It’s 10:57pm and I’ve just gotten home from a dinner with friends. On the way home I remembered that I haven’t published today. Time to write.
Over the past week, I’ve had four different people, on different occasions, ask me about my writing process. It’s 11:00pm and I haven’t published yet today. People want to know about my writing process.
What better way to make the point I would have made anyways: there is no secret. There is no magical process. Writing is hard. Everyday it’s hard.
On my best days, I follow a very particular morning routine:
And so I start the day having already won. It doesn’t matter what I do the rest of the day because I’ve already done the work that restores me for the day. Sure, there is still much work to be done, but that’s just icing on the cake because I’ve already centered myself on the core of my body of work: my writing.
On my “worst days,” I have a meeting to start the day, which immediately throws everything off. I have just the right amount of time in between meetings to convince myself that I can’t possibly write in that short window. Someone cancels on me at some point and then I’ve wasted thirty minutes waiting on them and have to get my head back in the game.
Then I go to dinner with friends and it’s 11:05pm and I’m trying to figure out how to make sure I stick to the single most important daily habit I have in my life. Publish. Once a day every week day. Don’t miss a day. It doesn’t matter that no one will notice. It doesn’t matter that everyone will forgive me.
The forgiveness isn’t the point. It’s appreciated, but it’s not the point. The point is to do the work necessary to have something to say. And then to say something worth saying everyday.
The thing I have to say each day almost certainly won’t resonate… but sometimes it will strike a chord. It will change a human. It will plant a seed or spark a person to action. And there’s no way which piece will spark which reaction. The only thing to do is to write.
But if you insist, here’s a note or two about what gives me things to say:
- I read everyday – books, magazines, blog posts, devotionals, opinion articles, long-form journalism, things that I agree with, things that I disagree with
- I listen to podcasts nearly everyday – shows, in many cases, completely unrelated to my day-to-day work. Right now: NPR Politics; Planet Money; The Moment; Startup; Serial; Another Round; The Distance; Hardcore History; Longform; Gravy; Common Sense. Yeah, apparently I listen to a lot of podcasts.
- I coach, mentor, mastermind, and meet – each week I have at least one meeting with my mastermind group, one coaching session or interview with an entrepreneur, one session as a mentee or a mentor, and at least one breakfast or lunch meeting with a new acquaintance or old friend. I ask deep questions. I try not to talk too much.
- I keep a list on my iPhone – it’s a list of quotes, article ideas, deep thoughts, topics, and other random things that I know could turn into posts. I write just enough about each one to remember why it mattered at the time it mattered.
- I take notes – you would never want to borrow one of my books or magazines. They’re full of highlights and notes in the margins and ink smudges. These are MY books so I treat them like reference books because that’s what they are. Books are the fuel I burn to create my own ideas. That’s another way of saying that I don’t have original ideas.
- I record all of my notes in Evernote – after I write my notes in my books and magazines, I go back and transfer them to Evernote. Every highlight, every note. Each book or article gets it’s own note. Notes get filed into notebooks based on research topic whenever possible. I refer back to my notes when I write articles sometimes. But the real value is in the work of recording the highlights and my thoughts on those highlights. I retain the information and am able to share it later when it makes sense.
- I know I’m not original – I write about mashups of ideas I found elsewhere. I curate thoughts on interesting ideas other people have. I write about the stories I find to be inspiring or in alignment with what I value in the world. I don’t try to say something brand new to the world everyday, I just try to share an idea I think could create change if someone hasn’t heard it before.
- I don’t make excuses – I made excuses for a long time. Then I decided to write everyday. I wrote from bars on my iPhone while drinking my second cocktail. I wrote from ski resorts. I wrote from an Uber. I wrote while on vacation. And I wrote in my ideal situation in the middle of the morning. But I didn’t make excuses. I write and publish every week day. Period.
- I still suck on most days – I know it. So do you. Sometimes you read my stuff and you delete the email and you think, “What was he thinking?” That’s ok. The only way to get better is to write more words. To put in the time and the effort and the intellectual energy to try to write something worth reading. I fail on more days than I succeed. But the only way I am able to publish every day is because I have suffered through several hundred thousand words worth of terrible writing. There is no substitute for putting in the time. But more importantly, I try to get better everyday. Some days I go backwards, but most days I kick the can just a little bit further down the road and in the process I get better.
The writing itself, though… the part where I sit in the chair and type… my “writing process.” Well, the hardest part is having the courage to believe that I am the kind of person who has something to say everyday. To believe that it might be worth you reading my writing every day until your priorities change.
The hard part is not the writing. The hard part is the courage to share. Because sharing makes me vulnerable. It’ll make you vulnerable too. That’s the whole point.
But it’s so worth it. There is no substitute. There is no other way to feel the sense of accomplishment that I get from having written at the end of each day.
My writing process is the antidote to the pain I feel when I don’t write. I can’t explain it any better than that.
There is no magical process. Only a commitment to write. That’s my writing process.
It’s 11:28pm. I’m about to hit publish.
Become a more courageous and generous leader
Get every new essay on making a positive impact in the world as it's published.