FAQ On Writing

Here are the questions I’m asked most frequently, as a writer, by writers.

What’s Your Process?

Alright. The whole “process” question is the number one thing I (and many other writers) get asked and, to be honest, it is my least favorite question by far. Being asked about “process” makes me want to slam my own hand in a drawer.

Why? Because:

1.) “Process” is one of my least favorite words in the whole entire world.

Bullshit like this fills me with incapacitating annoyance bordering on blinding rage. “Process” is never the point, and it’s sure as fuck never the “secret solution.”

2.) There is no “process.”

My process is: “I write.”

Like, I sit down, put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, and I make words. It’s the same way “going for a run” mostly involves “putting shoes on” and then, you know, “running.” That’s 99% of it.

As Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, put it:

Get up at the same time every day, and sweat and labor and barrel through it really awkwardly.

As Scott Berkun wrote, regarding his “process:”

“I start with the first word of the first sentence and then write the second word. I continue with words until the sentence is done and then I move on to the next sentence. Ok, that’s not useful. Sorry! It’s just hard to take questions like this too seriously as I don’t think there is anything magical in any writer’s process. You have to do the work and as you do the work you figure out which process works best for you. The two words creative and process are oxymoronic in this sense, as anything strictly procedural would by definition not be very creative. Seeing famous writer’s habits is interesting and can give you tactics to try, but you won’t know what works for you without doing the work.”

And with that in mind,

3.) Even if I had one, my “process” wouldn’t matter.

I mean, I can totally give you insight on what I do, but it doesn’t matter what works for me. It only matters what works for you, as measured by: “whatever gets you to write.” If you focus on that, what does and doesn’t work will become apparent.

And to be totally clear:

If you think “writing” is some procedural checklist you can print out and pencil in, then you are not cut out to be a writer. 

Outside of, like, school assignments, work reports, and lifeless listicles.

If I’m an asshole for saying this, fine. Because someone should. So you’re welcome.

Where do you get your inspiration?

What?

That’s a bizarre question. Like, I “don’t.” I get zero “inspiration.” That’s the easiest answer, because the word “inspiration” means nothing to me.

That, or I get my “inspiration” from “everything.” From being a human being who is alive. Because saying “inspired to write” is like saying “inspired” to “eat or sleep or fuck or fall in love or work or move or speak or think.” “Inspiration to write” is just “inspiration to express innermost thoughts.” I don’t even know how these words go together. They don’t. Or they go together so innately that it’s dumb to even call them out.

Write about: whatever’s in your head. Whatever is begging to be put on paper. Whatever is hanging on you as you try to go about your day. Whatever is tripping you while you walk. Whatever is distracting you from everyday life. Whatever matters most. Whatever is THERE. I mean, damn.

If you’re not “inspired” to write, then why in God’s name would you try to be a writer? (I mean, surely you see how insane that sounds??)

Where do you get ideas?

What? See above.

Like, how are you doing anything else in your life (including “your life” overall?) Is this a perpetual problem for you?? (If so: do something about that, maybe.)

Because, again: if you don’t have anything that needs to be written, then why would you try to be a writer???

But how do you know which one to choose?

Same answer. See above.

Don’t you get writer’s block?

I don’t believe in “writer’s block.” It’s just a lame excuse.

(See: everything I just wrote above.)

How do you stay motivated?

You mean other than “the innate desire to express oneself “(i.e., “Inspiration” and “Ideas,” above) and “the joy of producing work of one’s own?” Well, then I guess I don’t.

Motivation is one of the biggest crocks of the universe.

Everyone you admire succeeded by “doing it” even when they didn’t feel like doing it, and some of the most successful writers feel more like a “mule” or “bulldog” than, oh I don’t know, a “unicorn.” You don’t need to “feel like it.”You just need to do it.

The biggest factor isn’t inspiration or motivation; it’s “perseverance.”

How long have you been writing?

Bud, I’m not really sure what you’re getting at here.

If you’re asking how long I’ve literally been writing: well, probably much like yourself, I learned to write in kindergarten. I wrote some short stories in elementary school, started journaling, never stopped journaling, took AP English, minored in English, ran a few stories in my college newspaper, and had a tiny-ass, no-name blog throughout my 20s.

I had like 8 followers. I didn’t care.

I don’t write to build a following. I write to write. Because I like writing. Because I don’t not write.

If you’re asking when I started on Medium: April 2017. I had zero followers. It took me two months to get 500.

If you’re really asking “how long do I have to keep at this ‘writing’ thing before it pays off?”, then my answer is: omg give it up now.

How often do you write?

Pretty much every day.

But like when and stuff?

What.

Not to be difficult, but: I don’t understand why this matters.

That being said, sure Janice: I get up at 6:30 Mon-Fri; maybe an hour or so later on the weekends. I either write first thing in the morning, last thing at night, or at some point in between. (I’m not being a dick. That’s my real answer.)

I get to the office around 8 am and I try to publish something beforehand. If not, I’ll write in the evening. At the latest, right before bed.

On the weekends, I usually get gluttonous and indulgent and write for a few hours on end. But I still write every day, at least for a bit.

I write whenever I feel compelled to. I write whenever I have something. I write whenever I can.

How long does a piece take?

“You post, like, an article nearly every day… they must at least take you…hours.”

I mean, I have a day job and a partner and some semblance of a life, so not to be an asshole, but you do the math. I only have so much time in the day. Time runs out before the piece is “perfect;” I publish when it’s “good enough.”

I’d say an hour or so a day, average.

“Are you a speedy first-drafter, or do you take days to perfect?”

Some pieces take 30 minutes; others I fuck with for days. But at some point I stop.

How do you publish so frequently?

Again, I’m not trying to be difficult, but I don’t understand this question. I mean, I put words down and then I hit “publish” (?) And I do that every day (?)

If you’re having trouble posting every day, it’s either because:

a.) You have nothing going on in your head (see “Inspiration” and/or “Ideas,” above), or
b.) You’re not making “getting it down on paper” a priority.

There is no such thing as “not enough time.” We all have the same 24 hours in a day, and the only difference is what you do with it and what you prioritize.

Do you outline?

No, not really? I mean, maybe? In my head? But not formally, no.

So, “you wing it?”

I guess.

Do you edit?

Do I “edit?” I mean… yeah, I give it a once-over before and after I publish. Is that legit what you’re asking?

No, like… do you have an editor?

Lol, what? No. Other than 1 or 2 very punctilious readers who pepper me with corrections in private notes, no. I don’t.

I AM A HEATHEN PLEB JUST LIKE YOURSELF!

Do you work with critique partners?

“And how many, and when do they see it?”

No.

(What is with this compulsive need for peer-review?)

Do you have drafts?

“I’d be curious to know if you keep a list of subjects/titles… or just a bunch of starts.”

What?

Yes, JaniceI have drafts.

At any give time, I have like 1–3 dozen drafts in Medium and a running list of ideas. And yeah, sometimes I start writing and decide I’m not really feeling it, so I table it. I just ship what I want to ship most each day.

How long do you sit in between drafts?

I don’t know, man. Sometimes 10 minutes, sometimes “forever” — like, I might end up trashing a piece and never ship it.

Do you have an “editorial calendar?”

What the hell is an “editorial calendar?” I’m not even sure I know what that is. (But if a calendar works for you, then you do you, boo boo.)

Do you rewrite?

What?

“Once you write… do you feel like you’ve done the subject justice? or do you sit on some articles for a while til you get them write, er, right?”

Dude, I don’t know. Yes and no.

I don’t really obsess over any one piece so much as I focus on the overarching “block of thought.” “It,” by nature, is always in progress; always being whittled. No article is “it.”

Where do you get your images?

“Do you have a special secret source?”

Lol, uh yeah it’s called “Google.” My “special secret source” is literally Google images and I shamelessly steal (until someone stops me.)

Do you do marketing?

Does hitting “publish” on a post and/or tweeting stupid shit sometimes count? If not, then no.

Medium publications? Sometimes.
Non-Medium publications? Sometimes.
Podcasts? Sometimes.
What about SEO? No.
Some other marketing technique you think I’m coyly avoiding? No.

What’s your writing setup?

What the hell. I mean, lol, I don’t have a space station over here or anything.

Honestly, I’m usually parked on the couch, because even though we have two desks (and a counter with stools), I’m particular about surface size and chair type and desk:chair height ratio and, I don’t know man, I just don’t love them. So I usually couch it.

What music do you listen to?

While writing? Most of the time, nothing. It’s too hard to find music that matches my mental rhythm.

Though that being said: if I do, it’s usually something down-tempo and delicate, like Angus and Julia Stone, Bon Ivor, and Oh Wonder. And almost always one song on repeat for hours. (Ryan Holiday does this too.)

Edits, though? Hell yeah — bring it. My faves are usually gritty, guttural stuff like the Whilk and Misky Pandora station. But anything will do — I don’t care.

Coffee or tea?

Lol, beer. (Or, lately, red wine spritzers.)

But I drink black coffee (morning) and herbal tea (evening) as well.

Okay, WHAT’S THE ONE MOST IMPORTANT THING??

Well, I can tell you one thing:

— It is NOT pretty much everything on this FAQ list! —

It is not the shit that most people think it is.

THE #1, single most important thing:

WRITE.

This is the number one “secret” of writing, and the only real thing that matters. You can listen to any music, use any tools, wake up at any time of day, and sit at any desk in the world, but the only thing that actually matters is whether you actually put words down.

The second most important thing:

Have something to say. And say it.

Most writing is bad because the writer says absolutely nothing. You don’t know who’s speaking — is this even a person? Nobody knows! The work is lifeless and limp.

If you come at writing like some checklist to print out and pencil in, you’re gonna have a bad time. And this is one of the biggest reasons so many people do.

Share something. People like writing they can relate to, and nobody except a cardboard box can relate to writing that reads like cardboard.

… k but wait… srsly… can you pls just tell me your process?

Srsly pls fucking stop.

…ok. But can you tell me the processes that work for OTHER people?

omgno.

If you want process, go find a writer who loves talking about it — there are plenty out there. Or just Google it maybe.

Nah, come on — for real what’s THE SECRET?

Okaaaay!… y u mad bro???

Not only are these questions pointless, but I get asked them over and over and over.

In other words, in illustrative form(!):

These questions are irrelevant. These questions are irrelevant. These questions are irrelevant. These questions are irrelevant. These questions are irrelevant. These questions are irrelevant. These questions are irrelevant. These questions are irrelevant.

This would irritate the fuck out of anyone.

I would love to never be asked them again.

Other resources

I’ve written several.

Topics covered include:

Uh, ok. But I still have a question. Will you answer it?

Maybe. Shoot me a note.

(But if it’s a question about “process,” Imma refer you here.)