writing is thirsty work

First: my friend Michael Margolis has a new book coming out in October: Story 10x. It’s about getting your business’s story straight—an admirable goal.

In announcing the book to his mailing list, Michael mentioned “Moldawer’s Rule” (technically, Moldawer’s Law, but I forgive you, Michael): authors tend to struggle the most in their own area of expertise. In Michael’s words:

If you’re going to write a book on time management, you’re going to be a walking hot mess with how you manage your writing deadlines. If you’re going to write a book on meditation, you’ll be the most un-zen person behind closed doors.

I know I’m biased because it’s my law, but this is always true. Always.

And it isn’t really my rule or my law. As I’ve said before, it was actually Esalen’s Law first, and at some point it was probably Ug’s Law. (Ug edited cuneiform tablets with a chisel.) Whatever you call it and whoever coined it, Michael’s been facing it in writing his own book:

I’m being asked to lower my guard and practice what I preach in ways I didn’t even know were out of alignment. The Moldawer Rule in full effect. Now, it all makes sense—of course, my own fears, hangups, and childhood traumas have defined this quest.

This is why writing a book is such a profound and vital experience, regardless of what you end up doing with the finished product. It’s pure Joseph Campbell—you go into the cave and strike down Darth Vader only to see your own face underneath the mask.

Thankfully, Michael’s quest is at an end—minus the lightsaber duel—and we can all go pre-order the book on Amazon.

There’s also a plant—I’ve never seen it, but I’m told you can cut a piece the size of a heart from this plant and the next day it will be filled with a delicious liquid.The English Patient

You’re stuck on an island. What’s the first thing you do? (“Pop quiz, hot shot.“)

You could spend time in all sorts of productive ways: constructing a wattle and daub hut for shelter (and YouTube fame), foraging for fruit like limes and coconuts (and then putting the lime in the coconut), or listening to that one album you selected in an online desert-island quiz all those years ago (“Sure, I like ‘Go Your Own Way’ and ‘Don’t Stop,’ but did I really think I was going to spend the rest of my natural life listening to Rumours over and over? I think I’ll just let the fire ants devour me.”)

While all of these things will need to happen eventually, you have to put first things first if you intend to survive. Find water. You can’t last long without it, particularly in hot conditions, and finding water takes time. There might be a small stream—you’ll need to improvise a way of collecting that trickle. When it does rain, you’ll want hollowed-out gourds to capture as much of the downpour as possible. Later, as you build and forage and listen to Fleetwood Mac on that (miraculously intact) vinyl record player, fresh water will accumulate. By the time you’re thirsty, that water will be ready to drink. You’ll thank yourself for your foresight.

Water is unpredictable. Sometimes it’s scarce, sometimes it’s steady, sometimes there’s a deluge. All you can do is create caches so that when the water does flow, you retain as much as possible for the dry times ahead.

Likewise when writing a book. I think I’ve talked before about the importance of starting your platform-building efforts before you get too involved in writing your book proposal. Same idea—growing an audience takes time and the process can’t wait until you’re already seeking a publisher.

Here, I’m talking about the contents of the book itself. Don’t wait until you’re sitting down at your laptop to come up with your material. Like water, ideas are unpredictable. Sometimes they flow. More often, they don’t. What many would-be writers mean by “writer’s block” is simply that they didn’t plan ahead and start collecting any trickles in advance. Now they’re stranded on a blank page with nothing to drink.

To write a book, you need ideas, relevant ideas pertaining directly to the project in front of you. Ideas that fit beneath the parts and chapters and subheads and sub-subheads of your overall structure.

The conscious mind represents only a tiny fraction of the brain. You’ve got all kinds of stuff in back of it: towns, factories, roads, bridges. Tremendous processing power, huge computing potential, most of it lying inert until you tell it that you have a problem to solve. Then, watch out. Your brain is very happy to puzzle away indefinitely with all that untapped capacity. You just need to give it an objective.

The cache method is simple but effective. Take a simple outline of your book, or a mind map (RIP, Tony Buzan). The order of ideas isn’t important. Now create a blank note for each chapter topic in the note-taking application of your choice. (Or, you know, in a notebook.) These are your caches.

From now on, look through your caches every morning. Then go about your day. Take a shower. Showers provide both water and ideas. (Talk about a mixed metaphor.) As your conscious mind wanders and your loofah loofahs (?), those rivulets of snowmelt will make their way down from the mountain peaks of your mind. By the time you’re toweling off your tootsies, you’ll have something—a few drops, maybe more—to add to the relevant cache.

Whether it’s a fragment of a thought or a major breakthrough isn’t important. Once you’ve established them, your caches will fill. Slowly or quickly, they will fill. Never again will you wash up on a blank page unprepared.

Stay thirsty, my friends.

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