Before the pandemic relegated Medium staffers to working from home, ZORA senior editor Morgan Jerkins sat feet away from Team Forge in Medium’s Manhattan office. Every so often, she’d break the focused silence of our editorial wing with an out-loud story discussion or a throaty, infectious laugh — casual gestures of camaraderie that belie Jerkins’ parallel identity as a rising star of the 21st-century cultural canon. Her 2018 debut essay collection, This Will Be My Undoing, was a critical triumph, cementing Jerkins as a key voice in an emerging generation of critics that probe the intersections of Black American experience.
It’s hard to come up with fresh new ideas when you’ve been staring at the same four walls for five months. Take it from me, someone who’s been staring at the same four walls for five months. Whether you’re working on a creative project or just need to brainstorm what to say at your next work Zoom, you don’t need to go on a vision quest in order to get inspired. (Though if you do need some time off for a vision quest, we’ll totally cover for you.)
I’m not generally good at doing nothing. I’m a time-management and productivity expert, and I also have five children; I’m almost never idle. But I was recently reminded how sometimes you have to create a little idleness in order to let a new idea in. On a beach trip, I was technically “doing something” as I waded in the waves, but navigating the breakers required very little attention. So my mind wandered — right to a solution for a problem I’d been ruminating on for weeks. There it was in my mind, clearly worded and ready to be typed up.
You are a writer.
You tweet. You email. You Slack. You text. Multiple times a day, you look at a blank screen and you fill it with words — your own words written in your own style for an audience you hope to persuade, amuse, inform.
Here at Forge, we think there’s no activity more connected to the self — and no skill more improvable — than what we type into those screens. So, all this week, we’ve been publishing stories about how to write the things we write every day.
We have a false picture of how success happens. Because we often see only the results and almost never the process involved to achieve them, we tend to think that the finished product — a new film, a popular podcast, a fitness accomplishment — is impressive, and therefore the process by which the product was created must have been equally brilliant.
In fact, it was likely the opposite. Success, like the proverbial sausage, is much less pretty when you see how it’s made.
As an author, I know books well. I also remember equally well how I thought books were…
A decade ago I was given my first major magazine assignment. The twist is that it wasn’t actually MY assignment. I had been hired to rewrite an article that had been done by someone else. Poorly, it appears. I don’t know who this inadequate writer was. Possibly William Faulkner. Regardless, the copy filed by the writer was dull and lifeless, and my editor told me that my job was to make it “voicier.”
My assignment was to breathe life into the words by imbuing them with my own ESSENCE, which tends to be clear and direct and gleefully profane. The…
I had just sent a funny meme to a group of friends when my screen went blank. My phone’s battery had run out. I was sitting in a rented Nissan Altima, on a road trip with my family, and desperate for something to do during the long drive ahead.
My dad, who was driving, shook his head and laughed when I told him what had just happened. “Why don’t you just look out the window?” he said.
Do what? I thought. The option hadn’t even occurred to me — which is kind of funny, in hindsight, because as a kid…
I’ve always been an avid notetaker—extracting ideas from books as inspiration for my articles. But most of my notes were disorganized, housed digitally in Pocket, Evernote, Google Docs, Trello, or on stacks of index cards. Accessing the information was a pain, and I likely wouldn’t review or even see 99% of my notes ever again.
Then about a year ago, I came across Sönke Ahrens’ How to Take Smart Notes, a book that details the note-taking system of the late German sociologist Niklas Luhmann. He calls it “slip box” and it’s a system that helped Luhmann write 60 books (and…
It may have seemed like bravado when director Matthew A. Cherry — a former football player with a few music videos and low-budget indie movies to his name — told the world that he would one day be nominated for an Academy Award:
That was in 2012. In 2016, he again tweeted that bombastic prediction, along with a single image and a request: “Any 3D artists follow me? I got an Oscar worthy short film idea to go with this image. Get at me 😳”
Yesterday, Cherry was back on Twitter with two words: Nailed it.
“Don’t let a sentence through unless it’s the way you’d say it to a friend.”
The advice comes from the Y Combinator co-founder Paul Graham in his essay “Write Like You Talk.” Graham, who’s somehow able to distill complex topics like fragmentation and scalability into digestible essays, explains that if you can write in spoken language, you’re already doing better than 95% of writers.
I agree with his assessment, which is why I often write by dictation. I’ll spew out my unstructured thoughts aloud, while dictation software such as Otter or Mac’s built-in dictation tool transforms my word into written…