In my few years of ghostwriting, I’ve publicly pretended to be multiple relatively high-profile gay men who, if you have cable, literally might be on your television right now. As I wrote for these men, throwing myself into their voices without ever actually watching their design shows, my instincts screamed the word “fabulous” basically every time I needed a positive adjective.
Then I remembered that I should probably do some research about the people I was imitating, and read their blogs and social media feeds (which in all probability were at least partially ghostwritten by another dude just like me) to find not one use of the token-gay-friend-in-a-’90s-sitcom go-to word. Lesson being: People are complex, no matter how much you may find yourself trying to simplify them into something replicatable, something thinly defined.
Write steadily for the entire time. Use this as an opening: “I have a story to tell.” Your writing could look like this: I have a story to tell. No I don’t. Oh fuck. Nothing’s coming. I feel like an idiot. Why did I start this? Okay go back. I have a story to tell…about…nothing…about the time I fell in love in the middle of the worst blizzard in Northern Arizona…
This tactic works. One of the students in my writing circle wrote blah blah blah for three pages. A year later, she beat me in a national writing contest.
SO OFTEN in travel writing — particularly in travel blogs — there’s a total absence of character interaction, as if the narrator operated inside a vacuum. He or she will be in whatever given terrain — a cave in Ireland, a cafe in Buenos Aires, on a river in Western North Carolina — and either there will be no mention of other characters at all, or if there is, they’ll be stripped down to the most mechanical, perfunctory level.
The clumsiest instances of this are when other characters simply show up through some (typically overblown) plot point. For example, halfway through a story about rafting on the Chattooga, a nameless “guide” to whom we’ve had no introduction, no prior description, suddenly appears:
As we dug in and headed toward the biggest rapid, the guide yelled, “All forward!”
Who is this nameless guide? Did he or she suddenly just drop into the raft from space?
Your best friend wants to go to the movies or head to the wine bar for $4 glasses of wine. Your significant other wants attention. Netflix streaming is begging you to just watch one more episode of that show you’ve been binge watching. There are always opportunities to get distracted and do something, anything other than write.
LAST YEAR, I attended the Sundance Film Festival. It was my first time ever in Park City as a film critic or journalist, and as such, I had very little access to movies, people, or cheap-enough food. A month later, I wrote in an article for Matador called On coming to terms with your mortality at a film festival that I had had trouble sleeping and was overindulging in expensive coffee in the presence of great movies. The travel, the expense, the hustle-and-bustle of Park City in 2013 — it was all too overwhelming.
IT’S COLD. The air is stinging my ears and my hands are numb. I pull back on my gloves and resume huddling in the conner of the courtyard. It’s December in Aleppo and the air is bitter, but the overwhelming sense of dread comes not from the cold, but from overhead. Early morning, midday, through the night — the aerial bombardment doesn’t stop. The sound of a jet buzzing overhead and those terrible trails of white streaming from the underbelly as missiles launch. Distant blasts and then closer ones. Mortar strikes as well. Silence and then an explosion.
1. Wake up at the same time every day — and do it early. If waking up early isn’t your thing, set your alarm for 5 minutes earlier than normal. Get used to it. Then 5 more minutes. Your body adapts quickly — give it a shot.
2. Have a routine for the first thing(s) you do when you wake up. It may sound insignificant, but there’s a compound factor to starting your day off with small routines that sets you up to stay on track for the rest of the day.