Issue 26: Wobbly states and one year of nicoledonut
5 min read

Issue 26: Wobbly states and one year of nicoledonut

Issue 26: Wobbly states and one year of nicoledonut

nicoledonut is one year old! This started as a quarantine project, as a way to write in the open, write regularly, and share resources (and memes). Thank you for reading this newsletter, sharing it with friends, and sending generous replies and words of support!

I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea of “getting to the end.” When it comes to longer projects, I tend to overplan and procrastinate from starting. I usually make progress in a concerted sprint, but when that numbered writing challenge is over, I put it aside and leave it unfinished. I feel perpetually stuck at the beginning.

Last summer, I listened to this podcast with Taffy Brodesser-Akner about how she wrote Fleishman Is in Trouble. No matter how many interviews with writers I read or listen to, I’m always looking for some secret sauce to their writing process. But of course, there’s no substitute for actually writing and I appreciated Brodesser-Akner's candidness around it. She "slapped as many words on a page per day without a plan," if nothing else just to put the idea to rest. She mentioned that next time, she would like to try a method from Chris Jones, who recommends writing 500 words four days a week, then revising everything on Saturdays. The writing schedule seems weirdly...doable.

She also had this great metaphor for writing and learning:

The problem with teaching your kids how to ride a bike is convincing them that the wobbly state is a temporary one and that one day this will become a machine that goes by itself. I’m here to tell you that one day your book will become a machine that goes by itself.

So much of what I’ve wanted is to get past the wobbling stage in my writing, to get to that point where the book has momentum. Part of that is realizing that I “can’t write the good sentences without writing the bad sentences first.” Or, as Jessica Brody suggests, realizing that writer’s block is actually perfectionist’s block. (This blew my mind.) It’s not that I don’t have anything to write about. It’s that I have to accept and contend with the fear of being bad.

Famed comedy writer for The Simpsons, John Swartzwelder, shared his own advice for writing quickly:

Since writing is very hard and rewriting is comparatively easy and rather fun, I always write my scripts all the way through as fast as I can, the first day, if possible, putting in crap jokes and pattern dialogue—“Homer, I don’t want you to do that.” “Then I won’t do it.” Then the next day, when I get up, the script’s been written. It’s lousy, but it’s a script. The hard part is done. It’s like a crappy little elf has snuck into my office and badly done all my work for me, and then left with a tip of his crappy hat. All I have to do from that point on is fix it. So I’ve taken a very hard job, writing, and turned it into an easy one, rewriting, overnight.

I love the idea of externalizing a “crappy little elf” and figuring out how to get the hard part done quickly. Whether it’s dotting your draft with TKTKs or TODOs, it’s important to figure out how to reach the end. The writing has to exist before you can start to improve it. It’s the way you can figure out the story you want to tell. A mediocre story written down is better than a great idea in your head.

It’s ok to wobble. To be honest, I feel like I’ve wobbled through every issue of this newsletter. But wobbling is temporary. Stumbling is necessary. Continuing despite the uncertainty is the only way you’ll ever hit your stride.

Correction: This has been updated since its original publication to correct Brodesser-Akner's writing process.

A flowchart with the following steps: start new project, tell everyone, get new idea. "Finish project" is disconnected from the rest of the chart.

Creative resources

Recent reads & other media

I read Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu, which won the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction. Written as a screenplay that blurs the lines between fiction and reality, the book follows Willis Wu who plays Generic Asian Man (but aspires to Kung Fu Guy) on a procedural cop show occasionally set in the Golden Palace in Chinatown. It’s a biting satire about Hollywood, race, immigration, and assimilation, and is one of the most creatively written books I’ve ever read. I found this conversation between Kara Brown and Andrew Ti for Kara’s book club to be really illuminating.

I watched The Mummy for the first time with E, which was extremely fun and sexy despite all the unhinged jaws and crawling scarabs. After watching Crash Landing on You last year, my friend and I were THRILLED to find out that Hyun Bin and Son Ye Jin are dating in real life. To satisfy our shipper hearts, we watched their 2018 crime thriller, The Negotiation.

Note: Book links are connected to my Bookshop affiliate page. If you purchase a book from there, you'll be supporting my work and local independent bookstores!

~ meme myself and i ~

POV: that one person who FaceTimes you all the time. It’s officially mango season!! Commercials in 2021. When you’re pro body neutrality but also deeply insecure. People in mascot costumes have to eat too. The best sleep you’ve ever had.

SpongeBob holding up a sign that says "I love everyone who has ever read my work."