I’m Giving Away a Skillshare Membership

To thank one of you loyal (or even not-so-loyal) readers, I’m giving away a free Premium Membership to Skillshare (on which I teach a few writing classes) for a year. This allows you to take unlimited classes, and they’ve got a ton of writing-related courses as well as programming, design, photography, and other fun things. The first to respond in the comments gets it.

Find a Writer Tribe

58251_7227I don’t think there’s any better advice for becoming a “real” writer than surrounding yourself with writers. This was definitely the turning point in my career, when I went from seeing myself as just a working journalist to seeing myself as a Writer. I began hanging out with people who inspired me, who wrote novels and essays and other literary things. They treated me like I was one of them, so I started to believe that I was. I started to pursue a real, live literary career, and it worked!

Some ways you can surround yourself with inspiring fellow writers:

1. Go to readings. Like, small literary readings at independent book stores and bars, not Barnes & Noble blockbusters. This is where I got most of the literary friends I still have. Many local publications will list readings in their events sections. Most independent bookstores have bulletins you can pick up, listings on their websites, email lists, or all of the above. Go to readings, chat others up, and go out for drinks afterwards if you’re invited. Authors love when strangers show up to their readings. They’re sick of begging the same 20 friends to come. You’ll meet lots of like-minded people, and maybe even a few good contacts like editors and agents.

2. Take a writing class. Then make friends there.

3. Join or start a writers’ group. This could be a group that meets weekly to exchange and critique work, or it could be an informal happy-hour type thing.

4. Look for online gathering places for writers, and/or just start following fellow writers on Twitter. I’ve made some serious connections online—it really does work.

What Britney and Beyonce Taught Me About Being an Overachiever

In honor of the Skillshare class I just started about Finding Your Writing Voice, which includes Britney- and Beyoncé-related lessons, I’m sharing this little essay I wrote about these two central figures in my life. This also reflects the lessons of voice: I can’t imagine any piece that’s more “me” than this.

beyonce-strutEven though Beyonce and Britney Spears are two of the biggest pop stars of our time—and have been for more than 15 years!—it’s hard to imagine the two of them breathing the same air, or even living on the same planet. Beyonce is an untouchable deity to whom we all aspire, in every aspect of our lives, but do not expect to ever reach; she is the closest thing we have in modern America to ancient Greek goddesses, but with fewer flaws and weaknesses. Britney is the sweet, Southern girl next door who just happened to become a pop star, like an adult Hannah Montana; she is like your high school friend who’s always been kind-of a disaster, but you love her just the same.

And yet, both women clearly know something about major accomplishments. Beyonce has been dominating pop culture since her 2013 Super Bowl performance and proved her power with a surprise album drop that became iTunes’ fastest seller ever. Britney’s Planet Hollywood Las Vegas concert residency, which launched in December 2013, has now been extended another two years to 2017 after helping to boost the hotel’s annual earnings by about $20 million.

Separated by just three months in age, Beyonce and Britney typify every peril and triumph awaiting modern young women who grow up wanting desperately to succeed and willing to make every sacrifice necessary. Their most recent albums both articulate their visions of success. From Beyonce’s “***Flawless”: “I know when you were little girls/You dreamt of being in my world/Don’t forget it, don’t forget it/Respect that/Bow down, bitches.” From Britney’s “Work Bitch”: “You want a hot body? You want a Bugatti? You want a Maserati? You better work, bitch.” Beyonce demands respect and knows she deserves it; Britney wants to earn, and believes she’s made her millions by working harder than everyone else.

There’s a reason I respond viscerally to these songs—and sometimes play them just to get psyched up for work: I’m a lifelong overachiever, and I see myself in both of them. At this point, of course, it’s clear that any of us with Type A tendencies would be better off following Beyonce’s lead than Britney’s. But the particulars of Britney’s public struggles—and Beyonce’s lack thereof—illuminate what is to me the most important lesson for any massive overachiever, especially one who’s female: People who benefit from your hard work will always want more from you, but you don’t have to give it to them.

Beyonce figured this out in the last few years to spectacular effect. She fired her own father as her manager so she’d be the only one making decisions about what she would cram onto her packed agenda or what kind of songs she’d write. Starting with her 2011 album 4, the catchy, girl-power radio anthems she could write in her sleep gave way to artistic risks and vulnerable, raw lyrics. Her profile only rose as a result, climaxing in a superior 2013 that started with the Super Bowl and ended with her album Beyonce changing the record industry and being declared a “masterpiece.” I can think of no better idea to aspire to: making a masterpiece. I remind myself of this whenever I’m working on a book now. Someday maybe I’ll get there.

Poor Britney, on the other hand, continues to be run by a management team that has groomed her to behave like a good little money-printing robot. Even as she shattered before our eyes in 2007, shaving her head and swatting at paparazzi with an umbrella and flashing her panty-free crotch, her team propped her up in the music studio long enough to record an album, Blackout. Granted, the result was her riskiest and best record—thanks to some next-level production by Danja and The Neptunes, not due to any efforts of Britney herself. Then her people pushed her into a way-too-soon “comeback” performance at the MTV awards that proved disastrous when she wandered, zombie-like, across the stage, not even bothering to lip sync.

Perhaps most disturbingly, none of this prompted a major change in the way business was done at Britney HQ. They shipped her off to rehab—robot broken, must fix!—but then she was right back into the recording studio and on the road. She’d never again display the same gleam in her eye and primal desire to entertain that had made her instantly famous with her first single, “… Baby One More Time,” and the accompanying video that bled star quality. We all know “Peak Britney” is likely gone for good, but as long as Britney keeps selling, she keeps performing, almost as if she’s unaware that stopping is an option.

I’ve been rewarded a lot in my life for doing what I was told and working hard. I got good grades, went to a fancy college, and worked my way up from an assistant to a senior writer at Entertainment Weekly. When asked to take assignments, I said “yes.” I got promoted. I said “yes” some more. I even got my first book deal by saying “yes” when a publisher was looking for someone to write about the 1950s Mickey Mouse Club; I was qualified because I’d written a lot about the Disney Channel boom of the Miley Cyrus era. I’d written a lot about it because I’d been asked to, and I’d said “yes.” The book was a great learning experience, it paid well, and I’m glad I did it. But I eventually realized I was on my way to losing that gleam in my eyes, too, if I didn’t take Beyonce-style control. I got a new agent, proposed my dream book about The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and quit my job to freelance so I’d have more say in the assignments I took. Even though the income isn’t as steady, it’s way more fun than doing what people want you to, as it turns out.

Being Beyonce is harder—it requires long-term vision and deliberate decision-making, rather than simply saying “yes” until you break. But being Beyonce is worth it, and nowhere was that more clear than in their most recent albums, Beyonce and Britney Jean. Out within a month of each other, they couldn’t have been more different while still competing on the same record charts. Britney Jean was clearly the weakest of all Britney’s releases, with only two memorable songs, “Work Bitch” and “Perfume,” which served as the singles. (At least her debut album had the transcendent smash “… Baby One More Time,” even if it also included first-album duds like “E-mail My Heart.”) Britney Jean smacked of a slapped-together effort, retreading trends (how novel, a rapper cameo!) instead of setting them the way her previous records did. Accordingly, it sold the worst among all of her albums, even though it was hyped as her “most personal” ever. (Why? Because its title contained her middle name?)

Beyonce, on the other hand, got so personal it would’ve been uncomfortable if the music hadn’t been so good. We got play-by-plays of Beyonce’s every sexual fantasy, from getting it on the back of a limo to receiving cunnilingus to calling her lover “Daddy” to doing it on the kitchen floor to exactly what she does with that ass during foreplay. We learned of postpartum mood swings and jealousy and divorce talks. We heard her declare herself a feminist and tell us, via a Frenchwoman in voiceover, that feminists can love sex. We heard her sing less-than-pretty for effect and get really fucking weird in the best way possible (“surfbort, surfbort …”). It sold great, moving four times as many albums in its first hour than Britney Jean did in its first week. It also turned Beyonce from the pop queen who’s always good for a hook to a respected artist on the order of a Prince or Michael Jackson, an artist whose career outlook is stellar even if she ever wants to give up the dancing in stilettos and wearing fancy leotards on stage.

Despite tabloid rumors that Britney was nearing another epic meltdown after being so soundly trounced by Beyonce on the charts, Britney said in an interview after both albums’ releases that she “looks up to Beyonce.” There’s something so honest, and maybe a little sad, in the wording there: Despite having been a solo artist for longer than Beyonce and selling more solo albums than Beyonce, Britney speaks of Beyonce like a role model. If they were equals, she might say that she “admired” what Beyonce had done with her album, or that she was “impressed” with her.

But Britney should, in fact, look up to Beyonce. They started very similarly, with very similar work ethics, goals, and even entertainment styles. But one figured out how to use her own striving perfectionism to find herself, express herself, and change the world. The other just used hers to please and pay those around her for 15 years running. I can only hope that someday, somehow, Beyonce and Britney end up having a little career chat, and Beyonce drops some serious knowledge. Maybe Britney will read Lean In and invite Beyonce out for coffee to ask for advice? Maybe Beyonce will produce Britney’s next album?

Until then, I’ll be enjoying my Britney playlist as much as ever. But, like Britney, I’ll be looking up to Beyonce.

 

Finding Your Writing Voice: With Jack Kerouac, Dorothy Parker, Beyonce, Britney, and me!

beyonce-knowels-net-worth-1024x768I’ve put together a really fun, short online class — if I do say so myself — about Finding Your Writing Voice for Skillshare. It’s about exactly what it sounds like, focusing just on voice in writing. I often talk about voice in my other classes, and it’s my favorite lesson, so I finally decided to do a self-contained class on just that. In it, I talk about voicey writers like Kerouac and Parker, and I also share my groundbreaking theories about what Beyoncé and Britney can teach us about writing. I also walk you through a final project in which you’ll do your best to write in your very own voice.

Here are the things that are cool about a Skillshare class:

Becoming a Writer Who Writes, Finding Your Voice, Launching Your Career: New Coaching Packages!

1156284_39977081I’ve put together some specific, easy, quick, affordable ways to offer coaching services to writers, based on feedback from my students about the issues plaguing them. I’m really excited to tell you about them and get started. Please note that I’m happy to issue gift certificates for the holidays if you’d like to help another writer reach his or her goals in the New Year. Also: We can do any of these from afar if you’re not in New York — Skype or phone works great.

 

Special: $399 for six hour-long sessions in the following subject areas:

  • Becoming a Writer … Who Writes: You know you want to be some sort of writer, but have no idea where to begin. I’ll walk you through the early stages in easy, clear steps until you’ve got a concrete plan and routine for moving forward. I’ll help you figure out what you want to write, or at least start with—an obviously critical step. We’ll work together to draft a writing routine that works for your life and even a reading list to keep that important part of being a writer on track. We’ll talk about how to incorporate basics like character, scene, and structure into whatever you hope to write. And we’ll talk about living the “writer lifestyle” on your own.
  • Finding Your Writing Voice: I love talking about voice in writing! In these six weeks, I’ll help you get in touch with the essence of your personality that should come through in your writing. (Yeah, it’s a little shrink-y and Oprah-y, in the best possible way.) We’ll talk about voice from every angle: the lit-geeky (Kerouac, Salinger, The New Yorker) and the pop-star-ish (Beyoncé and Britney might come up). There will be weekly exercises designed to help you find your writing voice (no dancing required, though if you’re feeling it, by all means …). We’ll explore ways to get comfortable with being vulnerable and how motivation strengthens your writing. We’ll also talk about karaoke or opera, if the mood strikes.
  • Launching Your Blog: A complete how-to, from drafting your plans and finding your target audience to setting up and writing. I’ll walk you through the basics of choosing a platform and design, then work with you to fine-tune the writing before you go live. You’ll have a chance to workshop blog posts and ideas, get critiques, and make a blogging schedule. By the final session, we’ll launch your blog with five posts up and another five ready to go.
  • Launching Your Writing Career: You want to be a writer — a published one — but you don’t know where to begin. With this package, you’ll find your writing niche and learn how to get published. I’ll guide you through coming up with specific, attainable writing career goals and drafting plans to accomplish them. By the final section, you will have made progress on — and perhaps even accomplished — three specific writing and publishing goals. And you’ll have action plans for completing all of them.
  • Writing a Nonfiction Book: In this package, I’ll help you figure out your nonfiction book from start to finish: from what your book is about and why anyone would want to read it to researching it to getting an agent.  During the six weeks, we’ll work on your sample chapters, your proposal, your title, and what to do next.
  • Writing Your Nonfiction Book Proposal in Six Steps: I will walk you through the entire process of writing a nonfiction book proposal in six sessions. We’ll assess your idea, then work on a section of the proposal at each meeting, honing your material and allowing you to get feedback on every part of the proposal. This is for students who have an idea, know they want to write a proposal, and are ready to get it done.

If you’re interested, please email me: JMKArmstrong (at) gmail (dot) com

More affordable options are available as well: Training materials, without the one-on-one consultations, for just $99. (Not available for Launching Your Writing Career, which is a customized program.)

 

Writing Is Almost Never Fun

58251_7227I’m going to continue linking to my friends over at Vocal Articles, this time to the insight that you must “Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable.”  Again, they’re talking about singing, and again, I’m saying: They might as well be talking about writing.

Many people give up too early on their writing or become frozen by fear because writing isn’t nearly as fun as they thought it would be. Maybe they enjoyed it as a kid or have always liked writing in journals, but once they turn it into a more serious pursuit, they figure they’re not cut out for it because it feels hard sometimes. A lot of the time. Most of the time.

I have news: Professional writers struggle, too. We hate writing. Seriously. I mean, we must like something about it. I know I like having written. But the process can be torturous, at least until you realize that a lot of it will suck. It’s like any other practice or training: Running long distances can hurt. Practicing scales can be boring or frustrating. But we do these things because we crave the end results, and because we get better by doing them. The same is true for writing.

Try new things, even if that means promising yourself you don’t have to show these writing experiments to anyone. If they turn out well, maybe you’ll change your mind; maybe you’ll even publish them. Or you’ll use the lessons learned in some other way. The mistakes you make in writing can feel like “wasted” time, but they usually lead you to the right ideas, the better ideas.

On the other hand, I also encourage you—just like my singing friends at Vocal Articles—to get your work out there at some point, in some way. You don’t have to read to a room full of total strangers; maybe just taking a writing class where you share work or trading work with friends will do. You’ll most likely get some good feedback at some point—laughs, nods of recognition—that will show you’re onto something. If nothing else, you’ll learn to let go of your work a bit, and you’ll learn that sharing your work won’t kill you. It only makes you stronger.

Singing Voice, Writing Voice

My band, No Ambition. (photo by A. Jesse Jiryu Davis)

My band, No Ambition. (photo by A. Jesse Jiryu Davis)

Whenever I teach lessons about “writing voice” in my classes, I end up talking about singing. I love to sing and have learned a ton about it since I became the lead singer in my very amateur band, No Ambition. We are very amateur, but we do like to practice, and we’re always getting better. (I think the magic of our shows isn’t necessarily that we are good, but that we are way, way better each time we play. We have a narrative arc, like Dancing With the Stars.) My partner in the band, Melissa, also happens to be a professional opera singer and sometime voice coach, so she always has great advice for me. (Yes, our professional singer is our drummer, and our non-professional singer is our singer; I told you we were amateur.) Little adjustments make big differences, especially when you’re first learning a craft.

We call it writing voice for a reason. It really is about how writing “sounds,” even though it’s printed on a page and only “sounds” in the writer’s, and then the reader’s, head. Lots of what works for singing voice works for writing voice; I also find that because singing is a physical act we’ve all tried at least once in our lives, sometimes thinking about voice first from a singing perspective can help us all understand adjustments we can make in our writing voice.

Because of my interest in both kinds of voice, I’ve gotten really into reading this blog, Vocal Articles, an offshoot of New York Vocal Coaching. The post that caught my eye today was “Don’t Park and Bark,” which addresses the phenomenon of “those that just stand and sing, paying no attention whatsoever to the words they are singing, but instead just trying to impress with vocal acrobatics.” Well, writers, we are just as guilty of this in our own way. Many of my students do this thing where they look up normal words in the thesaurus and cram the fancier versions of these words into their writing, thinking this makes it better. Great words are great; totally sign up for word-a-day emails and get comfortable with them. But they need to come out of you in a natural, authentic way, not as a means of distracting readers from your writing — with your writing.

It’s a pet peeve of mine when I see teenagers with great voices on American Idol or The Voice, trying to sing deep, dark lyrics clearly out of their range of life experience. They can nail the notes, but they can’t connect to the words. I’d rather watch and listen to an expressive singer with an okay voice than a dead-inside one with a great voice. I think the same is true in writing; if they come from a real place, the most ordinary words can reach inside you. And the fanciest writing can leave you bored and cold. Of course you want to be taken seriously. Of course you want to sound smart. But focus on presenting serious, smart ideas then; and do it in your own, authentic words.

#NaNoWriMo and Awakening the Tiger

cropped-1408767_87215604.jpegYesterday I had lunch with one of my good friends, Andrea, who’s also a top editor at two national magazines. She’s currently the top editor, in fact, because her boss is on maternity leave and she’s filling in, making all of the major decisions for three months. At the moment, I am eight days away from turning in a non-fiction book manuscript that I’ve been working on for about 18 months.

But we barely talked about any of this major stuff going on in our professional lives. We spent almost all of our 90-minute lunch talking about National Novel Writing Month, or #NaNoWriMo to the blogosphere.

Every November for the past several years, writers across the country have made this idea more and more popular. The idea is that anyone who wants to participate pledges to write 50,000 words towards a novel between Nov. 1 and Nov. 30. You can officially sign up at the website to track your progress and see others’. Or you can just do it on your own. I am such a huge fan of this because it speaks to something many people ask me about, and I have written about a lot lately: how to get over “writer’s block,” or how to finish what you start, or how to start writing to begin with. The answer is, you just do. #NaNoWriMo is one of the few popular approaches to writing that I’ve liked. Many books and seminars are all about getting in touch with your feelings and journaling or whatever, which is fine. But the fact is that at some point you have to put down the books, and even get out of the journal, if you want to be a published writer.

Andrea is doing #NaNoWriMo despite the extra demands of her job right now. She reports that it has led to such strange behaviors as skipping out on drinks with friends to go home and write. She also reports that most of the writing she’s done is pretty crappy, but she’s doing it. (First drafts are always crappy. The crappiness is a good sign; it means you’re doing a lot of writing that you can fix later.) She also reports that seeing her friends’ progress and feeling friendly-competitive with them is incredibly motivating. The discussion over lunch led us to both talk about our novel ideas, which was fun and invigorating. It reminded me of a time when I hadn’t published any books, and neither had my friends, and we just talked about writing because we loved it. We all need this in our creative lives.

This brings me to my other favorite motivator of the day, this blog post I came across about getting in touch with “the tiger.”  It’s on a blog about vocal coaching, but it applies to any kind of creative project. The author, voice teacher David McCall, talks about how important motivation is as an ingredient in inspiration—his metaphor is “waking the tiger.” He illuminates the difference in his motivation levels depending on why he’s really doing something:

The statement “help others” is simple and unembellished, but the best motivating desires generally are. You’ll find that what you want isn’t that sophisticated when it’s boiled down. It’s a clean, active verb. It’s a verb I can be engaged in one hundred percent of my work day since my job is to help singers. Bingo! Cue the music–the Tiger is in the building!

I become a grade A procrastinator when I complicate my Tiger’s motivating action. I do it more often than I care to admit. I’m not always conscious of it. Instead of “to help people,” my subconscious mind will add “to help people see me as a great vocal coach ” or “to help people recognize my new haircut .” The Tiger goes beddy-bye. I’ve suddenly shifted my action to be a selfish goal, diffusing my eagerness.

I love this. If you find yourself unable to get yourself to start or finish a writing project, it’s a great idea to ask yourself: Why do I want to do this particular project? It’s okay if your answer is that you need to make money to pay your bills or that you need to finish an assignment for class. If those are your answers, often you’re motivated enough that you never have to ask the question. But if you’re really stuck, maybe you’re not doing it for the right reasons. Maybe it’s actually not worth doing. Start something else instead, and see if your tiger wakes up.

 

Dorothy Parker Was a Really Good Writer

220px-Young_Dorothy_ParkerAt the risk of sounding like some 12-year-old who keeps telling everyone how awesome the Sex Pistols are as if she is the first person to discover this: You guys, Dorothy Parker was so fucking awesome. I have, of course, long known about her and admired her, mainly for those pithy quotes we all see attributed to her from time to time. When former President Calvin Coolidge died, she said, “How could they tell?” Her suggested epitaph for herself: “Excuse my dust.” Again, contemplating her death: “That would be a good thing for them to cut on my tombstone: Wherever she went, including here, it was against her better judgment.

But now I am reading the entirety of The Portable Dorothy Parker, and I am blown away by her true literary talent. I knew she was witty and could write a scathing review. But her short stories are divine; I have read no one else who chooses words more carefully. She suggests lifetimes in a few pages. Later in her life, she played down her own contributions to culture, as well as those of her fellow Algonquin Roundtable regulars:

These were no giants. Think who was writing in those days—Lardner, Fitzgerald, Faulkner and Hemingway. Those were the real giants. The Round Table was just a lot of people telling jokes and telling each other how good they were. Just a bunch of loudmouths showing off, saving their gags for days, waiting for a chance to spring them… There was no truth in anything they said. It was the terrible day of the wisecrack, so there didn’t have to be any truth…

I think, however, that she deserved to be remembered at least as much for her literary writing as for her wisecracks. I suspect she wasn’t for two reasons: One is, naturally, sexism; the other is that short stories often get short shrift. Fitzgerald, Faulkner, and Hemingway aren’t remembered for their short stories. They’re remembered for their Great American Novels. I personally find poems and short stories the hardest to write—such economical forms leave little room for error. But she nailed them consistently. She also rendered the female experience of the time in heartbreaking detail: the emotional roller-coaster of waiting for a husband to return from war, the absurdity of wedding-night sex, the terror of being stuck dancing with some dolt you can’t stand. One suspects this didn’t work in her favor during her era, either.

Of course, feel free to keep quoting Mrs. Parker; her bon mots are hard to resist. But do read her literature, too. You won’t be sorry.

I’ve found a few of her best stories in full versions online, but you’ll get all of these and much more in The Portable Dorothy Parker:

“Arrangement in Black and White”

“The Waltz”

“Here We Are”

“Mrs. Hofstadter on Josephine Street”

On Just Doing It — That Is, the Writing

girl with bookI often get lovely readers here (thank you for reading, readers!) who ask me wonderful questions. I love this! I love giving advice! I love telling people what to do and solving other people’s problems! They always seem so much easier than my own!

One thing people ask a lot is a variation on: I have so much trouble getting started with my writing. Or I have so much trouble finishing the pieces I write. Or I have so much trouble getting my writing out into the world. … Do you have any tips for dealing with this?

I usually write some vague words of encouragement — give yourself deadlines! believe in yourself! — but the fact is that there is only one answer to all of these problems, and it does not sound very inspirational or empathetic. The answer is: Just F-ing do it. How do you start? Sit down, open a file on your computer, and type. How do you finish? Sit down again, re-open the file, and keep writing until it’s done. How do you put it out? Put it out. Start a blog. Give it to your friends. Read at public readings. Find a place that will publish you. What do you do next? Do it again.

Good news, though! I have forced myself to find a few more words of wisdom on this subject, mainly from others. I realized this morning that perhaps the worst person to ask for advice about how to motivate yourself to be a writer is a professional writer. How to motivate yourself, for me, comes down to this: I have set up my life such that if I don’t write, I don’t pay my bills, and I don’t eat. I like to eat, and I like to have my phone free of creditor calls. Therefore, I write. Do I start some side writing projects and leave them unfinished? Sure, but I don’t have time to fret over them or see them as failures or see them as evidence that I’m not a writer. The last time I was free of professional writing obligations, I was about 17 years old. If you count the school paper as a professional writing obligation, we can knock that back to about 11. Before that, I wrote plays to be performed in my garage by my friends. Even then, I was giving myself deadlines and obligations.

That said, I’ve been and continue to be plenty stuck in other areas of my life. Sometimes I get sick of practicing guitar. Even though I love running and working out, sometimes I get really lax about it. So I get it. Seth Godin, who writes the only blog I read every single day, tells us in today’s post that we can change our habits. This definitely includes disciplining your writing. He writes: “Change is hard, sometimes nearly impossible. But if even one person as far behind as we are has dug in and done enough work to finish that marathon, to change that habit or to learn that skill, it means that it’s not impossible. Merely (astonishingly) difficult.” Read the whole thing here.

Carol Tice, a super-successful freelance writer, has some other important advice: Stop reading about writing, and start writing. It’s fine if you read a little. It’s fine if you read, say, my blog, like you are right now. But I’ve seen many, many students get stuck in the pit of reading about writing — there are so many books, so many blogs! — without ever stringing one of their own sentences together. You know how to write. You’re not going to get better until you practice.

On Facebook last night, I posted a (slightly more expletive-filled, and shorter) version of this post, where a lot of my friends are writers and artists; they offered some good advice as well. “When you’re a writer, done is good,” AK Whitney said. “Probably ask the question, ‘Do you believe in the quality of your work…or not?'” Beau Mansfield added. (It’s okay if you aren’t feeling great about the work, by the way; maybe it’s just for practice then. That’s totally valid. Oh, the things I’ve written in my life that, thank goodness, remained for my private reading only. But the point is, maybe you’re stopping because your writing isn’t up to snuff yet. Just keep going until it is.) Jennifer Pozner said, “I have hated writing every single day since I started in high school, and I’m relatively certain that I’ll never finish during at least 65% of all my articles. Then I just keep on working, and do it again. Because it’s what I’m best at. And because that’s what you have to do to do — the work.”

So there you go. I don’t think any of this advice gets you out of the part you’re avoiding — the actual writing. Just know we’re all right here with you, trying to avoid our own writing, and then, finally, doing it anyway.