How to Never Run Out of Things to Write About
Lessons on becoming a wordsmith
“How have the first three days of the New Year treated you so far?”
After this unexpected response, the guy working at the auto section of Wal-Mart went on to tell me that he just found out he had a pretty severe heart problem and would need surgery.
“Best of luck,” I said. I didn’t know what to say. Guy caught me off guard.
I wondered why he would tell a stranger about his heart condition. I wondered why he didn’t just engage in small talk. I wondered what happened in the decades leading up to this moment that led to him not only having his job but the disposition that came with it (even given the circumstances, I could sense his default state wasn’t exactly sunny).
I have experiences like this all the time. At any point in my life, someone or something can become a part of a story, a blog post, or a book. God, the universe, whatever, has designed me to write. I never run out of things to say.
Because I understand a very important truth.
I’ll die before I scratch the surface of what could be talked about.
If you want to be a good writer, do two things:
- Write a lot — The one thing that doesn’t need to be said, but always needs to be said
- Observe a lot — The less preoccupied you are with yourself and the more you’re curious about the world, the better writer you’ll become.
When you put this potent combination together, you’ll never run out of things to write about.
I’m sitting in a coffee shop writing this, right now.
The woman sitting diagonally from me is the manager of the Starbucks. She’s been sitting at this table periodically for the past few weeks. Highlighters, calendars, and notebooks in tow, she’s been working on hiring new staff for a new store that’s opening up in town.
I’ve overheard her training new employees and I can’t quite tell whether the way she talks about the career opportunities at Starbucks is sincere or simply a product of a type A hyper-organized person who can’t help but speak positively about towing a company line.
I wonder how she feels about her career.
Does she see her managerial role as a springboard to a better future? I know I certainly did when I was in a similar spot. Is she an overqualified college graduate who couldn’t find a job she wants in the industry she went to school for? The answer to both questions could be yes. Both could be no. But it’s fascinating to ponder.
I think about how a job like Starbucks can be seen through an infinite number of lenses — first job applied for and landed simultaneously, gig to make booze money, path to owning a franchise, lighthearted fun thing to kill time and make a little money, embarrassment for someone who didn’t save enough to retire and has to work there, productive distraction for an addict. Who knows.
I think about the cocktail of circumstances that leads anyone to any specific job — DNA & general disposition, upbringing, personality type, latent of focus, belief in the status quo, socio-economic starting point, luck, nepotism, hardworking, optimism, pessimism, so it goes.
I think about how life itself can be seen through an infinite number of lenses. And I’ll write about as many lenses as I can until I’m dead.
If you can’t seem to put the words on the page, there are a couple different of reasons why:
- You’re not looking hard enough — You’re not reading, observing, and most importantly living enough to have great material.
- You don’t write enough — This is probably it. I get inquiries about writing coaching almost weekly now. I turn them down. I will coach in the future, but honestly, my main piece of coaching advice is “write for five years.” The more you write, the better an observer you become. Writing should get easier over time. Writing is not hard for me. If it’s hard for you, write until it’s not.
- You’re self-centered — Nobody cares about your writing. If you never penned another word again, nobody would give a damn in either direction — negative or positive. At least, they wouldn’t give enough of a damn for you to fret over it so much. Just hit publish. I have some stories I’m truly ashamed of quality-wise that are floating around on the internet. It’s because of those stories, though, that I’m able to do what I do now.
I won’t leave you hanging, though.
Here are some concrete tips to become such a productive writer that you’ll never worry about running out of things to say again.
Master the Basics
I only teach writing the way I learned it.
I got my start by learning basic blogging techniques. Basic business writing techniques. I studied blogging from places like Copyblogger, Jon Morrow, and Jeff Goins.
I did all of the simple things, many of which I still do today:
- How to Articles
- Interesting introduction and first sentence
- 3 Paragraph essay structure
- Motivational close
- Use the word “You”
- Simple persuasion techniques
- Short punchy sentences and paragraphs
- Omit needless words
- Active voice
Because I practiced “blogging” — something many unsuccessful writers look down on — I’m able to be a “writer.” I doubt I would’ve been successful if I tried to do it the opposite way. Too many aspiring writers start pretentious and esoteric. You’ll have plenty of time to get there if you just work on the basics.
On top of that, understand the fundamentals of business writing and persuasion will give you a lens that most stuffy academic types of writers don’t have.
They’re boring. Doesn’t matter if they won some prize in some dumb niche writing magazine. The ‘streets’ don’t love them. Trust me, you want the adoration of the people, not the critics.
Anyway. Learning the basics gives you something you desperately need — work ethic. Once you write a lot and put yourself through the blogging paces, you’ll be able to write in many different ways.
Start Observing and Generating Ideas
Stealing James Altucher’s “10 ideas technique,” and using it almost solely to come up with blog post ideas was one of the best decisions I ever made. I’ve been writing 10 headline ideas for years now. In general, this helps me think more creatively.
I journal quite a bit to get into my own mind, which helps me get into the mind of others.
If you’re a real writer, you should never be too far away from a pen and paper so you can jot down new ideas. The more ideas you generate, the more you’ll become an active observer of life instead of someone who passively experiences it.
Build that strong idea muscle and all of a sudden you have too many ideas to run with, not too few.
Practice Blending Life and Art
In the beginning, you’re just learning the basics and trying to keep your head above water.
If you don’t have a consistent writing habit yet, just worry about that. I don’t care if you have to write 50 BS listicles in a row to get there. Do it. Write stuff.
After that, though, it’ll become much easier to naturally blend your life with your art. You’ll understand that “everything is material.”
Once you’re no longer a novice, focus on adding a little wrinkle of your personality into your work. Add your own unique observations from your life. Talk about the things you see.
People will love your writing when it genuinely feels like it’s coming from you — like no one else but you could write it.
I can’t tell you exactly how to get here.
I can’t necessarily teach you how to write.
I can give you the seeds, tools, frameworks, outlines, etc, but you’ll only truly get better at writing by writing.
You know that.
But you only know it intellectually. You don’t know it emotionally yet. You haven’t felt the visceral itch to constantly write yet because you haven’t written enough. You haven’t embraced writing yet.
You don’t understand that this is what writing is like:
“Writing is like going to bed with a beautiful woman and afterwards she gets up, goes to her purse and gives me a handful of money.” — Charles Bukowski
You’ll get there though.
Just write something, friend.