time to make the donuts
Repetition is the only form of permanence that Nature can achieve.George Santayana
It’s two in the afternoon on a Thursday as I sit down to write this thing.
(Fancying myself a bit of a Montaigne, I call these “essays” but I accept that anything longer than a paragraph on the Internet is a “thing,” as in, “I read this thing the other day where the guy said he fancied himself a bit of a Montaigne, yada yada, I unsubscribed.”)
Anyway, yeah, mid-week afternoon. Talk about resistance. Talk about brain fog. Talk about—what was I talking about again?
Recently, I’ve shifted my writing session from Saturday to Sunday morning. I wasn’t happy about it. For some time now, I’ve enjoyed imagining all eleven of you sitting down to read this on Saturday afternoons. Each week, you’d scroll past all the important work emails of the previous week (and the vastly more popular newsletters already in your inbox) to enjoy the Maven Game on the spacious screen of your 12.9″ iPad Pro in all its digital glory—or maybe you’d print it out, where it belongs, on sumptuous vellum. Leaning back, you’d take a delicate sip of French press Sumatra from a porcelain demitasse while preparing to engage with the weekly musings of a fiery wit (of penetrating intelligence, to boot). Your hair: a bit of gray at the temples. Your glasses: the silver wire-rimmed kind only models portraying entrepreneurs in stock photography wear. Your cardigan: cardiganesque. (This look works for you regardless of your gender or body composition.)
After reading a paragraph or two, you’d let out a rueful chuckle, as if to say “Moldawer, you got me again, you ingenious rascal—touché!” Then, growing pensive, you’d gaze out through the sweeping floor-to-ceiling windows of your mountain cabin to take in the majestic vista unfurling in both directions as your thoughts turned to your latest work-in-progress. “Could this wily provocateur be right yet again? Could this really be the answer?” Fired up with inspiration, you’d dash to your trusty Olivetti. “At last, to complete my masterpiece!”
That was Saturday. Now it’s Sunday. No more relaxed contemplation for you. No mountain vistas unfurling—or whatever vistas do—and, since you spilled coffee on your cardigan yesterday, you’re wearing a navy-blue Champion sweatshirt with the neck-tag sticking out. Those wire-rimmed glasses are askew and your hair has gone completely stress-white. You look (and feel) like Steve Martin on salvia. It being Sunday, you’re at the zoo, or the natural history museum, scrolling on your phone neurotically as all five kids—wacked out on the coffee ice cream you unwisely let them order at lunch—mutter incoherently to each other about the antics of their favorite Twitch streamers.
Now, cue the Maven Game. Subject line: abstruse. First several paragraphs: meandering and often obscure. You’ll read it on the commute or something, you decide. With a swipe, my carefully wrought “thing” wafts to the bottom of your Gmail inbox like a cold fart, settling beneath the third welcome email from a new app you don’t even remember signing up for three weeks ago.
(The fart is cold because hot air rises. The Maven Game: Scientific Accuracy in Every Metaphor.)
When my authors struggle to find their authentic voice, I suggest they start by designing an intended reader—a specific, fully realized person to whom they can imagine writing an email. Cabin Cardigan is mine. And this archetype doesn’t want to get the Maven Game on Sundays.
Another thing. I’d built up a swole Saturday morning writing muscle over the last few months of consistent output. Simply sitting down to work, same day/time/place, I’d developed a good, strong writing habit. I hadn’t even realized how strong until I transitioned to a Sunday start at a different location (my favorite café is closed on Sundays). Different day, different place—I felt like I’d forgotten how to go off on a decent tangent!
I’ve since remembered.
I can’t write on Saturday mornings anymore, that’s true. But I can get one week ahead, as I’m doing now. This way, you can enjoy a (finely aged) Maven Game before you descend from your mountain retreat, and I can work on next week’s thing on Sunday.
Don’t underestimate the importance of routine. DTP: stick to the same Day-Time-Place when you write. Hell or high water. Do it five times. Ten. It may not feel like it’s making any difference, but try breaking your DTP once you’ve established it and you’ll see how powerful that momentum has gotten in a relatively short time.
If you’re struggling, try Focusmate. I discovered it last week through this writer’s experience. It’s a free accountability tool (premium on the way) that pairs you with another user for a 50-minute head-down working session. You each sit there and work with your cameras and mics on. Astonishingly, the virtual presence of a stranger, in my experience over a bunch of sessions, is a legit performance-enhancing drug.
Anything it takes, people.
If you do give Focusmate a try, see if you can line up a session with me. We’ll enjoy spending an hour ignoring each other.
One more thing. Years ago, Matthew Butterick, Red Baron to my Snoopy (and creator of Equity, the mavengame.com typeface), wrote a remarkable essay about Medium entitled “The Billionaire’s Typewriter.” Butterick has updated it again and his latest thoughts are well worth a read. If you haven’t read the original, start at the top. Otherwise, jump straight to the update.
(Unlike me, Butterick always writes essays, not things.)