Write While True Episode 24: Transcript

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I’m Lou Franco and this is episode 24 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.

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 a prompt.

I’m rereading Art & Fear

Last week I talked about how I want to take a break from recording this podcast, but I don’t want to take a break from publishing it.

This episode is scheduled to be published on July 2nd, but I am recording the audio on June 21st along with last week’s episode and the next three.

June 21 is an auspicious date, because on June 21, 2021, I published Episode 15. I didn’t publish episode 16 until two years later. I took a break because I needed one, but then it broke all of my momentum.

Last week I spoke about how I am banking episodes so that I can take a break, but still publish on schedule.

One of the things that got me back to podcasting after a two year break was rereading Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. I first spoke about this book in episode 11.

This is a book that challenges you to create art. It was written to answer the question of why so many people that start to create eventually quit. They want to help you not to quit.

This time, while I was reading it, I kept a lot of notes and found four themes that resonated with me and helped me get going again. So, I’m going to talk about those over the next four episodes. This is the first of a four-part series on lessons I learned from rereading Art & Fear.

The secret to being prolific

The first theme is very practical. It’s what they think is the secret to being prolific. For the past two months I have been applying it a lot.

Here’s the quote:

One of the best kept secrets of artmaking is that new ideas come into play far less frequently than practical ideas — ideas that can be re-used for a thousand variations, supplying the framework for a whole body of work rather than a single piece.

I understand that they mean this to be ideas that generate work potentially for years. I have an iOS app that is about 15 years old. My app tutorial site, App-o-Mat, passed 9 years in February. Maybe this podcast will be another example. I hope to create hundreds of episodes, which will span years.

But I also think it works in the small, ideas that generate weeks of work or months of work. Maybe they’ll build up into a larger whole.

I started doing that more in my blog. Instead of having an idea for something to write about, I think about how that idea might have different variations. Maybe not a thousand, like they suggest, but at least four, five, a dozen variations. That’s enough to generate work for weeks.

For example, I’m interested in GitHub Copilot. In the past, I would have written a post about it. But, now I have about eight posts with different ways of thinking about it.

When WWDC rolls around each year, I usually write a one or two post reaction to it. This time, I decided to really think about the Vision Pro, and instead of dumping all those thoughts into one post, I did one on the pricing and another one on possible accessories. I have five posts about it right now, and I have several more ideas. I think I could be writing about the Vision Pro up until it comes out.

So I no longer try to have an idea for a post. I try to have ideas that are big enough to generate a dozen posts. I put those ideas into my topic list.

Another thing I do, I discussed this in Episode 6. A lot of times my first drafts are kind of rambling, they’re not as bad as a morning page or even a prompted morning page, but they are still rambling.

I talked about how I was inspired to make bad first drafts by Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird. I talked about that in Episode 3.

But the way I edit is I think of a single message to a single reader, and then I go through and remove anything that isn’t consistent with that message to that reader.

But I don’t throw it away, I take each of those paragraphs and I use them as a seed for another post. I put them in Obsidian in a new note and then I add a link to it in my topic list. I’ll be able to write about it on another day.

So letting myself ramble on and on is actually a good way of generating a first draft and potentially two or more ideas that I can develop.

Sometimes those ideas are background information.

A lot of times the reason I’m rambling is because I think I need to explain something that’s not my main point, but you need to know to understand my point. So some of these ramblings become blog posts that I actually publish before the blog post I was actually working on, and then I can link back to them.

It feels like I had a plan and built up to the blog post I’m on, but actually that plan has been retconned into existence after the fact.

Try to have generative ideas

So here are a couple of things to try.

The next time you have a long first draft, one that seems to have a lot of asides and a lot of explanation, try to break that down into three, four, maybe even a dozen smaller posts that build up to the bigger idea over time.

And when you have an idea, try to think of that idea as a collection of work, not a single piece. What you’re trying to do is give yourself something where you can explore multiple variations.

Try to generate days or weeks of work at first. Maybe you’ll find something that inspires you for years.

Thanks for listening. This has been Write While True, a podcast where we’re okay with infinite loops as long as they’re fun.