creativity

The Best Writing Process Ever

It took a while, but I’ve found the best writing process. I do it every day as part of my morning routine. It goes something like this:

6:00am - Wake up.

6:10am - Coffee.

6:20am - Head out for a run along the lake. (I think about my current writing project while I’m running.)

7:00am - Shower, eat breakfast, and get ready for the day.

7:30am - Sit down at my desk. (The top is clean, except for my typewriter. All other devices are turned off. The door is closed and the only light in the room comes from the south-facing windows.) I start writing and don’t stop until I hit roughly 1,500-2,000 words.

10:00am - After reaching my word count I start the rest of my day: e-mails, video editing, etc.

That’s how I write every single day, no matter what. After years of trial and error I genuinely believe that this is the single best writing process. It’s the only real way to get better and keep finishing writing projects in a timely manner.

If you’re looking to be a good writer or have always wanted to write a book, this how to do it. Or, maybe you’re like me and you just really enjoy writing for the sake of it. This is the best way to do it.

Trust me.

Okay…not really. I’m full of crap. I don’t believe any of that at all. What kind of pretentious, self-aggrandizing person would say “My process is the best and you need to be doing it, too!”

My writing process is more like this:

I wake up early (or late) and get right to work (or don’t). I write as many words as possible (hopefully 0-100 if I’m lucky) without any devices on (or sometimes while watching Netflix or listening to music).

I usually write on my typewriter (unless I’m using my computer) unless I’m on the road and have to resort to writing by hand in a notebook - always a moleskine (or whatever else I can find like a yellow legal pad, composition notebook, hotel stationary, or back of a napkin).

I always write in the morning (except when it’s more convenient to write at a different time) at the same place (not a chance) in the same way (yeah, right).

It’s a simple process. (Not true.)

I’ve read a ton of books on writing. (If you’re interested, start with this one. Also, check out this one or this one. For creative inspiration, you can’t beat this one. And then you can get into niche territory with books like this, that, this one, or maybe even this one.) They all talk about writing processes, word counts, your general writing environment, and more. They give you bench marks for word counts or total number of pages or a timeframe in which to finish your book. I’ve experimented with many of these approaches.

I tried Morning Pages and stuck with it for maybe two months.

I tried 10 pages a day and made it two or three days.

I’ve tried writing in the morning, writing late at night, phone reminders, timers, typewriters, computers, iPad apps, storyboards, notebooks - you name it - but I was never able to stick with any single approach for very long.

Over time, I started to get discouraged that maybe I wasn’t meant to be a writer. Since I didn’t have a process like the writers I admired I was worried that my ideas would never amount to anything.

See, I’m not necessarily trying to write a novel or a feature-length film or a memoir. For me writing is almost like therapy. It’s a way to confront my ideas and transmit them to you. It’s a way to get thoughts out of my head so I can understand them and make room for more. When I write it’s to work on my show or brainstorm new ideas or finish one of these essays. Sometimes I work on a screenplay, other times I write poetry. It’s just one more way to express myself, even if most of it will never be published.

But I still want to be better. That’s why I read those books and study my favorite authors. That’s why I watch TED Talks and take classes. That’s why I keep trying to find a writing process that I can stick with. I just haven’t found something that works for me.

I told my wife once, “I should work harder. I don’t really write or rehearse. Am I being lazy? Or, is it just not something I’m good at?” I expected her to agree with me and encourage me to make changes to my daily routine. But that’s not what happened at all.

She surprised me with, as usual, a thoughtful observation, “That’s not true at all. I think you work really hard. You’re always writing. Every time I wake up or come home or get back from the studio, you’re working on a project. And I always hear you working on your show - on the phone, in the shower, in the car. You’re always working on something new.”

The more I thought about it, the more I realized she was absolutely right. I am constantly working on something new. It could be a script or a show or a blog post or a book, but I’m always hard at work trying to create something. I just don’t have a set way of doing it.

My writing process is never the same. And that’s okay.

Sometimes I write out loud in the shower, sometimes I write in my head on a run. Sometimes I talk out loud in the car and other times I need it to be perfectly quiet so I can get it just right. Sometimes I’ll sit at my desk all day and other times (like writing this post) I’ll move around constantly and sit on every chair/stool/couch in my apartment. It always changes.

Thinking you can study someone’s process and copy it exactly is ridiculous. What works for someone else will never work perfectly for you. You’ll try it on and it’ll fit as well as a hand-me-down outfit you found at the GoodWill. So you take the elements that suit you and discard the rest. Then you repeat, ad nauseam, until you find the right combination for your style and your life.

My writing process is a little sporadic. Sometimes I write these essays on a Friday afternoon and schedule them for the following Thursday. Other times, I write them Thursday morning and post them soon after. It doesn’t matter, I just try to fit them in when I can.

I really don’t rehearse my show in the traditional sense, but I think about it constantly. I outline it in my notebook, storyboard it, write a few parts out in full, but mainly I just say it out loud. Then I go onstage and pay close attention to what works and what doesn’t. I learn from my mistakes, get better, and keep improving show to show. That’s the best process - for me.

When I got back from spending six weeks in Pittsburgh this summer I flipped through my notebook from the start of the year. I had diagrammed out a show and never really gone back to it. But everything was there: the intention, the message, the character development, the goals, the peaks and valleys, the dramatic structure. I had accomplished everything I had set out to months ago, without even realizing it.

Here’s the best tips I’ve found, no matter what you want to do:

Consistency - If you want to get better at something you need to do it a lot. I may not write at the same time every day but I do think about it all the time. And I try to write as much as possible. Whatever you want to do, do it as much as you possibly can.

Self-Imposed Deadlines - Posting every Thursday helps me stay on track. I’m always thinking about ideas and trying to turn them into blog posts. Give yourself a timeframe so you have to keep making progress.

Prioritize - Remove other distractions from your life so you can focus on what matters. Making time for your dreams will help you find a way to turn them into a reality.

You may not want to be a writer or a mind reader or anything that even remotely resembles that. But, whatever you want to do, today’s world is full of people constantly telling you that they have it all figured out and if you would only do it exactly how they do it, then you could have a perfectly happy existence just like they do!

I’m here to tell you the opposite. What works for those people, won’t work for you. No one can tell you how to be the next great so-and-so. No one’s process will be 100% perfect for you. So, why waste your time trying to do something the way someone else does?

Go out and experiment. Make mistakes and learn from them. Try all the ways to do something until you find your favorite. There are a million ways to do something but the best process is the one that works for you.


Other Thoughts:

  • Summer is nearly over - can you believe it? That means it’s time for college shows around the country. Check out this cool 360 pic from my first college of the semester - California State University, East Bay:

  • Sign up so you never miss a Thursday Thoughts post.

  • I’m coming back to headline at the Chicago Magic Lounge next month. See here for all upcoming shows and ticket info!

Push Through

“Any big plans for the weekend?” my trainer asked me last Friday.

“Just have some writing projects I’m working on!” I replied.

“Oh, that sounds like fun,” she said. “How do you work? Like, what’s your writing process?”

I told her exactly what I tell you now:

My writing process is that I tell myself “Tomorrow I’m going to write as much as possible!” and I carve out as much time as my schedule will allow so I can get creative and finish some projects.

Then when “tomorrow” comes I think about my writing all day, telling myself that I should probably sit down and get to work. I pace my studio, drink too much coffee, and do anything I can to avoid the task at hand.

Then, around bedtime, I finally sit down and write two or three sentences. Another successful day of writing in the books!

Since I started keeping a consistent blog 18 months ago a lot of people have asked me about my process. But the truth is…I don’t really have one. All I do is just think about writing as much as possible.

Most of the time I struggle to put my concepts into words, let alone a series of paragraphs worth reading. The key is to not give up. I know by now that if I just push through my creative roadblocks then a good essay is waiting to be discovered.

The same goes for my show.

I rarely rehearse it start to finish. Instead, I start to work on a new idea but barely get anywhere. So I’ll work on bits and pieces at random moments. I’ll talk through the script in the shower. I’ll pace through the blocking while I’m on the phone with a client. The new piece slowly comes together in sections, often over many months, but only if I don’t give up and push through.

A couple weeks ago I was trying to come up with a slogan for a special event. I wanted something catchy and to the point, so I started brainstorming with a friend. Everything we came up with was either incredibly stupid or had already been done before. Before I knew it, I was frustrated beyond belief. I decided to abandon the whole idea and hung up the phone in disgust.

I turned to leave the room and stopped dead in my tracks as the perfect slogan popped into my head. My good idea had only been minutes away and I had nearly lost it. I just needed to push through to the other side.

You can call it writer’s block or discomfort or rejection or the creative struggle. You can get frustrated when you run out of ideas and mad when you don’t have any to begin with. You can admit when you don’t know what to do next…

But whatever you do, don’t give up. Don’t give in to the struggle. Don’t give up on the work. You never know when your best idea might be one more sentence away. Push yourself to keep working. Push past the fear. Push aside your doubts and know that you’ve been creative before and you’ll be creative again.

Push through.

Another Show

I overheard the following exchange between two performers recently:

“Hey, how was your show?”

“It was fine. Just another show…”

Maybe I look at this differently but I didn’t spend my childhood dreaming of being onstage so I could just do “another show”. I didn’t spend my twenties sleeping on couches and pounding the pavement so I could just do “another show”. And I refuse to take the obvious path towards “another show” in my thirties.

I want more.

I want people to view what I do differently and I want them to talk about it for weeks after. I want them to leave the show feeling differently than when they arrived.

When I was younger I remember seeing a production of “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe” that left me transfixed. It was one of the earliest memories I have of watching a show and saying to myself “I have to do that.

After the performance I tracked down all of the performers - local high schoolers - in the lobby and had them sign my program. I’ve been a collector of playbills, autographs, ticket stubs, and theatre mementos ever since.

I was only 7 years old but I still remember that show. Why?

It was perfect timing, I guess. I was young and seeking inspiration. I was encouraged to try new things. And I had a vivid imagination.

And now, nearly 25 years later, I have an incredible opportunity to take the stage on a nightly basis and do the same for someone else.

Maybe there’s a youngster in the crowd who has always wanted to perform but didn’t know how to get started. I could be the spark of inspiration that sets them down their personal path to success.

Maybe someone hates magic because of how it’s presented in pop culture. I have the chance to do something different and change their mind.

Maybe someone is having a bad day or needs an escape. Maybe someone is a big fan or seeing me for the first time. Maybe they’re on a date or celebrating a birthday. I have an opportunity to create something special that they’ll always remember.

I have a chance to be their “Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe” moment.

I hear the naysayers now:

“You’re just an entertainer. This is a little over-the-top, isn’t it?” 

No, it’s not. Not for me.

That’s why you’ll never hear me demean what I do. You’ll never hear me call it “silly” or shrug it off like it doesn’t matter. 

It does matter. It matters to me.

You can take what you do seriously without taking yourself seriously. You can demand respect for your profession and refuse to fall into the same patterns that other people do. 

What do you do best?

For me, it’s mystery and amazement. I’m in the business of blowing minds.  My show is funny, yes, and hopefully entertaining. But the real point is to amaze. The real point is to show someone something truly impossible.

Comedians have jokes and singers make music, but I work in the medium of jaw-dropping, pure, unadulterated wonder. That’s what I always return to. And I refuse to give it any less than my best.

If you treat what you do with respect then people will take notice. They’ll do a double-take and sense that what you do is just a little different. They’ll get it.

Before I take the stage, before I say my opening words, before the host finishes their introduction and my walk-on music plays, before I walk through the curtain and start the show, I remind myself that I’m about to take a roomful of strangers on a journey. I’m about to show them something special.

I don’t want to be another line in their calendar. I don’t want to be an easily forgotten night or exactly what they expected.

I refuse to be just another show.