Write Your Way Out

SOLO 19 | Excelling At Writing


Can you use writing to make remarkable change, create something extraordinary, or deal with difficult times? Absolutely. Peter speaks to a writer and friend about using writing to create more than you consume. They discuss how writing is not as solo an activity as you might think. Just as you need others to live remarkably, you need others to write for others. Peter also tries out a new segment called “Things Pete Thinks,” and if you stick around for the bonus material, his guest presents fascinating case studies about the lengths that writers will go to in order to excel at their craft.

Listen to Episode #19 here


Write Your Way Out

This episode is an exploration of one of the principles of Solo, to create more than you consume. I recognize that as not an easy request, but no one said that living a remarkable life will be easy. Even if you don’t like writing, I ask that you give this episode a read. It may inspire you to write more, even if it’s to start a gratitude journal. I speak to a friend and writer, Mary Dahm about the difference between informal and formal writing. We discussed some lessons about writing and building a creative practice from my new book, Shtick to Business. One of the more interesting ideas did we talk about how writing is not as Solo and activity as you might think, as you need others to live remarkably, you need others to write for others. One last thing, as an experiment, I added a new segment called Things Peter Thinks. Let me know if you like it and if you stick around to the end of the bonus material. Mary presents some fascinating case studies about the lengths that writers will go to excel at their craft. I hope you enjoyed the episode. Let’s get started.

Mary is a writer and high school English teacher. She studied English Literature and History at Boston College and earned a Master’s in Teaching from USC. She also likes to deadlift. Welcome, Mary. First of all, we are taping this into the shutdown due to Corona, the Corona pandemic and we’re going to cover some topics related to the shutdown and some that are not. In any case, we don’t know what the world will look like when this comes out. Mary thinks it’s going to be worse. I think it’s going to be better, but that’s my caveat. 

I didn’t say it will be worse. I said that you’re underestimating how long it’s going to be. I didn’t say that we’d be at a net negative when it was over.

Let me map out this conversation, at least how I think it’ll go. We’ll have some flexibility. Mary doesn’t know I’m going to do this. First, I’m going to try something new, something that I call, Things Peter is Thinking About, and then I’m going to welcome reactions from my guest. She has no idea what I’m going to talk about. Then we’re going to talk about one of the principles that I’ve been developing that are designed to accompany the show and thinking about Solo in general. These episodes and experiments in delving more deeply into that principle. That principle’s, “Create more than you consume.” We’re going to use writing as a case study.

By the way, this Create More Than You Consume is a popular one. I’ve had several people reach out to me and telling me how much it’s making them think differently. I’m pretty excited about that. We’re going to talk about the various ways that writing can serve you personally and professionally. This is whether or not you’re a novice or an expert. If you stick around to the end for the bonus material, Mary’s going to share three of her favorite stories about the magnificent lanes that writers will go about honing their craft. As often as the case, I’m most excited about the bonus material. Let’s jump into Things Peter is Thinking About or should it be, Things Peter is Thinking?

You can’t end a sentence with ‘about’ because it’s a preposition.

You sound like a high school English teacher. I’m not surprised, they’re all related to the pandemic. The first one, it’s a question that I ask my MBA students at the end of the semester. I usually give them a set of questions to ponder during the break. It’s also a question that comes up in my new book and that, is your health number one? That question is being highlighted for a lot of people for two reasons. One is because people are, was it self-quarantining or being quarantined? That their normal exercise and workout regimes are being disrupted. That’s negatively affecting people in a variety of ways. People have to work a little harder or be a little bit more creative. Also, everybody’s stocking up on all these foods that are coming boxes in packages, highly processed food. For several people, the quality of their food is going to go down.

Although, I don’t think that’s necessary. We’re in a populous city. We’re in Los Angeles, and I’ve gone to different grocery stores. There are plenty of food. It’s a matter of how often are you willing to leave your home. If you want to leave it as infrequently as possible, then I can see you’re going for those. My roommate and I are probably going to go to the grocery store once a week. To me, the food situation is not different than it was before, but I get that everybody’s handling this differently.

This is like those perceptions can become reality. If people stocked up on foods because they’re worried about a shortage real or imagined, now they have all these packaged goods, they’re going to eat it because they don’t want to waste it.

The funny thing is that Sharon and I live in Koreatown and we went to H Mart. It’s a Korean grocery store chain for people who don’t know H Mart and we love buying the sashimi from the fish market there. It was stocked. It was like beautiful ruby-red tuna and salmon. We bought all these fresh fish. We had a feast in the middle of the pandemic.

What’s happening is no one’s taking pictures of full shelves at supermarkets because that doesn’t get attention. It’s fueling some of this. The last part of this is sleep because they’re anxious a lot of people are not sleeping well. In all of this is it’s more difficult to exercise or your exercise, normal regimes are being disrupted. You might not be eating as many fresh fruits and vegetables. Something that we’ve covered in a previous episode of Solo called Eating for Remarkable Life and people sleep is disrupted. The great irony of all of that is if you don’t want to be infected and if you do get infected, you want to be as healthy as possible. There’s this unintended consequence of shutting yourself in for people’s health.

What I’ve been thinking a lot about is what are the long-term consequences of this? I’m being rather optimistic about how this is going to turn out. Perhaps overly in terms of how quickly we can go back to normal life but for the most part, we’re going to be better off for it. We’re going to be better off for the next crisis. We’re going to start finally respecting scientists again rather than dismissing their views because they’re going to be probably the real saviors in the long run of this. It’s going to also change people’s habits. It’s going to get them to think differently about how they live their lives. For example, asking the question is, “My health number one?” Also, making a change in their life. You might’ve been sleepwalking through life. This is a bit of a wake-up call, which is, “If this ended tomorrow, would I be fulfilled?

SOLO 19 | Excelling At Writing
Excelling At Writing


On a broader social scale, we’re disunified country. I’ve been doing on my Instagram this book a day thing as a book nerd. I recommend a book a day. I hope that people are reading more during this. I don’t know if they are. I recommended this book called Tribe by Sebastian Junger. It’s about that he spent a year on this remote, dangerous outpost in Afghanistan. He studied not why do veterans struggle with PTSD, but why do veterans miss war? Even Londoners after the blitz of World War II was over, they missed that crisis when they were in danger constantly because neighbors were helping neighbors and people united together for this collective good. To me, that’s happening in a way that sometimes it takes a common difficulty, a hardship to bring people together. A threat that affects everyone. To me, before this, the threat was each other, your liberals in LA, the threat is Trump voters and vice versa. We’re all facing the same threat. In some ways, this could be good for the country

Also, globally there’s that other issue. Situations like this bring out the best in the best people and the worst in the worst people. What I want to try to do and I’ve already tried to do this once with the first pandemic related show is, how can we find the positive? Mary, you know me well.

Pete is too positive, but I’m too negative.

That was the first one. I’ve been working on this for myself. This is top of mind about health. The second one is related to an episode that I called Lisa’s Second Mountain. That hasn’t been released at the time of this interview, but it’ll be out by the time this comes out. I talked to an old friend who I’ve been reunited with and she is starting the second chapter in her life.

Pete loves the second chapter.

I like people who bet on themselves. I like people who make a big change. I like this idea of your second mountain, you’ve climbed a mountain and you could stay up there and ride it out or you could go back down to the base and then perhaps find a bigger mountain. That’s what Lisa’s doing. I heard this quote in the meantime, a Confucius quote that says, “We have two lives and the second one begins when we realize we only have one.” In some cases, you get to the mountain and you go, “I did it.” What’s happening is it’s these moments that can create profound change and recognizing the impermanence of life might prompt that second life that Confucius is referring to.

More broadly, anything that disrupts life. It forces reflection. It forces you to change your habits and then maybe think about everything.

First of all, this is the idea of reflections related to the topic of writing, because writing can be a great way to reflect on life. The last thing that I’m thinking is related to jobs. There’s an essay turned book by David Graeber. David’s an anthropologist. You only need to read the essay, you don’t need to read the book, but in it he puts forth this idea, this notion of what he calls Bullshit Jobs. As defined by him, “A Bullshit Job is a form of paid employment that is completely pointless, unnecessary or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence. Even though as part of the conditions of employment, the employee feels obliged to pretend that this is not the case.” 

Was that a New Yorker article?

No, maybe the book review or something showed up in New York. The book is surprisingly dense but the basics of the ideas are nicely laid out in that essay. What is fascinating about this is two-fold. One is some people are wondering how much their job is bullshit. As they’re being forced to not work in the office and then they go, “How much am I doing? How much of what I do are matters?” 

“Am I Jim in The Office?” Is the question.

Jim Halpert from The Office. He was wondering, coasting through life and the only time he gets excited is when he’s playing pranks on Dwight. What is interesting about this is that the status of a job and it’s bullshittiness can be independent. Sometimes the least bullshit jobs are often the least status-based jobs. One way to think about do you have a bullshit job or not is if you stop doing it, does the world change in any fundamental way? As we’re being reminded, who are the people who make the world work? Especially make the world work when it comes to a pandemic or people like custodians and people who deliver food, these jobs that we might think of as low status and yet, they are far from bullshit.

Graeber uses the example of the rodeo clown. You think of a rodeo clown is this frivolous thing, but yet without a rodeo clown, there’s a bunch of bull riders getting stomped while they lay on the ground. I’m not accusing anyone of having a bullshit job. Only you can determine whether your job is bullshit or not. A lot of middle management jobs feel that way. In the episodes, I don’t think a lot of people who have been commuting to their office park and they’ve had a break from it. When it comes time to go back, how excited will they be? This is related to your point about reflecting. That’s something that came to me.

I’m in this coworking space, we’re the only ones here but you know who’s going to come in an hour or so? Our cleaning staff. Don’t we appreciate them more? Other people like a chef at a diner, a housekeeper, you can go on and on. There are a lot of these “low-status jobs” that the people might look down on. This thing can make us appreciate them. Thank you for indulging me on that. I don’t know if we’ll keep doing that thing. I’ve been experimenting with this idea. Mary, you are a listener of Solo. You’ve listened to many, but not all of the episodes. I’m curious about your reactions so far to the start of the show. What do you like? What do you not like? 

My favorite episode is the one that you said is the most popular episode. Bella DePaulo is the second episode of The Science of Single Living.

I’ve gotten some feedback that should be the first episode.

Neal Brennan’s feedback. If we’re not listening to Neal Brennan, who are we listening to? I like that episode because that’s my inherent bias. I’m a nerd. I much enjoy Academia. I’m going to be biased toward an episode where you’re interviewing a professor. I find it interesting that somebody studied this from the perspective of a social scientist and truly, examining the ways that not just it’s underrated to be single, but that single people are discriminated against in society and the legal system. I found that one fascinating.

The other thing that’s interesting about that is how early she was. I feel early with this, but she was 15, 18 years early in terms of identifying this as an idea.

What I love, honestly as a woman, I would love to be solo my whole life. It’s a little bit of a different situation because I would like to have more time to write and that might be easier if I got married without children. I don’t want to have children. That would be the greatest tragedy, I would rather get Coronavirus than have a baby. I don’t know if it’s a problem, but it’s the fact of this and the way that the values of our society. If you look at a 50-year-old single woman and single man, it’s clear that one of those is easier to be preferable. Seeing Bella DePaulo as an older woman, happily single, that means the world to me. It was inspiring to see that.

[bctt tweet=”A bullshit job is a form of paid employment that is completely pointless or pernicious that even the employee can’t justify its existence. ” via=”no”]

Which one do you like the least? 

I have not listened to all of them. Probably the first one. It’s not good that my least favorite is the first one but that’s me, it’s not everyone.

We’re going to get to your story about your writing, how you got into it and your approach to it all. One of the things that I want to highlight is this principle, this idea of, create more than you consume. You’ve heard me talk about it both on the air and privately. It’s a simple idea. It’s that the average person’s ratio of creation to consumption is 1:30. For every one hour they spend making something, they spent 30 hours consuming something. I want to be clear, I’m not against consuming, I want to flip the ratio. The ideal for me would be 3:1. For every three hours you spend creating, you spend an hour consuming. That’s a nice ratio.

If someone could get to 1:1, it would have a profound change in their life. The profound change is twofold. The first one is that when you create something, you have something to show for it. You’ve made something, even if it’s a meal or an event that you’ve thrown or a new business or a poem or a blog post or a podcast. That value then can be transferred to other people that other people can enjoy this thing. You’re doing something bigger than yourself, so to speak. I like this idea of solo but not alone, solo and connected. When you make something, you are then connecting to others. That’s important to do.

To me, it’s beyond that. Beyond the finished product and important part to me about creating things is the idea of mastery. On Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, mastery is fundamental, it’s more toward the top of being fulfilled as a human being and having your needs met. That’s what gets people addicted to video games mastering a level and getting to the next one. Creating something is that too, a good substitute for video games.

I’m fine if someone wants to make video games.

I find video games creepy, but we won’t get into that. As a teacher, I see a lot of students that are only playing video games.

The point is this, I do want to get into it because I have male readers who play too many video games, too many video games. The issue is this, it’s not you shouldn’t play video games, it’s the ratio of creating things.

Video games are designed to be addictive and they’re designed to manipulate the human desire to feel mastery. It’s difficult. For adults, it’s different. For teenagers with developing brains, it’s difficult for them to play video games casually.

Are you saying video games are an all or none proposition? You’d be better off going cold?

It’s not necessarily. Not for everyone but you’re 17, 18 years old, you’re younger and vulnerable to going way too far.

Here’s the other thing is if you’re 35, single and play a lot of video games, stop because it’s not helping your dating life. That’s fair. I stopped playing video games when I went to college. I realized they were going to crowd out other more important activities and it’s one of the best decisions I ever made.

It’s not even that they’re bad in and of themselves, this is what we’re talking about. That’s why it’s a ratio consuming to creating. If you spend too much time on one thing, you have less time for everything else. That’s how life works. It’s important to be intentional with your time and say, “What am I spending every hour of my day on?” That’s a foreshadowing of the bonus materials. It’s one of the things.

I’m glad you brought that up to about mastery. On day one of my MBA class, I show Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and then I talked about what a shit theory it is.

I brought up a theory that you shed on every time you teach. USC is teaching it.

The problem is that it’s the default model because people teach it. After all, it’s been taught. It’s familiar. At first glance, it seems to make sense. I don’t want to go into all the details about why I don’t like it but one of the things that I don’t like about it is that it has this set path. This is how you live a good life. You accomplish this. There’s a lot of evidence that people live good lives without following that path. It also ignores things, for example, cultural effects. It also ignores development, which is some of those things in the hierarchy of needs to become more or less important at different stages in life. My preference, which I talked about in the What is a Remarkable Life episode.

About Maslow’s that I was not paying attention to much of my grad program and I don’t remember what else was on it. I like the idea of mastery.

You’re being overly defensive just because you were wrong about Maslow doesn’t mean you were wrong about mastery.

I’m not advocating Maslow, I was bringing up mastery. It’s on the triangle.

The notion of mastery is a path to living a remarkable life. I would call it Engagement. I’m a big fan of the PERMA Model by Martin Seligman that talks about these different ways that you can live a good life. One of which is Engagement, which is creative pursuits. There’s fundamentally something different from consuming something that was the outcome of creative endeavor. Reading a book, reading a blog, watching, by the way, keep reading this blog, but also if you want to launch your own. What happens is that when you are engaged in creating something and you’re solving problems, you have this ability to enter what’s called a flow state. Time melts away and you have this pleasant feeling.

SOLO 19 | Excelling At Writing
Excelling At Writing


It’s not pleasant like a nap or pleasant like sex, but it’s a positive feeling. That’s why my show goes long sometimes because you get into it and time melts away. The problem, of course, is that mastery doesn’t happen easily. It’s easy to watch a movie. It’s hard to learn to direct a movie. It’s easy to read a book. It’s hard to learn to write a book. What happens is people often give up too early. They don’t realize that it takes months, years of working on something to get good at it that not only can you make something great, but then you can also enjoy the process of making that thing.

In general, the takeaway, whether it’s 1:30 or 3:1 ratio, what I invite people to do is to get honest with themselves about how much listening, watching, consuming that you’re doing, and then look for opportunities to create things instead. I’m not telling people that they need to write or they need to sculpt or whatever it is. Artistic endeavors are the ideal state but think of making things, throwing a party is a creation process. Scrapbooking is a creation process. The way to do it, I believe, is to look at what are you naturally drawn to and then can you spend a little bit more time on that thing? We’re going to talk though about writing more specifically. Mary, you’re a writer. I’ve loved your writing. I’ve seen it got better and better. Tell me a little bit about when you knew that you wanted to be a writer. You’re committed to being a writer in a way that few writers are. You’re committed you’re thinking of marrying someone that you don’t even love to support your habit. 

I want to be a writer more than I want a family. I also don’t want a family. I want to be a writer more than everything.

If you had to choose between deadlifting and writing, which would you choose?

I would replace deadlifts with squats, not writing. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer is the best answer. I wanted to be a writer when I was five. It goes that far back and then it’s been stops and starts. There have been a lot of times where I quit for a long time because I didn’t have much support and I’ve quit for a long time after I graduated college. I love my college experience. It’s this academic environment. I had all these friends who are also English majors. I could go to my friends and we’d talk about British modernist poetry, then you go out into the real world and that’s not a thing anymore.

One of the things that were striking about you is you’re a little bit of a throwback. You were born too late.

I think of myself as an old man in a 27-year-old woman’s body.

It’s funny because I feel like a young man in a 50-year-old man’s body. I was born too early and you were born too late.

I don’t want to be born earlier though because I like being a woman. I don’t want to be a woman anytime.

In terms of you read the classics, there was a time where the type of writing that you appreciate was the pinnacle.

I live in the best time for my gender. You can complain about being a woman, but it’s better to be a woman than it has been at any other time. People can dispute this maybe, but it’s the worst time to be a writer in all of history, a literary writer, TV writers. I’ve had friends tell me, “You should write for TV.” I don’t want to and I never will. Not that it’s an option. Not that people are banging my door down to get me to write for TV. I’m obsessed with getting into these different literary journals and magazines. I’m constantly reading things that I read, lit journals and magazines before I go to bed.

I’m astounded by how fantastic this is. It’s nonfiction, it’s fiction, it’s poetry. There’s much out there. I think about the fact that I have many friends that if I were to turn off the TV for a night, give them this thing to read, which a lot of it is free because you can go to the websites of these magazines and you can subscribe and stuff. You can read things without subscribing. Give them something. We both read it and we talk about it. I’m sure at the end of that I would say, “Did you have a good night?” They’d be like, “That was fantastic.” Nobody does that. It’s a simple thing that anyone could do.

The irony in all of this is, Mary has a group of friends that are affectionately referred to as the SUSE, the runaround SUSE. Where do some of the SUSE work?

For background, I still live with one of them, but one is my college roommate who’s been my best friend for years. Until I lived in an apartment with her, her twin sister and our friend, Sharon. It was like Sex in the City if they all lived in one apartment. My friend, Rose, works for Apple TV. My friend, Sharon, started working at Netflix. This is my roommate who’s going to the H Mart fish counter with me. The other one, Leon, is an artist. She’s the only one besides me that’s not on this. It’s a 50/50 split.

What’s interesting is I don’t even consider myself a writer the way you consider yourself a writer. Although I write and I’m compelled to right now. For me that that happened much in life. I would say that I started to feel like a writer when I was turning 40. It’s had a profound effect on me and we’ll get into my story a little bit more. Before we dive a bit more into this, is there something in particular that you’re writing that you’re finding compelling?

I feel like it’s tough to say when you’re writing a short story, which is what I mostly do.

By the way, what is the difference between a short story and an essay?

[bctt tweet=”It’s definitely better to be a woman now than it has been at any other time.” via=”no”]

An essay is a broad category, but it’s not fiction. It can be a personal essay, it’s a story that happened to you or it can be more contemplative meditations on things going on in the world, but it has to be a true story. A short story is a short fiction. I wrote a story about a salacious, it’s conceptual, philosophical, it’s about a woman who wanted to be a priest. Since she couldn’t be a priest, she became a sex worker, like an escort/sugar baby instead. It’s comparing that to being a priest. Pete called it an essay, which would mean that I did. I said, “Pete, I would never be a priest.”

I’m going to use a framework that I present in Shtick to Business. I have this fun business book. Mary knows the book because she was kind enough to help me with some edits at one point. She may not have learned anything from reading it, but she read all the words. She helped a lot with tense. There were a lot of tense errors in the book, thank you for that. The book has a whole chapter on writing. It’s called Write It or Regret It. I’ve been told that it’s one of the few business books that address writing. You don’t have to be a business person to appreciate it. I’m going to put forth the framework that I use in that book to talk about this. The first thing I say is that, “We should think about writing as a way to record our ideas. That to start a writing practice, one of the best ways to begin it in one of the best reasons to have it is to capture what’s happening in the world.”

With my teaching program at USC, they emphasized that it’s important to have both formal writing and informal writing. There are a lot of people who only write when they have to write something for school or work. Informal writing is more to work out your ideas. It’s like thinking on paper and they’re both equally important. Talking about ratios, probably most people don’t have a 50:50 ratio on those.

This idea of informal writing or writing to record have multiple benefits. I asked some reader questions and I got a question from Julie who has been part of the show and she wrote, “I’m not a writer and I don’t enjoy writing. The most creative writing I do is in my journal and I usually blabber away something that is bothering me. Do you have any hints on how to make journal writing more of a creative process rather than for venting?” 

I love a prompt. I tend to not use them because I always have things I want to write about anyway. The writing group I’m in my teacher gives us a prompt. There have been these studies that people are more creative under more constraints rather than fewer because I don’t know why, but it works. To give yourself a constraint and even a specific topic, you’re only going to write about that and then see where it leads or if you’re trying to do creative writing, pick something, describe it, see how long you can spend describing it.

First of all, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with free journaling, what comes to mind and so on. I don’t think that’s necessarily a problem in part because you don’t know what you’re going to come up with that you might want to do something more creative with it at some other point. First of all, you can buy journals on the market that are designed to help guide your thinking process. A previous guest and cohost, Isabella Imani is working on a workbook that’s designed to do that. I suspect it’ll be out soon, but the basic 101 that has some science behind it is Gratitude Journaling. There’s fascinating research. Especially during these tumultuous times, it is valued to be journaling because you’ll want to look back on it.

I started journaling and I lost a journal and it’s destroying me at this point, which is ironic because I went almost my whole life with never journaling. I do some journaling and one of the fascinating things is I’ll often go back and read what I was anxious about and I go, “I don’t even remember that thing.” It’s been a good way to learn that oftentimes the things that seem important at the moment aren’t that important in the long run. The gratitude journaling is fascinating. It’s simple. You don’t need to buy a specific journal to do this. Any journal would be fine. What you do is at the end of the day, you write down three things that went well and why? What’s fascinating is that the ‘why’ part is an important part of that.

What’s been found is that regular gratitude journaling has a positive effect on people, on their moods or emotions, the way they see the world and so on. Some of it makes a lot of sense. We tend to think about as Julie was saying, things that are bothering her. I get that because people believe that venting is a good way to help cope. It is better than suppressing. Writing about positive things gets to move your perspective to those positive things. It’s a reflective exercise. Even on a bad day, you can come up with three things that went well, even if there are little things, little acts of kindness. The why is important because you can give yourself a chance to learn, “When I do that, good things happen.” The why’s end up mattering.

One thing I wanted to talk about too is social media, in relation to this. I read an article a while back. He was a literary fiction writer. He was talking about this tendency that if you have an Instagram, you have Twitter, you have an interesting idea whether you’re a comedian or a writer or anyone you have an idea, you know people are going to like it, you post it and tweet it right away. He was talking about how posting is the illusion of creating. You are creating in a sense, but what happens is you have this instant, as soon as I post something on Instagram, then the likes come in and I feel this gratification and people tell me, “This is cool,” and then I forget about it because I already got that gratification versus if I were to record it where I record all of my ideas for things and then maybe you’re coming back to it. If you come back to it from a future time, you can see what real merit it has. You look at it days or weeks later and then if you make something out of it, that gratification is going to be much better and much more real than the likes. The retweets.

SOLO 19 | Excelling At Writing
Excelling At Writing


Shane Mauss, comedian, a friend of mine, he’s talked about this. He has pulled back a lot on social media, especially when it comes to joke-telling. His hypothesis is that most of the jokes that he would tell on Twitter, for example, aren’t fully fleshed out but because he puts them out in the world, he feels like it allows him to release them. If he wrote them in his notebook, his mind would continue to work on them. He would continue to improve them until they were ready for a higher-stakes environment, which is still low stakes, which is trying it on stage but stage it feels much higher than on social media.

This is the underdeveloped skill. I believe it’s sitting in solitude with your thoughts, working out something without telling anyone. There are plenty of people that have an idea before it’s anything. They’ll throw it out there and vet it. Like, “What about this idea?” There’s nothing wrong with doing that sometimes, but we live in this world where you’re never sitting with anything for that long and that’s a problem.

We’re going to come back to that because when it comes to trying to develop a bit more of a writing/creative process. If I’m going to encourage people who want to live a remarkable life to make creative things, we should probably help them in terms of tactics to approach those things. One of the things, this continuing responding to Julie’s thing about her journal is this idea that moving from simply recording ideas to clarifying ideas. That is writing has this special place for developing ideas. It’s not I’m writing down how I feel, but the act of writing requires enough precision that it forces me to formulate those ideas in a more precise way, especially if I want to start to make something of this.

Joan Didion said, “I write to know what I think.” In other words, she has all these essays that you read it and you’re like, “She’s a genius.” When she started writing in, it was an exploration. She had something strange that happened as the entire 1960s. She starts writing and then at the end of it, you have to slouch toward Bethlehem, but each essay you write and rewrite.

I have this quote in my book. It’s like, “If you want to learn something, read a book about it. If you want to understand it, read ten books about it. If you want to become an expert, write about it.”

Did I tell you I used that quote for my final presentation for my technology in the classroom class at USC?


It worked. I hated that class. I started my presentation.

Tell me how you used it. 

It’s not interesting. It was about using digital publishing platforms to publish student work so that they’re seeing their writing in a magazine instead of handing it into the teacher. It’s the idea of having it be a communal group activity versus giving it to the teacher. Which is another thing we should talk about is that to me, writing is not a solitary pursuit.

This idea of writing to clarify, I’m a big believer in what I call The One-Pager. The value of writing to develop an idea. Tell me again that quote.

“I write to know what I think.”

I like that a lot because it’s easy if you saw me writing, but if you want it to be good, you need to be precise. 

I feel like we’re skipping though. We’re getting right to, “How do you write something in a precise way? but we skipped the, “Why write anyway?
I wanted to share this Tom Wolfe quote that I find interesting. If you don’t know Tom Wolfe was part of The New Journalism movement. He wrote The Bonfire of the Vanities. That’s his big novel. You’ve probably heard of that. He was a journalist that he was a hugely influential journalist throughout the 20th century. He wrote a lot of great things. This is the quote, and this is what I always wanted and hope to be to a lesser extent than Tom Wolfe. “I found early in the game that for me, there’s no use trying to blend in. I might as well be the village information gatherer, the man from Mars who simply wants to know. Fortunately, the world is full of people with information compulsion who want to tell you their stories. They want to tell you things that you don’t know. There are some of the greatest allies that any writer has.” I love the idea of being the man from Mars. There’s also this other David Foster Wallace speech where he says the joke, one goldfish says to another goldfish, “The water is cold today,” and then the other goldfish goes, “What’s water?” It’s being present that you’re able to notice everything. It’s similar to a comedian. A poet and a comedian are two sides of the same coin to me of noticing.

Jerry Seinfeld says, “Comedians are humanoids.” They’re not aliens, they’re not humans. They sit in this space between where they know enough but they’re not completely immersed that they can’t pick up the weird things in the world.

Tom Wolfe took it a step further. Writers are from Mars.

I liked the idea that people telling you the stories are your allies. That’s where you’re going to learn. How does this relate to this idea of why you should write?

To me, it’s not an act, it’s a way of living. It’s a way of being in the world. In a way, I’m not writing because I have the notes section of my phone. I have a writing folder and then everything that happens, I’m writing. Something I see, I’ll have a sentence that I can describe it with. I’ll have an idea. It’s everything. It can get too weird because it can almost feel like I don’t care enough about what happens to me. I care about if I can write something from it.

[bctt tweet=”Writing is not just an act, but a way of living.” via=”no”]

That’s the farther end. When you’re living in this world mastery or you become compelled to do this thing. 

I tend toward extremes.

You don’t have to reach Mary Dahm levels of writing for it to be useful.

That’s what I’m saying is that I want to talk about the use before we talk about, how to write more. To me, the use is being present in the world and noticing things and thinking about things and exploring things.

This One-Pager idea is you have an idea, many of us are walking around with ideas, we have business ideas, we have things that we want to do in life. What I often say is before you put that enormous time and effort, the resources into doing those things, I encourage people to write about doing those things. I like The One-Pager, also known as, The One Sheet because it serves as a constraint, it’s like, “You have to write this one page about this thing.” I wrote a one-pager for Solo before I had launched it and by in a time that I wrote that I knew what this project was going to be like at least what it was going to start like. I can no longer be loose with the ideas. 

You have one page, you have to decide what fits on the page, what doesn’t fit.

What’s important, what’s not important and why it’s a compelling project and who is it for and what is it going to look like and what is it going to feel like? What is fascinating is a lot of people when they think about writing, they think about communicating. They think about writing an essay, a short story, a poem, a memo, an email or whatnot but so far, almost all of the writing that we’ve discussed is writing for yourself. What happens though at some point it becomes important or you become compelled that you need to write for others. You need to share these ideas with others in written form. In the case of the One-Pager, I showed it to a lot of people and I got their feedback from it. What did they like? What did they didn’t like? What were their questions about it? 

You showed me The One-Pager for Shtick to Business to me.

I wrote a one-pager for that book. I wrote a one-pager with my co-author for The Humor Code. I read a one-pager for any big project that I think about doing. At the end of writing the one-pager, I decide not to do it. There’s even language in that one-pager for Solo that I use. It shows up in the intro to the show. It shows up in the language that I use. 

Unapologetically Unattached, was that in there?

It might be, I wouldn’t be surprised as I know that the idea of, being single for now or forever is in there. The language that I use in these conversations shows up in that thing because it serves as this keystone for this project. When you hear this idea of writing to communicate, you’re doing a lot of that because you’re targeting these journals, these publishers, you want to move from being a writer to a published author.

I think of communicate is like corporate communications.

Communicators, there’s a writer and there’s an audience. There’s someone who’s writing and someone who’s reading.

You mean it’s not for me. You’re saying it’s for other people.

When I say communicate, I mean to write for others. What compelled you to write for others versus writing for yourself?

I don’t want to conflate journaling with writing. Journaling is useful for several reasons. Journaling is intended for no audience. Writing, I don’t know why you would write it, not for an audience. I have to have an audience to be able to write it. I’m in this writing group that I found through an organization called Writer’s Workshops of Los Angeles. The structure is that it’s working writers. A lot of them are also professors at MFA programs. A lot of them were famous names I knew that I couldn’t believe I could take a class with and sit in their living room. I couldn’t believe that I could go to these people’s living rooms and be in a writer’s workshop with them in a group of eight people. Of course, they’re famous to me. I’m sure they’re not famous to most people in the world. I have this group of people that read it and this accomplished writer. I’ll throw her name out there, Lisa Feczko, she’s awesome. She reads it and then she reads 2, 3, 4 drafts until it’s done. That’s why I say writing is not a solitary act. The writing is, but then you have to show it somewhat to someone to finish it.

One of my least popular episodes is the Boxing episode. I enjoyed doing that episode in part because I had been boxing. I enjoy boxing, but I came to the same conclusion about boxing is that at first blush, boxing seems like a solo sport. When you start to unpack what you need to box and to become a better boxer is you need others. You need an opponent, you need a trainer, you need a coach, you need a sparring partner. All of those things help move you from shadowboxing, which might be journaling to boxing-boxing. I liked the idea that when you write to communicate, you’re moving away from a purely solo endeavor, even if the moments that you spend in front of your keyboard are solitary moments.

SOLO 19 | Excelling At Writing
Excelling At Writing


You build much community when you have a common goal. Your goals might be slightly different. Someone might be trying to publish a novel and somebody else is more of writing for fun. You have a common goal of mastery. When mastery is a common goal, everything is a lot like friendships are deeper. There’s this deeper level than more hanging out.

There’s a difference between sitting and watching a movie together and sitting and critiquing each other’s essays or short stories.

That doesn’t sound fun, but it is fun.

I want to push back on one idea that you have about this idea. You don’t want to conflate journaling with writing to communicate. They’re both, to me, an act of writing of putting ideas down on paper or putting down sentences on paper. It’s just the goals that might be a little bit different that they both can serve you. That one is necessarily better than the other.

I’m not saying that one is better and I’m not saying that they both can’t serve you, but I’m saying the fact that the goals are different means that the writing is completely different. It’s the same as formal versus informal writing.

Although oftentimes formal writing is derived from informal writing. The reverse doesn’t happen. We’re getting into the more serious side of this. It feels like the stakes go up when you have an audience. That’s part of the reason why people don’t like to write because there’s skin in the game, you have to face whether people like or don’t like. I’ve looked at my reviews of The Humor Code. I’ve written academic papers and I’ve read the peer reviews of those. You’re putting ideas out in the world and some people may like them, some people may hate them, they may bore people, they may excite people. If you are looking at this more formal writing as you would say or as I’m saying writing to communicate, what advice do you have for people, whether they be on the novice side of the more expert side that you find is useful?

First of all, I find it hilarious. The idea that I’m advising because I know things but I’m not Lisa, I’m not my writing teacher. I would say my number one piece of advice is to find a group, find someone to give you, not just feedback, the right feedback. That was why I fell away from the only thing I wanted to do. I fell away from it for such a long time because I moved to Los Angeles. I’m looking around, everyone works for TV and film. That’s what all my friends were doing. I felt like it was just me doing this. I wasn’t writing very much. Of course, it wasn’t getting better but it couldn’t have gotten better without anyone to read it.

One of the great secrets of many great writers is there’s often a great editor. Is it Tom Wolfe who has these stories of delivering a book in the back of a van and then the editor, who was that who? I’ve heard these crazy stories about someone who like reams of writing and then this editor carefully going through it.

Probably every editor would say, “That’s me.” I don’t know about Tom Wolfe, but I had this debate when you’re doing your student teaching, you have a mentor teacher. I had a fantastic mentor teacher and I love F. Scott Fitzgerald and she hates him. We were always butting heads about that and her argument because The Great Gatsby, people don’t get it. They’re like, “Why the hell does every high school kid have to read this God damn book?” It’s because it’s aside from what it’s about, it’s about the American dream, it’s a technically perfect novel.

What does that mean?

The pacing of it, the motifs and the way that images are introduced in the beginning and then come back then everything. It’s tightly composed that everything in it has meaning. People say that English teachers over analyze things and they’re like, “Why does everything have to mean something else?” In that book, it does down to every intentional word. It’s his rhythm, writing is like music. People will ask like, “What’s something about blah, blah, blah?” I read also for the sound and the way the sentences flow. That book is perfect and that’s why you read it in high school. The reason I brought it up is that my mentor/teacher was saying that, “It’s only good because of the editor.” She’s like, “It’s not good because of F. Scott. He was drunk.” F. Scott turned in like reams of paper. The editor was like, “There’s some good shit in here.” It’s giving a sculptor, a perfect piece of marble, but then they made the thing. I disagree but that’s a bias because I love him.

You both would agree that the editor matters in the same way the producer matters when it comes to music. You can see this oftentimes. I am moved by this idea. How connected this is to an overarching theme about if you want to live a solo life, a remarkable life, you ironically need others. You don’t need a partner. If you want to write The Great Gatsby, you need others. Shtick to Business, my list of acknowledgments is long because you don’t write something substantial, something you’re proud of alone. At least you don’t get it published alone. There are a lot of people who come and help with that. Let’s talk a little bit more about someone who wants to create a bit of writing practice.

I have some questions from Kim who’s a writer. It relates a little bit more if we get into the practice, to this more general feeling about how writing is hard. That’ll tee up for me. Let me give you an example of how hard writing is. Like Julie, I was like most people, I was a bad writer. I rarely wrote, I only wrote when I had to and it was agonizing when I did it. The average person can get through life with that but as an academic where the currency are peer-reviewed papers. That’s a dicey situation to be in. I found myself approaching tenure and struggling because I wasn’t producing enough and the quality of the work wasn’t good enough in my opinion. 

[bctt tweet=”It’s still better to have a product rather than to have an idea in your head, which is really nothing.” via=”no”]

The good thing about me is that I’m a such a problem solver and I’m reflective that when I was going through my mid tenure review, I did my personal and professional reflection and I did an assessment of my life to soup to nuts and three things showed up for me. One was I had a bad back, talked about that in a previous episode. I had a lot of pain and the problem with it. I talk about that in Pain, Injury, And Moving With Joy episode with Charlie Merrill. The second one is I had a problematic relationship with my mom. It was profoundly bad. I was her primary caregiver from far away and it was making me deeply unhappy.

The third thing was my writing sucked. I was terrible at writing. What I did was, I did a bunch of reading about writing. I studied it. That’s the beautiful thing about the world. If there’s a problem, there’s someone who’s written about it. I happen to have a problem with writing and that’s the great thing is writers like to write about writing. There are plenty of resources. One that I found on the internet somewhere was someone had done an analysis of great writers and looked at their commonalities. One of the commonalities was that they write every day. They tend to write first thing in the morning and then they tend to drink coffee when they write.

I was like, “That’s what I’ll do. If great writers do it, then I just need to write it.” At that age, I wasn’t even drinking coffee. I had gone my first 40 years of my life without drinking coffee and I was like, “I’ll start drinking coffee.” I enjoy my delicious cappuccino when I sit down to write in the morning. It was agonizing. I started timing myself. I was tracking at that time how much writing I was doing and I remember doing 45 minutes of writing and it was hell on earth. What was amazing was because I was committed to doing it every day. I came back the next day. It didn’t take weeks or months, but it took over a year. Certainly, it may be as many as three years. I eventually came to enjoy writing much that I am compelled to do it.

By the time I met you, you’re like, “What are we doing? We’re going to a coffee shop be and don’t talk to me for three hours.” That’s what I like to do too. I’m the same way. I like to write every day. I try to write at the same time every day. I can’t always make that happen, but that’s the ideal for me. I do time myself and I record in a calendar. I put an X over every day that I wrote and I write how many hours I wrote and what I worked on.

This is what gets measured, it’s maximized. 

Some people measure word count and I don’t do that because you can do solid work and end the day with the same word count as the day before because you’re doing structural changes and syntax.

Here’s the other problem is that oftentimes writing benefits from subtracting from cuttings. Word count is only good when you’re creating a shitty for a draft.

The other thing is that I don’t want to give the impression it is true when you look at writers throughout history, a lot of them tend to fall into this routine. They write in the morning, they write at the same time every day. They write every day. The way to do it is what works for you. My writing teacher, Lisa, I have more respect for her than any writer I know personally, I don’t know that many, but she’s great. She does the long days and then off days. She’ll write four hours for a couple of days and then she’ll have a day where she takes a break. That’s work hard and then let her mind clear then she comes back to it and she has a different perspective. I wouldn’t do that because I don’t have enough discipline. I needed it every day.

To be clear, this is for a more serious person. If you’re thinking of starting a writing practice, it’s going to be hard to do that. You have to recognize it and know that the first day of going for a run is going to be bad. If you go for a run four days a week, at the end of a year, you wake up in the morning and it would feel weird not to run.

After I run, it’s the parts that are supposed to be sore, my legs are fine and it’ll be the side of my neck hurts. I realize I run, I hold my neck a weird way. I don’t know how to hold my body, I realized.

This is connected to what I call work hard or hard they work. How do you create a practice that’s designed to create creative products? Writing aside, what we’re talking about applies regardless of writing. It could be sculpting, it could be painting, it could be any number of activities, which is to set aside time to do it and make that time sacred, what I call to protect. The next one is to grind. That is regularly, to perform that activity. It’s not waiting for inspiration. It’s like, “This time arrives and this is what I’m going to do.” 

I have a quote here about this. E. B. White said, “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word to paper.”

It’s that rarely are we inspired. Steven Pressfield who wrote the book, The War of Art, which I like a lot says, “You don’t wait for the muse to visit you. You sit and start writing or you don’t wait for the muse. You start writing in the muse visits you.” It’s something along those lines.

Even if you are inspired and you think you don’t have time, you have to make the time somehow.

The other important idea is this idea of releasing yourself. You do the work and then you step away from it and you take a break and you do something enjoyable. You do something social, you let life go on.

The truth is that’s not possible for everyone. I’m fine employed because I graduated from my master’s program and I’m looking for a full-time teaching job. I have lots of time, but when I was teaching all day, I would try to write in the morning before work, which meant I was waking up at 4:30 or 5:00. My ideal is I like to write and then I’m done. I might go workout. I do something else or go back into my home where I’m quarantined. If you’re working you might write and then you have to go to the office.

Ideally, you have some release in your day, whether it be exercise or walk, a meal with a friend those things. 

For me, the writing itself is the release. I know that this is not true for everyone, but I enjoy it more than anything else, even when it’s hard. That was my favorite part of your book. I don’t know if I told you this: the protect, grind, release part. Do you want to explain the general thing?

The general idea behind that is I like this idea of trying to create habits. Scott Adams says, “Have systems don’t have goals.” A lot of people think that you’re going to be successful in life by having goals but what happens is you want these I call, automatic behaviors. When X happens, I’m going to do Y. When I get up in the morning, I’m going to go for a run. These are the things that take decision making out of it. How is it that you can develop those things? You have to create a context that makes it best for that.

For example, if you have creative work to do, you want to set aside time every day or often to work on that where you’re not going to schedule a dentist appointment where you’re not going to check email, you’re going to take that time to be sacred. That’s the protect. The grind is the regular basis in which you do it and a regular basis is necessary. One is because anything worth doing is going to be difficult. It’s going to take time. The other one is that it takes time to develop mastery. If you work on something one day a week, you’ve got to wait 150 weeks to start to get mastery on it but if you work on it every day, you only have to wait 150 days to get mastery on it.

The last one is that we’re not machines. We’re not meant to run 24/7 and that we need to take care of to go back to the thing is your health number one. Sitting for hours on end, even if it’s compelling, the endeavor is not good for our body. Being completely isolated for hours and days and always good for our soul, even if it’s compelling to do that. Complimenting it with some release to get some sunlight to get some fresh air, to spend time with friends. Also, what happens is that stepping away from it, like your teacher says, it allows a chance for your unconscious mind to work on it, to reflect on these things.

What I like about it is the intentionality. We live in a multitasking culture is one thing. Instant gratification is a big motivator. I have more of a problem with instant gratification than you have because you’ve developed it that’s why. I know you’ve worked on it more than I have. We have a tendency. When I was in grad school it was hard and my life was quite awful. The ideal way to cope with that would have been to have a protected time where I write, grind, I work only on all the stuff I have to do for my grad program in my teaching. I have a time where I release and I don’t think about that and I completely do things for my health and social but then what happens is when you have all that to do, you try to combine them. I would be socializing with friends. In the classroom at USC while we’re half working on our stuff. It ends up being like, you don’t feel satisfaction from hanging out with them fully. You don’t feel you’ve accomplished the work fully.

One of the things that I have been complimented a couple of times, which I take as a high compliment, “Pete, you’re present.” That is when I’m with you, I’m there. I’m 100% but when I’m not present good luck. You may not get a hold of me. I would rather be 0% or 100% rather than 40%

It’s more productive. I’ve read that technically the brain cannot multitask when you feel like you’re multitasking your brain is quickly jumping from one thing to the other. If you’re reading something while you’re watching TV, it’s jumping back and forth between the TV and what you’re reading. What it is, is inefficiency. It’s wasted time.

I do struggle concentrating like everyone else. I struggle a little less. Part of I love doing this show is because it forces me to be present.

I think about this a lot, especially teaching high schoolers because, to be honest, I started teaching because I love English literature and I love writing. What’s come to happen is that it’s made me think much more about, how we’re evolving in society? Where the future is going to be in terms of how people behave? Their inability to focus on one thing for a sustained period. It’s not a deficit view of them, it’s what they grew up with on phones and stuff. Especially for the next generation. I hope that the trend of mindfulness continues to get bigger and then it starts being an intentional thing that people work on to be 0% or 100% and not constantly multitasking because it doesn’t lead to satisfaction. That’s why I like your model of the protect and grind.

It’s not easy to do but it becomes easier as you do it. I want to get back to Kim’s questions because I teed them up and then didn’t ask them. One we might’ve already answered in some ways. She writes a question specifically at this time when we all feel so isolated because of the social distancing and quarantine, “Why commit yourself to a task that is even more isolating?”

My first thought is hopefully not a task you would start during the quarantine and then give up. It would be a practice that you would want to continue. Why not start it now? When you have time, you have to have something to do. The other thing is, we are physically distant, but I’ve been video conferencing with friends. I’ve been talking a lot on the phone to people or on social media. Why not write something and if you wanted to send it to someone and maybe that’s something interesting like, “I never have read anything that this person sent me.” You add something new and interesting to their day. Maybe it could be a good way to shake up the boredom of the quarantine.

I like this idea that you have to be a little bit isolated, you might as well make the best use of being isolated. The nature of writing is best either when solitary or parallel solitary. I liked the idea that because you’re socially distant doesn’t mean you have to be emotionally disconnected. I liked the idea of sharing. This is related to our other questions, which is, “How do you continue moving forward with a project when you want to give up because you feel like it’s not good enough or it’s not translating to the page the way you had seen it in your head or you suck?”

This one’s relatable to me. This is the big thing about, I don’t think it’s writing, it’s anything creative. The vision of it that you have in your head will always be better than the final product. In a way, it’s an exercise in disappointment, but it’s still better to have a product rather than to have an idea in your head, which is nothing. To go back to Joan Didion, I keep using her, but she’s a master and I don’t have a quote, but she expressed this idea. She said, “The idea that I have before I write is always way better than,” and you’re like, “What?” Her writing is incredible. It’s two things. One, there’s a level of acceptance you have to have. It’s not going to be what you thought it was going to be because it never is. Two is that sometimes you abandon a project. It’s okay to be like, “This is not good.” You’ll know when that needs to happen. Three, I’m calling it fun, but it can become fun if you practice, there’s something fun or satisfying as maybe a better word about improving something.

[bctt tweet=”Writing can be a great way to reflect on life.” via=”no”]

That’s why I use that term when I think about engagement, it’s satisfying.

It’s the whole journey, not the destination.

In Shtick to Business, I use the metaphor of a craftsperson, like a blacksmith. You look at what a blacksmith is doing and they’re sitting there and they’re banging away on this piece of metal over and over again. When they’re done and they have a sword in their hand, you can see why they would be satisfied. You can understand, “I’ve created something special, something useful.” What people don’t understand is that for the master blacksmith, every swing of the hammer can have a moment of satisfaction because of every swing matters. It’s doing something, it’s shaping.

That what we all aspire to, but as difficult to get to. Kim, had also written, “When to share with your first group of readers?” She answers her question which is, you feel that you’re stuck. You don’t think it’s good. Maybe you share it with someone who can give you good feedback. Someone who might give you either the encouragement that you need. “No. I love your premise. I liked what you’re doing. This sentence is fantastic.” Maybe they say, “It’s not quite right.” They might even be able to give you some feedback or these help you decide whether you should continue or not.

To get a completely different perspective. In my writing group, everyone has such different styles. Everyone’s style is completely different from everybody else in there, but we’re still able to give each other all this feedback. The interesting thing is that seeing other people’s styles and I know like, “I’m not going to write like them.” Seeing how such a drastically different way to do it expands the way that you’re thinking about it. You might be tempted to try something that you wouldn’t normally do or try something radically different.

Kim, keep writing. We’re excited for you. We’re going to come back and do our little bonus material. Mary shares some of her favorite stories about the magnificent lengths that writers will go to hone their craft. Mary, thanks much. This was great. 

You’re welcome. Thank you.

For a little bonus material, Mary Dahm is still here and she’s going to share some stories about the magnificent lengths that writers will go to hone their craft. I have no idea what these are. 

I love writing any kind of lore. There are a few things the writers did. Strategies, weird habits. Vladimir Nabokov, that’s the author of one of the most controversial novels of all time Lolita. He did not compose things on paper or typewriter. He wrote his novels on index cards that he kept in these little boxes. That way he was much free with the structure. If you wanted to reorder scenes, he would reorder the cards. He also kept some cards under his pillow. If he had an idea the middle of the night, he would write it down. That’s important to write everything down.

Is Lolita a linear story?

It is a linear story, but even a linear story the scenes could still be different orders. It frees you up.

This happens in filmmaking sometimes where people have scenes and they map out the scenes and storyboard and all those things. It makes the writing almost more visual task.

Anything making it physical or putting note cards on a corkboard moving them around, stuff like that.

When I was working on The One-Pager for Solo, Kim who had asked some questions earlier, one of the things that she had me do was to cut the actual paper up and into the sentences and then work at seeing about rearranging them on a table.

[bctt tweet=”People can live good lives without following a path.” via=”no”]

Lisa, my writing teacher does that too. She prints it out and then she cuts it up.

What’s number two? 

Number two is maybe my favorite because I’m obsessed with both of these writers. The Great Gatsby was not always the classic it is. Hunter S. Thompson was recognized that The Great Gatsby was a perfect novel and that F. Scott Fitzgerald was a genius and with the way, he worded it absorbed the rhythm of the sentences. He typed up all of The Great Gatsby on a typewriter.

He took that book and he put open to page one and he started typing? 

He typed the entire thing. I’m sure he was on a lot of drugs while he did it. It’s Hunter S. Thompson, he’s probably on ludes and it worked because you can see in his sentences, they do have similar rhythms with F. Scott’s.

I heard the story about Michael Jackson. This is not the same, but these are magnificent lanes I have not over-promised. I heard this story that when the Bee Gees album with Stayin’ Alive came out, that Michael Jackson listened to that album 100 times, or at least listen to that song 100 times to try to figure it out. That’s one of the things that a lot of people don’t understand is that the masters of the craft, it’s not that it comes easy to them. Of course, it does. It’s easier to them than anyone else, but they’re often dedicated to the craft that they’re willing to retype an entire book or listen to a song or an album 100 times. 

I have seen the film School of Rock starring Jack Black 200 times, I have memorized.

What is the third one? 

The third one is Ben Franklin, which he doesn’t seem like the most literary but he has this autobiography called The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. It’s pretty on the nose, which almost nausea is getting to read because he loves himself much.

He did get a lot done in life. 

He wasn’t a loser, but he was obsessed with himself in a way that it was narcissistic. What you can learn from it is that he believed time is precious, wasting time is wasting life. He had this journal that historians still have he outlined every hour of his day. He would ask himself every morning, “What good shall I do this day?” Wrote it in the journal and then every evening, “What good have I done today?”

It’s a lot like the Gratitude Journal. 

It is similar to that except it’s fastidious with how he spent his time. It was extreme. It’d be like, “I have ten minutes to eat and then I have twenty minutes.” The idea is valuable it’s treating time as something valuable.

As people do have money problems or do you have time problems or do you have both? It’s important to know whether you have one the other or both or neither. You’re most likely to have no matter what time problems because we’re not here forever. If you’re ambitious, if you have interests, if you’re trying to live a remarkable life, and that’s the case. This was great. I recognize that all the talk of writing might seem like inside baseball to some people. I commend you for sticking around to the very end. I hope that this has inspired you at the least to consider this principle a little bit more. When I say you, I mean you, the reader to try to look for opportunities to create more than you can consume. As always, I appreciate all the support that everybody’s been given. Please rate, share, reach out to me. Let me know how we can make this better and how we can grow this show. I want more and more people to get involved. Thanks again, Mary. 

Thank you.



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About Mary Dahm

SOLO 19 | Excelling At WritingMary Dahm is a writer and high school English teacher. She studied English literature and history at Boston College and recently earned a Masters in Teaching from USC. She also likes to deadlift.


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