In case you’re just joining in, here’s the intro spiel:
Between writing coaching and The Core Stories Collective, I’ve been thinking and talking about writing, like, all the time. For months. And I still have more to say. So that’s what this Substack is for now: writing about writing, for writers and “writers” and wishful writers-to-be.
You’ll get a newslessay (a newsletter-essay, yeah?) in your inbox every Thursday from here on out. (Except if I’m sick! Also, vacations! And this schedule is subject to change. We’re experimenting.) Like the one below, each one will include a brief reflection on the practice of writing, plus a writing-related quote and a prompt offering.
For now, reading remains free. At the end of April, I plan to switch to a paid subscription model. Free subscribers will get one monthly email, while those paying the $7/month rate will get one each week.
If you’d like to set up your paid subscription now so you don’t miss future posts, just click here:
1 | ON REASONS NOT TO WRITE: A NON-EXHAUSTIVE LIST.
Hahaha, nobody cares. Who do you think you are, [insert favorite celebrity here]? Who handed you a mic? Nobody. Nobody handed you a mic. The point isn’t that people don’t need your stories. They do. They just don’t know they do. They’re not knocking insistently at your door, asking you to tell them about your breakup or your beliefs about god. Are they? They aren’t. They don’t care. 1
Oh my god. Wait. Do you even want people to know this stuff? Do you really want everyone to know about how you yelled and cried and banged your fists on the table? About just how scared you are? How messy? 2
Besides, the world has enough books. Just look at the pile on your own bedside table, staring you down as it looms ever taller. Even worse than the books: the emails. Delving into your inbox is like playing whack-a-mole; delete one, and up come three more. You really think people have time or attention to spend on your newsletter about pasta and the nuances of queer identity? That they won’t just send it straight to the trash folder, or leave it unread for weeks? You could try a blog, but who’s going to check it? Do people even read blogs anymore? The point is, we’re already saturated in content. Drowning in it. Nobody’s asking for more content. 3
In fact, you could spend the next 38 minutes, the next 73 minutes, the next literal three days just scrolling through the content that you haven’t yet seen on social media. You wouldn’t want to miss your friend’s proud engagement/pregnancy/promotion announcement, which will send you into just the insecurity spiral you’re craving on this blessed Thursday afternoon. Or there might be an extra good meme, or a new one of those cute inspirational drawings — you know, the frog in the mushroom hat, telling you you’re perfect no matter what? You’ll have to wade through all the Reels to get to it, though, as you groan about how Instagram isn’t what it used to be. It used to be creative and even sometimes beautiful, but now it’s trying to be TikTok or something, and you have explicitly resisted downloading TikTok because…oh, right, because it would be another distraction from writing. Yeah, you should probably download TikTok. 4
Maybe TikTok will be the place you finally find inspiration. Listen, it’s not like you don’t want to write — it’s just, the inspiration isn’t there. There’s no cogent muse in your ear, no all-knowing angel on your shoulder, whispering, “Write this, write this!” You’ve waited years for the muse to show up or to speak in direct, determined sentences; maybe you should give it a few more. 5
Until then, it’s all just mud in your mind. Too many smushy thoughts, gloppy ideas, soggy feelings. You’d have to unearth them first, find each one’s solid center, sort them into solid categories. Oh, yeah, you should definitely sort them first, before you try to write them! You should compile all of those iPhone notes and your array of scribbled notebook pages into a fancy online system with proper titles and tags and…that’ll take at least a few weeks. Then you’ll write. 6
There’s not enough time, see? You have to clock in, you have to get to that Zoom meeting, you have to drive to the grocery store that sells the right dish soap. Who has hours to waste obsessing over sentence structure? A single sentence might demand a whole night from you, if not more. 7
You could spend that night a million different ways. You could go to that concert, meet that friend for cocktails, click “play” on Netflix. Hell, you could do literally anything else. Literally anything. Anything less lonely. Speaking of lonely: what if everyone abandons you, once you do write the truth? The truth will probably hurt other people’s feelings. It will make them uncomfortable. They could be mad, sad, offended, whatever, but they’ll have feelings; never mind yours. People like you are not supposed to be loud and emotional and honest. You are supposed to shush and be good and small. Don’t make such a scene. It was just [insert event you still can’t stop thinking about, nearly a decade later]. 8
And if you do it — if you dare to do it — what if you fail? What if you spend a million minutes trying to explain his facial expression, how his eyebrows were noodles, how the glass shattered against marble in the background, and you still can’t do it right? If you can’t remember how the light looked on the wall, what you ate for breakfast that day, what words they used when they dumped you? The thing about starting is it asks for finishing. What if you can’t, and you feel even more like a failure than before? Or what if you can, and it’s no good? 9
There’s the rub, really: writing is hard. It is so hard. It is so, SO HARD. To write is to excavate what’s not yet conscious, to weld the links that aren’t yet formed, to transmute the filmy memory or the wispy fantasy to solid meaning. Do you know how hard that is? Getting the words right, saying what you want to say, just fixing all the places you type “your” instead of “you’re” — it is so. damn. hard. It’s just easier not to. 10
2 | A QUOTE TO KEEP CLOSE
“If you have a thing inside of you, this mysterious thing that is vision and talent and just kind of urgency to create, to get something on paper, and you squander that, you’ll have the worst regret on earth. No one cares if you write. No one…No one cares if we write. So we better. And so, if that thing is inside of you that is a kind of, a tugging on your sleeve of, Come on, I love that story, tell me, tell it, just tell it! It’s gonna go badly, we’ll make it better, but just get your butt in the chair and tell me the story the best you can…”
- Anne Lamott on this episode of the “How to Human” podcast
3 | A PROMPT YOU CAN USE
What’s stopping you from writing (or painting, or dancing, or photographing, or —) that story you’ve always wanted to tell? Make your own list. And then craft the rebuttals. That’s it. You don’t even have to make the thing. You just have to look at why you’re not making it. Bonus points for laughter; self-kindness required.
Except you. You care. What if that’s enough?
You can’t undo what happened. But by writing it, you get to own it. You get to claim the agency you couldn’t access at the time. In shaping the story, you can find integrity — that is, you can integrate your past selves and their slip-ups into your present sense of self, and become whole. Doesn’t sound so messy, does it? Sounds commendable. Sounds bold.
So? That didn’t stop [insert straight white podcast host]. Why should it stop you? That’s exactly why it shouldn’t stop you.
You know someone had to actively create that frog in the mushroom hat, right? Their name is Maybell. If you scroll back in their feed to March 2021, when the character first emerged, you’ll find a caption that says, “I know these are silly but it actually means a lot that you guys like the weird little frog mushroom 🥺💖 I’ve felt really uninspired lately and drawing these have been so fun and low pressure. I feel like a kid when I’m drawing them and that’s my favorite place to draw from.” What I’m saying is, be like Maybell. Be like a kid, more curious about what you can create when you’re not so ensnared in consuming. Go make your own fun frog. Endless scrolling is just a fake kind of fun, like a twisted carnival ride that only makes you queasy and conceals its escape route.
What if the muse is the street light at 7pm, painting patterns on the tree trunks? What if the muse is the stranger behind you in line for coffee? What if the muse is the work email, is the spilled tea, is the cat? What I’m saying is, the muse is everywhere. There is no muse. There is only attention.
Writing is organizing. It’s sorting all the data and mapping it into story. That’s what writing is for.
I am not going to link to a time management book or preach to you about priorities. All I’m going to say is this: you will never regret having done it. It is never a waste. And sometimes, somebody else can go get the soap.
So what we’re saying here is that your pencil might be a tiny hammer you can take to patriarchy, white supremacy, and all of the other systemic bullshit that supposedly decides who gets to take up space? Pick up the pencil! Pick up all the pencils!!! You can aim them at the systems without aiming them at the people you love.
The word fail comes from the Latin fallere, which means “to deceive.” The only failure is the denial of the truth, is the neglect of the aching narrative, is acting as if you’re not carrying stories that yearn to be told. You stop deceiving yourself the moment you sit down at the page and try. Not trying is the only legitimate kind of failing.
But if you don’t, no one else will. You have to be the one who cares.