Here's everything I know about the writing process in 2,069 words.

Written by Cole Schafer




 I’d prefer you not follow me around.

But, if you were to disobey this preference, I’m afraid you wouldn’t find my life terribly interesting.

There is nothing entertaining about watching someone write.

I’d say the same for reading. But, I do find it difficult to pull my eyes off of a person enraptured in a book.

Perhaps, this is because I’m a writer with ambitions of one day writing books that demand this level of obsession.

Perhaps, this is because spying on someone reading a physical manuscript in a world so heavily dominated by glowing screens is a refreshing contrast.

(They say vinyl sales have reached an all-time high –– I can only hope that books, too, will one day become as fashionable and nostalgic...)

But, as I was saying, there is nothing particularly exciting about watching someone write.

If there was, writers the likes of Neil Gaiman and Stephen King would sell out entire arenas as they sat, silently, in the middle of a tiny stage, on their laptops, badgering away at their finger-worn keys.

Despite this, however, writers and readers alike are fascinated with the writing process. Not necessarily watching the writing process take place in real-time but reading about it, after the fact.

I’m not immune to this fascination.

The thought of Joan Didion sticking her manuscript in her freezer when she was feeling blocked makes my heart melt.

The image of Charles Bukowski downing a greasy breakfast and then heading off to the horse track to feed his gambling addiction, before eventually sitting down to put pen to paper, makes my (now melted) heart skip a beat.

And, while being aware of these writing processes won't make me (or anyone) a better writer, it makes me excited about becoming a better writer and that’s worth something.

One of my favorite writers and thinkers, Seth Godin, once made a remark I deeply disagree with.

He was on the Tim Ferriss Podcast doing an interview –– that I’m confident will go down in history as being his best –– when Ferriss asked him about his writing process.

Godin, in not so many words, told Ferriss that talking about one’s writing process doesn’t matter, that it’s more or less an excuse to not do the work of writing.

I disagree.

I think if learning about other writers’ processes can get you excited about writing, it’s worthwhile to continue this learning, again and again.

While like coffee, the jolt may only last an hour or so before wearing off entirely, jolts are invaluable in a profession that can at times be terribly mundane.

So, for what it's worth, here’s my writing process...

I rarely beat the sun. I used to. In fact, once upon a time, I took tremendous pride in getting up while it was still dark and "blackening pages" (as Cohen liked to call the craft).

But, as I’ve gotten older –– I’m twenty-seven at the writing of this piece –– I’m realizing that it’s not the early bird that gets the worm but the bird who got the best night’s sleep.

When you’re young and dumb and energetic, your greatest asset is that you’re young and dumb and energetic. You don’t know what you don’t know. You don’t know how goddamn bad you are.

Fortunately, despite your stupidity, you have an abundant amount of energy.

Energy isn't enough, though.

While a dog works away at a bone with the same unwavering focus as Michelangelo once did a block of marble, there is a fundamental difference in talent.

I wish I can say that talent is something that can be learned.

But, it can’t.

Every writer can go from bad to capable (if I didn’t believe this I wouldn’t be teaching folks how to write).

Some writers can go from capable to good.

Few writers can go from good to great.

I think to get from bad to capable and then capable to good, you have to write an exorbitant amount and you have to do this writing at a jarring pace, which requires energy.

The late, great Voltaire very well could have been the fastest writer to have ever lived. By the time he died at the ripe age of 83, he had written enough to fill 2,200 books and pamphlets.

I’ve studied a lot of writers and creatives and artists over on my blog and something the great ones seem to have in common is pace. They write a lot and quickly. So quickly, that their readers have trouble keeping up.

In this regard, one could argue that to become profound you must first become prolific. I’ve attempted to emulate Voltaire in my own career. I’m trying to make it difficult for my readers to keep up with everything that I’m writing.

When I was younger than I am now, I thought pace of writing was directly correlated with the time spent on the page. It’s not.

The fastest marathon ever ran was by a Kenyan named Eliud Kipchoge, who clocked a time of 2 hours and 1 minute (that’s a pace of 4 minutes and 38 seconds per mile, which is just mind-boggling).

The global average for a marathon time is 4 hours and 13 minutes.

Kipchoge and everybody else running a marathon are running the same distance.

But, Kipchoge is running so fast that if he were running a marathon in New York, he could complete the race and then jump in a car and drive to Philly and check into a hotel in the time it would take the average Marathon runner to run the same marathon.

In this way, when measuring greatness, you can’t use the metric of time but speed (which is partially informed by one's talent and focus.

Nowadays, when I’m writing well, I’m usually only writing for 3-4 hours a day. But, during this timeframe, I’m working with the focus of a hunting Jaguar.

I try and get to a desk –– be it in my study or a neighborhood coffee shop –– by 9 a.m.

I order a cup of iced coffee. Black. Even in the dead of winter.

And, I leave my phone in the door of my vehicle so that I have to physically get up and walk out to the parking lot to retrieve it.

I do my damndest to stay out of my email and off of Linkedin, Instagram and Twitter; and I sit a yellow legal pad beside me, where at the top I write down the date and below this date I write down any and every thought that comes to mind.

Something that often takes away from writing is life's to-dos that are pressing but not so pressing that they deserve one's immediate attention.

So, on this legal pad, I write my thoughts down when they come to mind and allow myself to see to them after the day’s writing has come to a close.

This list usually consists of to-dos like…

Get your teeth cleaned.

Find someone to fix the garbage disposal.

Remind so-and-so to pay that invoice.

Pay mortgage.

Other times, the items on this list can be curiosities.

Earlier in this piece, I wrote a line that I (very biasedly) think is clever…

While a dog works away at a bone with the same unwavering focus as Michelangelo once did a block of marble, there is a fundamental difference in talent.

I tweeted this a day or so back but didn’t remember my wording and, fell victim to the distraction of jumping over to Twitter to read what I had tweeted. I saw another tweet while over there about how Drake had withdrawn himself from his Grammy nominations.

Being a fan of Drake’s, I felt the urge to click. But, I didn’t. I instead wrote on my legal pad to look into later…

Drake withdraws from Grammy?

As a writer, it’s of the utmost importance to remain curious. If you aren’t curious, you don’t have a goddamn chance to enjoy any sort of success. After pace, curiosity, in my opinion, is the most important quality a writer can have.

Lately, I’ve been curious about Alpacas. They’re strange beasts. Unlike other animals that graze, they only eat the very tip-tops of grass, which makes them great “lawnmowers”. They also have soft pads on their feet (rather than hooves), which keeps them from destroying lawns and fields and what have you. Also, strangely enough, Alpacas use something akin to a litter box to relieve themselves.

I don’t know when and where this knowledge will come in handy. But, I can assure you that it will.

One’s writing ability is directly correlated with one's curiosity. I’ve found the world’s most interesting writers are constantly dropping tiny little knowledge bombs on readers and creating connections between previously disconnected concepts.

Once my 3-4 hours of writing is over, I do my office work. Crossing off the line items on my legal pad, gunning for inbox zero, scheduling client calls, trying not to run late to client calls, checking on my investments, posting new material to my socials, etc.

I only give myself 60-minutes to get all of my office work done. I do this because I’ve found it’s highly addictive and a very good way to excuse oneself from writing.

Due to its addictive nature, I try to put off this kind of pleasurable (but shallow) work for as long as possible. When I’m good, I don’t check email nor social until the early afternoon, in between writing sessions.

After this office work, I head back home. I let June, my dog, out of her crate. I lead her into my study and get her settled on an L-shaped couch that sits across from my desk. If she’s feeling sleepy, I get her wrapped up in a blanket until she is good and tucked in. If she’s restless, I give her a bone to whittle away.

Once she's distracted, I pick the pen back up.

My afternoon writing sessions are less structured than my morning writing sessions. They're generally composed of more reading, playing guitar, punching away at some poetry on an old Royal typewriter or writing advertising.

Advertising copy unlike other forms of writing, requires a different kind of focus. There, of course, has to be a sense of urgency to get the work done. But, there also has to be an openness for creativity to really move and flow. So, for this more creative writing, I will queue up some music on my speakers and let it play in the background.

(Currently, I’m listening to this playlist by Dreamscapes that my girl introduced me to –– I simply can’t get enough of it.)

Around 4 p.m., all the focus and creativity and writing has left my system and while my mind is feeling tired, my body is feeling restless and in need of movement.

I abide by a strict workout schedule. I run 2-3 miles a day and do weight training 5-6 days a week. I’ve begun incorporating other forms of exercise like basketball into my regiment too.

Exercise, at least for me, informs every part of my life. A writer’s life is very stagnant and it’s absolutely horrific on the writer's health. So, to battle this impact, you must move and move and move when you’re not writing.

This keeps your ass from growing too wide and your mind from growing too frantic. Some argue that sad people write. I agree with this. But, I would also add that it’s not good for sad people (or anyone for that matter) to be alone in a room with nothing but their thoughts for the vast majority of their existence, even in the name of art.

Exercise gets you out of your head and out of that room which has a way of becoming your entire world.

As for editing, I'm not big on editing.

I will read through a piece once and sometimes twice after it has been written to check for fat-fingered typos. But, poking and prodding for days at a time to find the perfect wording is of little interest to me.

Primarily because people die all the damn time and when it's my time to go, I can tell you that I won't be on my death bed wishing I had used fewer adverbs.

Which, speaking of adverbs try desperately to avoid them.

But, I digress.

By Cole Schafer.