9 Simple Mental Models I Use to Write 30 High-Quality Pieces Every Month
Tip 5: Write a drunk email to a friend
Hello, my name is Sergey, and I write 3,000–4,000 words every single day. Sometimes more. I’ve been doing that for almost six months now. And as any content creator will tell you, the hardest part is not the writing per se, it’s sitting down to write. But the ability to create consistently, build momentum, and ship when the bell rings separate the professional writer/blogger from the amateur.
Ten Things I Tell Myself When I Feel Stuck in My Writing
1. Do your job
A few weeks ago, I woke up at 1 a.m. because the fire alarm in my apartment building went off. I got up, grabbed my passport, took my sweetheart by the arm, and went outside using a fire escape route.
“It’s going to be OK,” I said cinematically squinting my eyes like Bruce Willis.
The whole building stood outside (it was a cold January night in London) in their pajamas, waiting for something to happen.
Nothing happened. At about the time when my left testicle was about to freeze to my left leg, the sleepy concierge slowly walked over to his computer and turned the alarm off. False alarm. We all went back to sleep.
Now, imagine the following scenario: The alarm went off, everyone hurried downstairs, but the concierge decided that he doesn’t feel like doing anything tonight. You know, a “concierge block” or something. Maybe he couldn’t connect to the Muse the day before.
Apart from the fact that he would get beaten up by sleepy freezing tenants, it’s just ridiculous. “He has to do his job,” you might say.
But so do you.
If you’re a content creator of any kind, your job is to create. Your job is to write (for simplicity’s sake, let’s assume you’re a writer), and your readers are waiting for something new, valuable, and inspiring.
Failing to do so would be neglecting your duty. Don’t overthink it. Just do your job.
2. One million words
“Imagine that you have one million words inside of you,” said the award-winning author Neil Gaiman, replying to the question asked by a young man in the audience, “and they are all rubbish. Get them all out.”
Just as a kid doesn’t learn to walk by watching other kids walk, a writer only learns to write by producing a large volume of work.
You have one million words inside of you, and they’re blocking you from producing great content. Get them all out.
3. The 1% Rule
I remind myself of this mental trick from James Altucher every time I feel stuck: Improving at something daily will make me better at it than 99% of the population in just 12 months.
This is the 1% rule at work: If you improve at something just 1% per day, you’ll be more than 37 times better at it in a year.
Don’t strive for perfection. Focus on the progress instead: Improve one percent today. You’ll be a spectacular writer in a year.
4. Have bad ideas
You put your hands over your head and whisper, “Fuck, I don’t have any good ideas…what’s wrong with me?!” That’s what people refer to as a writer’s block.
I prefer Seth Godin’s take on this, though: “Nobody has a writer’s block. What we do have is a ‘writing perfectly block’.”
To combat it, it makes sense then to write poorly. To have bad ideas. It’s an illusion to think that if you’re a creative and deeply passionate about something, ideas come flowing from you like water from a garden hose.
One good idea is almost always the by-product of having nine bad ideas.
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Have bad ideas. Tim Ferriss gives similar advice, “Write two crappy pages per day.” It doesn’t even matter what you call a page.
As Seth Godin said, “I write as I talk, and I never saw anybody have a talker’s block.”
5. Write a drunk email to a friend
Research was conducted by teachers almost two decades ago. The class was given the assignment to write two essays, one using a computer text editor and the other using just pen and paper.
Most students scored higher when typing on a computer.
There is something magical about the computer typing. As if the ability to type, press backspace, and type again takes the pressure off and makes it easier to write.
To produce great writing, you shouldn’t put too much pressure on yourself. The key to winning in any game is most usually not trying too hard.
When I write my blog posts, I tell myself something I heard from an interview with Kevin Kelly: Write as if you’re writing an email to a friend after having two glasses of wine.
It feels so much better than trying to sound serious or smart. If you’re writing an email to a friend, you can be fun, creative, and use words like fuck. And that’s exactly how a good blog post should be.
6. Write first, then edit
This one is simple, yet ultra-powerful. Never write and edit at the same time.
Have two modes:
- writing mode — in which you enter a ‘flow’ state, and write everything you think about. If you feel stuck, stop. Then continue writing.
- editing mode — in which you cut 30–40% of what you’ve written. Brevity is almost always correlated with quality. Plus, cutting stuff out feels better than writing!
When you write, keep your internal editor off-limits. They will have their say later.
7. You can only control your effort
No matter how hard you try, you can’t ever fully control the outcome. This is something Stoic philosophers (Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus) refer to as dichotomy of control.
There are things you can control: your effort, intent, discipline, sitting to write each day. And then there are things you can’t control: how many followers you get, what people will think of you and your work, etc.
Focus only on what you can control: making the next piece as good as you possibly can. And let the rest take care of itself.
8. It’s a numbers game
In blogging, writing, and art in general, success may take a long time to appear. Yet, it only takes one big hit for you to become noticed. And once that happens, people will talk about you as an overnight success.
Nobody will know (or care) that you’ve spent years enhancing your craft.
It’s a numbers game. And nobody cares about your life as much as you do. Want to become a viral blogger? Write 1,000 blog posts and maybe one of them will go viral. Write ten books, and maybe one of them will become a bestseller.
As Neil Gaiman reminds us, no matter what happens, “make good art.”
9. You can’t edit the blank page
Creating art of any kind takes courage. The difference between courage and recklessness is that the latter is action without fear.
Courage is action despite fear.
You’re afraid because you don’t want to judge yourself. You’re experiencing something that Ira Glass calls, “the gap” — between your killer taste (as an artist, you have a great taste) and your not-so-good-yet creation.
But something is better than nothing. One is better than zero. The key to producing good art is to beat the resistance, to create something even though you are afraid.
No matter what you write, you can always edit later.
What you can’t edit is the perfection of a blank page.
Thank you so much for reading.