Why I haven’t been writing

Again, I haven’t written here lately. I’ve been writing a little more elsewhere, though. I have an article coming out on Enhancing Capital sometime this week. My journal is also a little fuller than it was a few days ago.

I was right last time I posted here—I am settling into somewhat of a routine, now that I’ve got the first six weeks of a new job behind me. But oddly, that routine doesn’t involve quite as much writing as it used to, and that’s not because I don’t have the time. Frankly, I don’t really know what to write about anymore.

Part of me thinks this has something to do with the quantitative nature of my day-time work. I’m a research analyst for a market research firm. I study survey results from every which angle, looking for interesting trends to show our clients. This isn’t complex math by any means, but the reasoning I’m doing certainly falls on the left side of the brain (if you believe in that sort of thing).

Because of this, I think, I’ve been noticing order in things—road patterns, architecture, ways of speaking—that I didn’t notice before. Music is especially interesting these days. I’m a little better now at keeping rhythm while playing, and I’m noticing more of the complexities in rhythms in songs on the radio. I’m adding up daily expenses in my head. Weird little things like that—things that don’t leave much time for the types of political/economic/financial considerations that usually make the muse for what I post on this blog.

This isn’t like some uncontrollable impulse. This doesn’t happen all day, every day. Just every so often, I find myself thinking about how things are ordered and arranged where I used to think about what things mean (in a philosophical sense). But I guess order itself is something worth considering philosophically—order is heaven’s first law, after all.

I’m also taking a somewhat advanced microeconomics/game theory class right now. And graduate-level econometrics. And macroeconomics. Maybe those are more to blame. And the fact that I come home super-tired at 11 o’clock most days.

Or maybe this all has nothing to do with it. It sounds silly reading it over. Either way, I haven’t had much inspiration to write lately. My classes will be done for the summer after next week, so perhaps things will change then. Who knows. I’m happy either way. I do hope to write more one day—I’d love to write for a living. But until then, I’m more than pleased to keep at my daily grind. My job is intellectually stimulating and engaging, which is more than most can say. I ought to be thankful, and I am.

Oh…one more thing. I said in an earlier post that I have been working on a website whose name would soon be announced on this blog. Here it is: Vaycae.com.

I didn’t create this from the ground, up. I did brand it, though, and come up with the logo and marketing materials. The URL was my find, too. I’m really not sure what my goal with this site is—to get bookings, yes, but I’m not sure why. For now, though, I’m trying to market on social media and see how far I can get without paying for advertising. So be a pal and forward this to your friends? I’d appreciate it. I promise all prices are as good as you’ll find on Expedia, and probably anywhere else on the web. And everything is totally secure…I had some professionals tell me so.

Who are the best writers?

I often hear from writers that their best work happens when they aren’t writing to get published, but writing exactly those words that gets their point across. In other words, they write for themselves. The end product, I guess, happens to be something publishers like.

I’ve found this to be true in my own writing. Most of my best work wasn’t written with a particular target audience in mind. I was writing down my thoughts as exactly as I could. I didn’t pick the topics or choose the words based on how I expected them to go over with the publisher or my readers. In fact, some of my most popular articles have been sections of papers I wrote for class—words I had expected only my professor to read, he or she being more concerned with the structure and evidence for my argument than my tone or voice.

But deep down, I doubt that this type of thinking can carry a writer from good to great. Sure, most writers might actively fight the impulse to “write for the publisher.” But what about the best, most popular writers? Stephen King, Malcolm Gladwell, J.K. Rowling—do they really not think much about their reader when they write? Are they absent-minded geniuses whose written private thoughts happen to be words, arguments and stories to which the whole world can intimately relate?

I once asked this question to the executive editor of a major print and online magazine. We were grabbing lunch before he lectured at my college. He said it goes both ways. Some writers write for themselves. Their submissions are anywhere from incomprehensible and totally unrelatable to downright genius. Others are keenly aware of public opinion and the type of person they expect to read their work. They write with particular people in mind and sometimes end up saying very little at all, too aware of counterarguments and likely misinterpretations to get their point across with any expediency. But these types rarely put out terrible work—they’re too self-conscious for that.

I can definitely think of writers in both camps. One of my favorite writers, David Bentley Hart, falls firmly in the first one. His work can be almost impossible to digest, often full of references to things only people with his specific training would understand. But it’s also deeply personal. After reading his work, I’m left with little doubt that I understood him correctly—not just the words he used, but the thoughts that gave rise to those particular words. I’d even bet that I’m fairly certain of how he thinks and how he’d react to this or that essay or claim.

Another of my favorites is Malcolm Gladwell, who I think falls square into the other camp. He’s keenly aware of what the public wants. He writes at a level that maximizes the size of his potential audience, given the average reader’s intelligence. I can’t be sure, but he seems to write with that audience always in mind, choosing topics and examples highly-relevant to his work’s real-world political and cultural context. When reading his work, I don’t think I’ve once stopped to wonder why he chose this or that example, why he used this or that word. His tone is completely natural. He’s a briliant written conversationalist.

These are both theories, of course. I can’t read other people’s minds. Maybe that means I’ll never know the answer. But I’m at least convinced that thinking about how these approaches differ and finding some happy medium is the key to writing well. Or perhaps what really matters is the act of searching for this medium—not necessarily finding it.

Why I plan to write poorly

I added this note to the “About Me” page of my blog today.

Finally, please be forgiving with my blog here. I try to post every day because I believe that practice makes perfect. Unfortunately, this means that some posts are better than others, and that some are downright bad. I shouldn’t make any grammar mistakes (let me know if I do), but I’m sure my style in many of these posts leaves worlds of room for improvement—room that you won’t, I hope, find in my pieces published by more “formal” publications.

I hate disclaimers like this. Rather than apologize in advance for my mistakes, why not avoid mistakes altogether?

But the more I write, the more I realize the need to write and write consistently—every day, inspiration or none. Like with anything else, it’s the only way to improve.

This is frustrating for a writer. With something like basketball, for example, you can miss all the shots you want in practice—no one is watching, no one will know. But writers make their mistakes publicly. They adopt bad logic, use poor language, construct losing arguments, contradict themselves. Sure, they can practice writing in a private journal, but knowing the public won’t ever see those words makes the whole exercise something entirely different and unhelpful toward learning to write better for an audience.

I want to write professionally one day, so I’m committing to write at least one post here every day. I’m sure that means I’ll adopt bad logic, use poor language, construct losing arguments, contradict myself…all that and more. But I do it hoping it will make me better in the end.

That cheesy stuff aside, here’s an inspiring quote from James Altucher:

Every game, every industry, has its history. A history of successful business models, of successful people, of styles in which the game was played. Of colorful personalities.

If you don’t love the history of what want to master, then you will never master it.

Simon Rich, one of the funniest writers I have ever read, the youngest writer of SNL ever, and now working on two movies and a sitcom, said to me, “if you don’t wake up and want to write first thing, you probably shouldn’t be writing.”

In the course of our discussion he must’ve referred to 50 different books and comedians and movies, etc.

It’s like the movie Groundhog Day. Bill Murray relives every day over and over. He becomes a better person for it.

You can’t do that. You can’t relive the same day. But you can relive the thousands of days before you in the area you are most interested in by studying the history of the field you love.

Writers should of course constantly read. You can’t write a good book if you havn’t read 500 other good books. You can’t write a good screenplay if you haven’t watched 100s of movies and appreciate the beauty of specific shows from the 60s, the 70s and the various eras of movies that came after that.