I’m Lou Franco and this is episode 19 of Write While True.
The name of this podcast is a program that goes into an infinite loop, and that’s because I think of writing as an infinite game.
I’m not playing it to win, I’m playing it because it’s fun.
It’s like a game of catch, which is even more fun when you get better at it, but the only way to do that is to keep playing.
So in each episode, I’ll tell you something I learned about writing and then I’ll throw you the ball with a writing challenge or prompt, so you can try it too.
This is season two, which is about restarting after stopping.
I’m exploring this topic in the context of restarting this podcast after a two-year hiatus.
I was struggling with this week’s Podcast
In season 1, I was able to release 15 episodes on a weekly basis. In season 2, I am trying to do better than that. I am committed to at least that many episodes, and also on a weekly basis. To do that I generated a bunch of ideas, which is the one thing I can do that makes it easy to make podcasts. I talked about this idea in episode 12.
The topic for this week was to talk about why I am committed to honing rather than perfection. I have written on this topic more than once, and I have a lot of things to say about it.
But all week, I struggled to come up with some kind of framework or story to tie it all together. I’ve settled on a format for these episodes that I learned from Toastmasters. The first part of each podcast is to talk about a struggle in my life that is particular to me. A story. And then after that to tell you how I made progress. Then, I try to draw a general conclusion, a rule-of-thumb, or a practice — and finally, I try to give you something to try to apply it to your own writing.
When it came to this topic, I was struggling with filling in that format completely. I tried different tactics, but I wasn’t getting anywhere.
Normally, I have the episode of the podcast recorded at least a few days before I need to launch it, but I woke up this morning, on Episode 19’s launch day, with no recording, no script. Not even an outline or honestly any clue how to proceed.
I was thinking of pushing the launch day back to tomorrow. But, if I wanted to do that, I would need to replace today’s blog post (which would normally be the podcast) to one of my banked posts, so I looked over the blog posts that I had scheduled to come out later this week, and I saw one that I wrote about how Chat GPT generates text a lot like how I do morning pages.
If you are just coming to this podcast on this episode, I have to tell you that I talk about Morning Pages a lot. It was the subject of Episode 1. Listen to that for the full description of what they are or read the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, which is where I was introduced to the idea.
The main thing to know is that I start each morning by writing three pages of long hand writing in an automatic stream of consciousness style. I never show them to anyone and they aren’t meant to be published. The point is to train my brain to generate text on demand.
ChatGPT was trained by giving excerpts of text from the web and having it guess the next word. In the training it developed a statistical model of language that could be generally applied to any text.
We use it by providing a prompt. It takes that prompt and uses its statistical model to generate one word. Then it takes the prompt and that one word and generates the second word. Then it takes the prompt and the two words so far and uses that to generate the third word of the response. And so on and so on.
In a way it’s in a Write While True infinite loop. To avoid that, it has also learned that it’s possible that there is no next word, and so, eventually, it stops.
In my article I pointed out that the big difference between my morning pages and ChatGPT is that my pages are incoherent and ChatGPT responses are much more likely to be a straightforward, on-topic, well-structured answer to the prompt.
That’s because ChatGPT considers all of previous words when generating the next one, and I don’t. I am only considering very recent words as I carry forward or maybe at most the last couple of sentences.
If you read the entire thing, I would have a couple of sentences in a row here and there that make some sense, but overall, it’s not well-structured in any way. My pages tend to stray from topic to topic because I’m not considering the entire text.
Also, and this is the breakthrough I had today, I don’t prompt my morning pages.
Prompting helped me break through
This morning, when I realized this, I decided that I wanted to use my morning pages as a way of helping me break through the problem that I’m having, to develop a way to talk about honing.
So, I came up with a prompt before I started my morning pages. The prompt was: “Think of a time where you practiced honing and how did it change you?”. Then I proceeded as I normally do with morning pages. Not stopping to think about that prompt, but just writing what came to mind as fast as I could. If I saw myself stray in any way, I just tried to bring the the prompt to mind again and again and kept going. It influenced what I wrote.
I didn’t stop to consider what my answer to the prompt would be and I didn’t stop to consider where the story should go or to try to make the story make sense in any way, meaning I was not trying to structure it in a way that it would be easy to consume later.
I wanted it to be as much like the morning pages experience as possible. Training myself to write on demand.
In the end, the result was still kind of incoherent (which is good) I don’t really want morning pages to feel like real writing. But my sentences were all various takes on the prompt. I have about three pages of ideas that could be the basis of that podcast, which I’m going to try to do for next week.
At the end of the pages, I thought, well, this week I could talk about morning pages and the idea of prompting, which I did, and this episode is the result.
If you’ve listened to this podcast before, if you’re a subscriber, you have definitely heard me talk about morning pages before. I do it over and over again and I hope you are doing them.
If you’re not doing morning pages, listen to episode one, maybe read The Artist’s Way. It’s right in the beginning of the book. And start doing it. I can’t stress enough how important it is to be able to train your brain to write on demand in this automatic way. It carries over into writing you intend to publish.
When I stopped doing it, I also stopped writing regularly. And when I restarted doing morning pages, I went right back to publishing regularly. I talked about this last week in Episode 18.
If you have been doing morning pages for a while, I think it would be interesting to try prompting your morning pages. The important thing is that you come up with the prompt before you start.
You want to start your morning pages without thinking at all. So, come up with the prompt beforehand. And start by writing it down and then just go. Don’t stop to think about what the answer is. Do your best. And if you don’t answer the prompt, that’s fine. Just keep writing. You don’t want to mess up what the point of morning pages were to begin with. As you go from sentence to sentence, if it occurs to you that you’re straying from the prompt, just think about the prompt again.
You don’t have to go back and read it. You don’t have to go back and read anything you’ve written so far. Just try to bring the prompt to mind. Keep it simple so that it’s easy to do that.
For me, what that was, in my example, was what I’m going to use as the subject of next week’s podcast: how practicing honing has changed me in the past.
For you, you could use it to working through a problem at work or working through your own writing or areas where you might be struggling to come up with an idea.
Try this tomorrow when you’re doing your morning pages. Come up with a prompt, write it down and then just go. As you write, try to bring the prompt to mind.
Thanks for listening. This has been Write While True, a podcast where we’re ok with infinite loops, as long as they’re fun.