I love this essay and have noticed similar things. In the past, I too had no routine, I’d wait for the magic of inspiration to strike me and try to craft something decent while the iron was hot. But that meant I didn’t publish often enough. So I didn’t improve quickly enough.
More recently - I’ve felt what you said- my mind is constantly panning for little snippets or stories from daily life that I can note down and use in future essays. Like an app running in the background. The challenge now is keeping track of them and organising them in a good way which is a work in progress!
Currently toying with different formats - alternating between a “notes from my travels” post one week and an essay-style, deeper, more introspective post the other week. The hope is that the structure and commitment make it easier to keep the rhythm
So true. When you make a habit of writing, you write all the time even when you don't :). You also manage to crank out way more than you think possible. I do 1 substack post every 2 weeks, clockwork, and I usually don't know what I'll talk about until 3 days before the deadline (I worked as a freelance journalist for a while and deadlines are great!). I also do the "1 story a week" Bradbury thing and that also seems to be flowing better - as long as I don't let one week slip by. Last year, I started slipping in May and I lost the rhythm. To make things even more hair-rising, I'm reworking a book... that will probably push the short stories to the side. Eventually!
The flash/micro writer in me is fully onboard with 200 words a day! I find that when I set daily writing goals in microbursts (write 3 “morning pages” in longhand, or write for 15 mins, say), I usually go well beyond the goal. Just one more way to trick The Resistance.
Lyle, that was fantastic! I ran a workshop a few weeks ago and one of the participants asked me "how did you learn to write well?" The question caught me off guard, and my answer sounded something like "Learn? I never thought of it as something you "learn". I just did it often".
This is good advice, Lyle! The only thing I’d add is that sometimes when I a new writer asks me about routine and getting started, what they’re also saying, below the surface, is that there’s something, usually fear, that’s talking them out of starting. I’m not a mental health pro (obviously), but when I see new writers struggling with this, I often ask them what they’re afraid of, then I encourage them to write about that fear. This can be a two-for-one exercise because you’re building that writing practice (habit, muscle, tools, etc.), plus you’re confronting that voice of doubt inside you. Years ago, a friend gave me a simple prompt: “I’m afraid to write about X because...” I turn to that prompt whenever I feel stuck on a project. And when I do the prompt I usually do it in a sprint of 20 minutes because as the same friend said, you can do anything for 20 minutes. Those writings usually end up like journals entries. Free form stuff I wouldn’t publish. But they are clarifying about the project I’m stuck on, and they can also be clarifying about the angst that often comes with a writing practice. Plus, you’re writing!
One other thing. You got great advice about the whole thought leader thing. Ghosting thought leadership pieces for tech execs is my day job. It suits me just fine because it pays the bills and I find it challenging and interesting and the schedule is great for working on my own stuff. But man alive, if you still wanted to be a thought leader I’d drive up to your place and stage an intervention. Glad a real one talked you out of it.
Beautiful and actionable advice. The everyday thing is one I've taken a long time to get accustomed to but it really is the answer I think. Now if I could just apply that to my guitar playing...