Growing up, I never showed any inclination to write. There were only two instances I can remember proudly writing anything, they both ended badly. When I was first year high school, I wrote a short story of a battle between humans and orcs. Caveat – I played hours of Warcraft: Orcs and Humans, best game ever! The piece was garbage. I showed it to everyone and it was quickly dismissed. The second instance was in an English class in college, the task was to write about anything. It was the first assignment of the year and I was excited. I decided on a lengthy reflection of my favorite band at the time, Incubus. I remember letting my classmate read it. He said, “It’s good. I’ve never read anything about music quite like this.” He was being nice. My enthusiasm was shot down by my wrenching C grade.
Even when we started Zerothreetwo, I still approached writing with disdain. Here’s one of the very first pieces I wrote. You could tell I couldn’t wait to end the piece.
“One word: SMORES. We have brought plenty of friends to Corner Bakery and they come out with boxes and boxes of these sweet babies. This unassuming eatery in a little corner of Cebu has more to offer than just SMORES. They have an assortment of bread and cakes that are all winners. When one wants to dine in, they have really good pasta as well, perfect as an appetizer before the main course… the dessert!” – Zerothreetwo Jan 2011.
That’s five sentences. F-I-V-E. It probably took me hours to write.
Do the time.
I have nothing resembling any sort of writing pedigree. My time growing up was spent on computer games, Magic: the Gathering and basketball. There were no novels on my shelves. The only book that sparked my imagination was DOOM: Infernal Sky. A video game classic. A classic book? Not so much. Till this day, I still can’t get through a whole book without falling sleeping. I’ve since remedied this by subscribing to audiobooks (I “read” every time I drive in a car). Currently, Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed.
When I got my grade for that Incubus paper in college, I stopped thinking about writing. Discouraged and demotivated, I expected to be good right away. That was a mistake. Of course, I wasn’t any good at writing. I didn’t put the hours in.
This is obvious, but lost in this age of instant gratification. If you want to get better at a craft, you need to do it a lot. Malcolm Gladwell writes about 10,000 hours in his book Outliers. He argues that you need that many hours of practice to be considered an expert. Do the math. That’s roughly 10 years. What have you spent 10 years of your life doing? Want to get good? Do the time. Get into the habit of just doing.
How to get that habit?
What’s the best way to learn Spanish? Hint: The answer is not to take a Spanish class three times a week. The best way to learn is to drop yourself in the middle of Spain, surround yourself with Spanish speakers and try to communicate. You will learn fast.
If you want to learn anything, put yourself in a situation that forces you to succeed as much as you want to breathe. When we started Zerothreetwo, it forced me to find that habit.
We decided to post new content 3x a week. Initially, I was furiously looking for writers. I badgered and begged anyone to write for us. Finally, it dawned on me that it would be easier to write the pieces myself. This arbitrary promise to release content 3x a week forced me to write.
I struggled mightily and I never felt like writing. During the few times inspiration struck, I could barely eek out 300 words. Today I write to you with a blank wall in front of me, a cup of coffee to my left and the nice quiet of the morning. I’ve been doing this almost every morning for roughly two years now.
Everyone is different. I realized that I work best in the morning as soon as I wake up. Groggy, sleepy and barely coherent. I found that the hardest thing to do is to fill up an empty document with words. Writing just after waking up forces me not to think about those words. I just write.
“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.” – Anne Lamott
Most of what I write in the morning is crap, but it allows me a starting point for editing and rearranging my words into something better. I put the Anne Lamott quote up there to illustrate a point that I learned from Bill Simmons (I don’t know Anne Lamott, but that’s a damn good quote and I couldn’t find a quote from Bill). Bill Simmons is one of my favorite sports writers. Unfortunately, he doesn’t write as much anymore, but he has since turned into one of my favorite podcasters. Bill used to write in the mornings as well. Sleep typing words almost unconsciously. Then in more wakeful moments, he would edit. I’ve since adapted this approach.
Everyone is different. You will likely have an approach radically different from mine. You might be the type who meticulously thinks about each word before putting them on paper. That approached didn’t work for me and resulted in many blank word documents. Look for what works for you and just do it.
This article is really my 1000 word way of saying that if you want to learn to write. Just write. Don’t wait for inspiration to hit. It won’t. Don’t wait for something to happen to you. Nothing will. Don’t wait for someone to pay attention. No one cares. None of this happens in the beginning. But if something deep inside you is calling out for you to write, just write.
Writers write. Period. If you want to be a writer, write. When they don’t feel like it, writers write. When people are loudly talking about their failed relationships in the coffee table behind, writers write (possibly about those failed relationships). Writers write whenever and wherever. Even if they have a baby on their shoulder as they lull the baby to sleep, writers write. Writers write because if they don’t, there’s an unexplainable part of them that aches and wants to be let out.
It bothers me when people say they are writers, but the last thing they’ve written was two years ago.
Writers don’t think about writing.
Writers don’t dream about writing.
Writers don’t plan to write.