I know I don’t write these very often. It’s not that I don’t have fascinating things to share all the time. Rather, I employ a deliberate content strategy based on artificial scarcity. Like DeBeers does with diamonds. Is it working? …hello?
I gave the site a quick design refresh. If you’re recommending this to a friend, you know what to do.
(That was a trap. We never recommend the Maven Game, remember?)
Also, rocket scientist and law professor Ozan Varol interviewed me for his new Famous Failures project. (I didn’t have the heart to tell him about the famous part.)
Creativity isn’t about keeping your nose clean; it’s about getting into trouble.
My son and I went to see Wonder Woman this weekend. (My wife was too busy taking care of our daughter. Men, amirite?)
There’s a moment in the film—no spoilers—when our heroes are pinned down in a British trench along the Western Front. Diana wants to go help some innocent people in the distance. Her “guy-Lois” Steve mansplains to her that the ground between trenches is known as “No Man’s Land” for a reason.
“No man can cross it!” (Emphasis Chris Pine’s, bless him.)
Can you imagine a better setup for Wonder Woman to pop on her Amazonian tiara and charge a machine gun nest? You can’t, don’t bother.
It’s a transcendent scene, but even as I enjoyed it I couldn’t help but picture screenwriter Allan Heinberg at his desk, face lit with joy at the moment he came up with it.
“Man, the Ritalin is really kicking in!” he whispered to himself. “I am a golden god.”
I wondered whether the “No Man’s Land” bit sealed DC’s decision to set the film during the first World War instead of the second.
(“No, Diana, that atomic bomb was developed by the Manhattan Project—no man can stop it!”)
Then I realized they were only worried that Wonder Woman would feel like a carbon copy of Captain America with Chris Pine instead of Chris Evans as the resident Steve. “No Man’s Land” couldn’t have hurt, though.
(It’s worth noting that Captain America spends the 20th century frozen in ice while Wonder Woman spends it investing in a carefully diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds, judging from her posh office and spiffy Android tablet. The future is female.)
My point here—and if you read these things all the way to the end, you know that I often have one—is that there are few joys to compare with the flash of inspiration. That moment when the whole bubbling mess coalesces and you suddenly see where you’ve been headed all along.
The author’s challenge is to keep writing without flashes of inspiration. Inspiration is fickle, like Tinkerbell in Hook. “You wait until I’m married with kids to tell me that you can grow to human size? WTF, Julia Roberts!”
Writing without inspiration is what separates writers from the rest of us. It’s monumentally difficult and it never gets easier. In this retrospective on Hunter S. Thompson’s work at Rolling Stone, Patrick Doyle quotes from a letter Thompson wrote in 1998, wallowing in depression long after his heyday:
My central memory of that time is that everything we were doing seemed to work. . . . Buy the ticket, take the ride. Like an amusement park.
Fueled by alcohol and drugs and perfect timing, Thompson achieved phenomenal and rapid success and cultural impact. When the drugs stopped working and the culture changed, writing for him went from an amusement park to a house of horrors.
Writers tend to overemphasize the importance and significance of their first book. They sincerely believe that when they finish it, the rest will be downhill. The truth they discover is that it only gets harder. There are many reasons for this. Regardless, the bar is raised. A rare few take the next leap anyway.
The only thing that makes writing easier is to accept the fact that it never gets easier. Completing a project hardens you. The next time, the challenge is greater but so is your capacity to persist.