Don’t write like you think ‘writers’ write

Image: Dino Reichmuth

Just a quick one today. Why is this so hard to do?…

“Relax, stop thinking, write with your lightning fingers, write like you think and speak and dream, not like you think Writers write; write with the cadence and music of all the hymns and fables and songs and poems and curses and slurs you ever heard swirling in your memory; write fast and let the sentences sprint and whirl as they will. You can always tinker later; you can always give up snarling and feed the draft to the fire; but you cannot always catch the way something spills out of your belly and your bones through your fingertips onto the page, unless you learn to let go, turn off your brain, take ideas and feelings out for canters on the open beach of the empty page and see what happens.” 
— Brian Doyle

(Thanks, again, for sending this my way, Krithika Rangarajan)


To get Jonasshort daily vignettes delivered straight to your inbox as soon as they’re live, click here.

If you enjoyed this piece, proclaim your love to the world by recommending it below. Thanks!

On longhand vs. typing

I know. Most of my favorite writers swear by it. Writing longhand.

Neil Gaiman. Wayne Dyer. Julia Cameron. Neale Donald Walsch. Steven Pressfield. I could go on…

All write longhand and swear by it.

They say the written word is perfect for ideas to flow out onto the page. And that the computer should only be used for editing.

Well, I’ve tried hand writing. It’s nice and all. But it also kind of sucks. My wrist starts to hurt. And, it’s slow. So certain ideas and thoughts escape me before they make it onto the page safely.

I have no tolerance for anything that stands between me and the work.

This is why I like the keyboard. Everything makes it onto the page for the first draft. The route from brain to page is almost unhampered.

I will say, it IS sometimes too easy to delete with the keyboard, though. With handwriting, you can scratch things out, but you can still see them if you decide later to use them. So be careful with the delete button (in Draft, you can set it to Hemingway mode and it won’t let you delete — problem solved).

One day, I’d love to give the written word a solid chance. But right now, I’m sticking with the keyboard.

Sorry, writing greats.


If you enjoyed this piece, hit the green ‘recommend’ button below to proclaim your love to the world and share it with your friends. Thanks!

Jonas stands on his soapbox daily at Medium. To get his meditations delivered straight to your inbox as soon as they’re live, click here.

What I learned after 30 straight days of blogging

I once was lost but now… I’m still lost… And it feels great

30 days ago, I was creatively stuck. The combination of — a) growing bored of writing about my previous vocation and b) being immersed in some deep philosophical and spiritual studies — resulted in a creative upheaval followed by doldrums.

I felt lost. Like I didn’t have a ‘thing’ to write about. For the longest time, I wrote mostly about copywriting and content marketing.

And then, 30 days ago, I decided I frankly didn’t want to write about that any longer.

So, in taking the advice of creative coach Julia Cameron, I started writing morning pages — a daily 3-page stream of consciousness written upon waking.

As I started writing, I had no idea what would come out. But when I was finished, something had emerged. Every day.

These entries weren’t pretty. I guess you could say they were beautifully disastrous. Genuinely mangled and messy.

But I loved this exercise.

Out of those pages came blog posts (in the form of Medium stories) where I carefully shaped each morning’s ramblings into something comprehensible for public consumption.

As much as I always write for the reader, I must admit, this exercise was almost entirely selfish. It was my reward after being a writer mercenary for the last three years.

It felt great to be loose with my subject matter. One day, I’d write a photo narrative. The next, a prayer. The next, a stream of consciousness. And on and on for 30 days.

Well, today is day #30 in a row. And I wanted to share a couple of the biggest lessons I learned.

1. Being lost is miserable. Until it isn’t.

On day one of this exercise, I was incredibly frustrated. I wanted to find my ‘thing’. I’ve always had a ‘thing’ to write about and now I didn’t.

I was lost. And I was of the mindset that being lost sucks.

But now I realize something. On day 30, I’m still lost. But I’m good with it.

Being lost is actually quite enjoyable if you can just accept it.

If we always knew the answers, what would be the use? Isn’t life about the hunt? Isn’t it about the adventure?

Sure, it’s exhausting, but we can sleep when we’re dead.

“Finding yourself” sounds quite boring when you think of it that way, doesn’t it?

What I’ve learned is that there’s nothing to be found. Trying to find one “X” on the treasure map is a fool’s journey. Because as soon as you find that “X” an infinite number of other “X’s” pop up.

Find peace in the fact that the journey is never over. Be forgiving to yourself when you leave the trail of one “X” to find another. The ego will hate you for it. It likes predictability and certainty. Which are illusions in themselves. But that’s for another post.

2. Creating something every day for public consumption is like mental steroids

Seth Godin has been preaching this for the longest time.

Blog every day. (Or create and share something every day.)

Blogging every day clarifies my thoughts — it helps me notice things. It’s one of the most important practices of my profession.” — Seth Godin

I’ve actually been writing every day for the last couple years. But I haven’t shared something every day. I’ve gone on these 30-day benders before and they always feel amazing. I’m not sure why I don’t keep them up. Maybe I will this time.

Sharing something daily takes your psyche to whole new levels. Because when you share with others, it has to make (somewhat) sense. Or at least look cool. Like Seth says, it pushes you to get extremely clear on your thoughts.

Sure, whatever you put out there may suck for awhile. But the worst that can happen is that people will ignore you.

Big deal. You’d be ignored if you didn’t have this daily ritual in the first place (and you wouldn’t be getting good at something).

But if you do it every day, soon enough, they’ll become really good. People might not ignore you then.

3. The mind is bottomless. There’s always more.

A concern I always have when I go on these runners is — how the heck am I gonna come up with new ideas?

Here’s the thing. The mind is deeper than you can ever imagine. It’s only when you get it circulating that you start to see its true potential. And for 30 days, I’m merely skimming the top.

Creativity is infinite possibilities. An infinite number of ideas all playing together in an open field.

The only one who can put a limit on it… is you. And the best way to do that is by not tapping into it. Our idea muscle atrophies when we don’t use it.

But when you do use it, stand back. It’s amazing what comes out.

And never be stingy with your ideas. Don’t say you’ll save them for another post, another story, another day. Put it out there. Circulate your ideas freely so your mind can generate new. Like a broken muscle that grows back stronger or a samurai sword that becomes steeled by every blow by the hammer thingy they use (sorry, it’s late and I don’t feel like looking up the word) and the hot and cold tempering.

Don’t worry….

Creativity is inexhaustible if it’s consciously activated.

Like I said, I’ve done these 30-day stints of daily blogging before. And every time I do them, I experience hyper-growth in both writing and thinking.

I think I may keep them up this time.

Don’t give me ‘great writing’ — Give me a download.

I don’t know if Chesterton is guilty of this. I’ve never read him. But he looks like a suspect. (Image credits: http://theatln.tc/1ITqWcR)


A note from your pleading readers

by Jonas Ellison

f you’re a writer with a sensitive ego, you may want to click out of this essay right about… now.

Still with me? Ok, good.

When I hear someone described as a ‘great writer’ my brain immediately starts to hemorrhage.

When I’m reading, I don’t want ‘great’. I want simple. Clear. Punchy.

I want reading to be like an instant download.

I want to suck it straight off the page into my brain. I don’t want to sit there and strain over it. I already have plenty of things to strain over in my life. It shouldn’t be your writing.

Don’t get me wrong. Tell me the whole story. Don’t leave anything out.

But don’t shove it all in one long sentence that takes you 4 days to work on.

My dad could rebuild an engine in less than 4 days. It shouldn’t take you that long to perfect a sentence.

Just say it. Say it well. Use powerful words. Active voice. Short (even incomplete) sentences are fine.

Reading homework

Don’t get stuck here for too long, but before you start writing well (not ‘great’), you’ll want to see how it’s done. Here’s some quick reading for ya. Trust me, it’s enjoyable…

First of all, read Simon Rich. One word for ya — hilarious. But simple. If you can make someone laugh out loud — crying — through super simple sentence structure and clear words, you’re a zen master, my friend.

Also read this book from Lee Child, the guy who wrote the Jack Reacher books (before Tom Cruise came and fucked it up).

Read David Sedaris. And James Altucher.

After you do this, you can graduate to David Foster Wallace. It’s up a step in complexity — about as complex as it should get before it gets obnoxious.

When you read these people, read their most recent work (except for Rich, pretty sure that kid came out of the womb writing well). As is often the case, writers need to write a lot of horrible stuff before they start writing well. You don’t want to waste your time with the stuff they hashed through early in their careers.

You’re studying here. No time to waste.

Get out of the way

The problem, most ‘great’ writers are boastful. They have to show off in their writing. Like a dog who pisses on every fire hydrant they walk by, these ‘great writers’ have to leave their mark on every sentence they write. They have to make their presence be known.

And this is where they fall flat on their face.

Your writing should be transparent. I shouldn’t see words on a page. I should only see images in my head.

I’m reading your words, not to cower in your glory, oh great one, but to experience something. So, please. Stop trying to be a ‘great writer’ and get the hell out of the way so I can feel what you’re trying to convey to me.

I want a download. Give me. A download.


Enjoy this story? Awesome sauce! Do me a solid and hit the green ‘recommend’ button below to share it with your buddies. Thanks!

Click here to get Jonas’ essays straight in your handy little inbox as soon as they’re live here on Medium.