I’ve had a rough couple writing weeks because other pressing matters have disrupted my daily flow. I just saw a “Writer’s Block” headline from James Altucher fly by on Twitter and thought I’d read it for inspiration, but I’m skipping it for now to remain true to one of my own writing rules. Below I cover that rule and three others as I get back up to speed.
Bear with me. It’s like when you start a faucet that hasn’t been run in awhile: there’s bound to be some rust and cloudiness as the pipes flush clean.
Fan or Hater, Don’t Obsess Over Other Writers: I used to get upset when I’d see another writer cover the same angle on a story or use the same reference I had thought of, but over time, I realized the obvious: it’s all about your own voice. Two writers could cover the exact same topic—say it’s explaining the Fed’s Operation Twist—and rarely ever discuss it in the same manner, even if they use the same song-derived headline like so many in recent weeks.
Also I occasionally get tripped up by over-reading writers I’m a big fan of, like John Carney or Barry Ritholtz. I either get discouraged thinking “I’ll never be able to write like that” or get caught in a style trap: writing too much like them or trying so hard not to write like them that I lose my own voice. My solution to this is to ignore writers I’m a big fan of when I’m warming back up from a dry spell. Instead I just try to write, like I’m doing this weekend.
Have Many Styles: One tough thing for me about finding my voice over the years is that I write in three different styles: market reporting, client/compliance-ready writing, and blog/opinion writing. That last one is where real voice comes from. This is obvious to many, but it’s been harder lesson for me because I think those other two categories are a distinct art form that don’t have to be dry and boring. Bill McBride of Calculated Risk is the heavyweight champ of market reporting, but because he’s more technical and wonky, I wouldn’t call it client ready.
This is an area I’ve spent many years working on (first in money management, now in mortgage banking) that you can judge here and here. I’d like to think I’ve got a formula that’s credible and interesting to consumer clients. But I’d never say that I have the formula down, because keeping markets interesting for consumers is a daily exercise that improves by also working on smarter market reporting and stronger opinion writing. Some try to stick with one approach but, for better or worse, I’m sticking with this Low End Theory: “Styles upon styles upon styles is what I have / You try to diss the Pfifer but you still don’t know the half.”
Writing Is Like Working Out: Like working out, writing gets more and more difficult each day you skip. And if you skip a week or more, the mob euphemism “ForgetAboutIt” becomes quite literal. First you forget about your ideas, then you forget how to string them together into any coherent or entertaining thread, then you just say ‘forget it’ and saddle up on the couch for some despondent channel surfing. You stare at your Twitter or Facebook streams waiting for something to inspire you, and when it does, you might re-Tweet or Like it, or maybe you just let it pass as you search for something even more inspiring. Then the nights and weeks have passed and you haven’t even tried to get back into the swing.
But once you do, clarity and strength start to return and soon you’re not pausing to fact-check a stat because you just know it, and you’re not double-checking your pop culture quotes because it’s as much about your own voice as it is about your references. I remember The Reformed Broker Josh Brown quipping a few months back about his increasing neck fat as he entered the final stages of writing his first book. It was one of his epic posts where voice just takes over and results in that perfect blend of personal revelations and professional insights. And it speaks to how being in shape with writing can be just as rewarding as being in shape—even if it means forgoing exercise while you’re in the zone.
Blogging Isn’t Just About Writing, It’s Also About Content Volume: There are some writers out there—like Joe Weisenthal and Adam Quinones—who are all about volume. They just turn it out and I’ve said before that both are one-man content armies in the investment and mortgage industries respectively.
Volume is just as important as quality of writing. And not because of the self-serving reason you might think where you have to stay out there. That’s certainly a factor, but more important is that the more volume you do, the more “in shape” you are (see Working Out section above) to do heavier writing when time or mood strikes. This last point is really a blogging 101 note to self: keep the content flowing, even if it’s just a one-liner or a graphic.
A Few Financial Writers Who Inspire Me:
-Josh Brown (TheReformedBroker)
-Dick Lepre (TheBasisPoint & Private Newsletter)
-Barry Ritholtz (TheBigPicture)
-John Carney (CNBC’s NetNet)
-James Altucher (AltucherConfidential)
-Joe Weisenthal (BusinessInsider)
-Adam Quinones (MortgageNewsDaily)
-Bill McBride (CalculatedRisk)
Kudos to all these writers and everyone else who takes regular content production seriously. You’re the people who will always be inspiring to me and who I’ll always highlight in my Originations linkfest … which I’ll also be resuming as I get back up to speed here.