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How I Write
I write at my desk with a pen in hand, and sun, and nothing. Who would have guessed? All those years at a keyboard, and I arrive at this. A center more spontaneous, but plainer. More limited, but deeper. The commonest of all ways to write, but yielding work more uniquely my own! Contradictions like these are how I know I've found the heart of something. Not everything with contradictions is good, but only good things have these kinds of contradictions.
How do I write? I write down on paper whatever pops into my head. I take a pen to page and, when that page is full, I rip it out of my notebook and put it on my desk. I put a rock over the paper to keep it in its place. Eventually, I type the notes up and sort them. Just writing and sorting. That's the whole of the method.
On the sorting: I use a computer. Don’t overthink it.
On the writing: Just write. Trust the pen-on-page. In the silence of my writing—there's where the magic's kept. A steady hand and pen and enough talking to busy my voice while my pen hand rests. I can drink tea until the madness sets in, which it never does. Most days, a meeting interrupts me first. On the other days, kava does.
I use my father's fountain pen, which is perfect because it works and it's already in my hand. Those qualities make a good thing perfect. As I write, the pen becomes invisible. A mental illusion that sprouts from just-so use.
I write on paper. Good paper is inexpensive, sustainable enough in comparison to the energy requirements of internet use, and easy to rip out of the notebook it came in.
I listen to music while I write. I use my dad’s stereo receiver from college, a Kenwood solid-state amplifier with an aluminium front. It has 60 years of grime on it. The stain of use. I plug my phone into it, Do Not Disturb mode.
To type up writing and sort it, I use Obsidian. I like Obsidian because I can link things together and it stays out of my way. I spent years using Emacs, and I felt I was always fussing with it. Never fuss.
I read and revise on a Remarkable tablet. It’s the closest thing to paper that I can send a file to.
Who needs more? Stuff is dumb. You get a new thing, where are you going to put it? That’s a question I ask myself before I purchase any durable good. Where will it live? It turns out I enjoy coveting things more than I enjoy possessing them. Pens are especially funny because it's so obviously the case that it's what you do with the pen that matters. All pens write, and great pens are free if you're up for some petty theft. Yet some pens are so expensive. I get why. The way they look and feel can radically shape and structure your desire to use them. If I had a tip, it would be to pay as little as you can for the best pen that never gives you trouble.
My Top Tips
Pen on paper, whatever pops into your head. The more fleeting and spontaneous the inputs, the easier everything is to plan. The less there is to plan.
When I want to run away, that's typically the moment just before something great happens. That moment of craving distraction, stimulation, kava, anything. Stay. Continue. Something great is just waiting to be born. This effect is so reliable that I've come to savor those moments of wanting to run away with a giddy anticipation of what might come next.
Time away from screens creates space for other things, for things others don't do. That's really how I do my work. Whittling the day away, writing whatever pops into my head, and sorting through it all as I'm able and willing. It doesn't take nearly as long as one might expect. If anything, it takes silence and aloneness. But only in bursts and increments. I believe in extremes. Explore extremes. But the extreme of aloneness has been explored, and there’s not enough there. Never leave society.
As much as life allows, remove “time urgency.” I learned this term recently from research on “blue zones,” places where people live longer than average. It refers to a fixation on the passage of time (interpret the word “fixation” as you will). Time urgency has been a constant in my adult life, at least since high school, perhaps before, but I had never questioned its role in my life as such. Even when I removed meetings from my calendar, as I've always loved to do, I'd fill my calendar right back up with other regimented activities—events labeled things like, “Writing.” Removing time urgency is good for writing because it's good for my brain, and I think that comes out in my writing.
Proofread. More than you think you need to. Wait longer. Read it out loud. Read it in different places. Read it after some time away.
Tell everyone. Don't worry about “wasting good ideas.” You need to express an idea at least ten times before anyone pays attention to it. By then, the idea will be better, and you’ll be better at telling it.
Light your house. Dark rooms make winter colder.