For far too long, this space has become a kind of barren digital parking lot. The concrete is weathered, and weeds poke through its craggy surface. The paint is peeling on the nearest building.
Why? It’s fallen into disrepair for two reasons.
First, as a working writer, the opportunity cost of writing for free when you could be writing for money is a bit of a mental barrier to overcome.
Perfect or Procrastinate
Second, I’ve been trapped in a perfect-or-procrastinate outlook. Far better to procrastinate, I’ve thought, than to produce and publish something in this space that is less than perfect.
As a non-fiction writer, whose final drafts can run as long as 6,000 words and receive great care and tending from very talented editors, I feel the weight of presenting in this space those same kinds of polished pieces.
This burden, I suppose, stems back from a lecture I once heard in grad school from the celebrated celebrity profiler and Johnny Carson biographer, Bill Zehme. (The Bill Zehme who wrote 2000 Esquire profile of Letterman, and one of my favorite ledes of all time: “AND THEN, QUITE SUDDENLY, there was a man down…”)
During his lecture, another student asked Zehme how to break into the business in the absence of a thick portfolio full of glossy clips. And could publishing aspirational pieces to one’s blog, the student wondered, solve that problem?
What Zehme said next is the reason why I have posted here only 13 times in nearly three years.
“No,” Zehme said. Publishing blog posts to get magazine writing assignments wasn’t a good idea. Well, perhaps in some outlier circumstances, he allowed. “But those suckers better be polished.”
Those suckers better be polished.
Since then, every time I think about writing something here, that phrase echoes in my mind, slow and foreboding like.
When your career is based on the quality of what you write, yeah, that weighs on you.
Those suckers better be polished.
You think things like: What if an editor wanting to assign me a story, or an agent interested in representing my book concept, or moseys on over to my blog and finds it wanting?
And so for more than eight months have past since my last post.
A new-to-me approach to blogging, though, could change that. I’m not thinking of it as blogging, though.
Instead, I’m thinking of it as “bread-crumbing.”
When a writer stops being afraid of publishing unpolished thoughts and learns how to tap into the creativity and resourcefulness of other writers, a different feeling emerges: generosity. This is what happens when you stop hoarding your thoughts, give others credit for helping you formulate them, and acknowledge that your insight/idea is one of many. You are no longer scared of only being as good as your last thought because you start to see how many wonderful thoughts and ideas are around you, and you are a part of a community.
Practicing in Public
For far too long, I’ve been afraid of publishing unpolished thoughts in this space.
Goodbye to all that.
From now on, what you can expect from me: what I’m learning about writing, outtakes from journalistic pieces I’ve published, favorite ideas and passages from books I’m reading, and thoughts about how great creatives navigate obscurity, get their start, sustain their craft and develop a body of work. This will be a place for me to practice in public.
This space will be a notebook dump. Nothing more; nothing less. As Austin Kleon says, it will be a place where I show my work.
If you use your blog as a sketch pad, and link to others who have already thought about the same ideas, the process gets easier! You don’t have to start at the beginning. Nor do you have to hoard your Big Ideas until you have them perfectly executed. So, to iterate: use your blog as a transparent, ongoing sketch pad, get involved with others. Use it to get to work. Now, get to work!
Now, back to work.