Kenny Rogers’s writing advice
Plus: The Nonfiction Book Party Online Bookclub, Diaries of Note, Notable Nonfiction, and what I'm currently reading
Today’s writing advice was supposed to be about the simple delight of Buc-ee’s billboards and how knowing your audience so well can free you up to write well.
But the irony is that, after spending an hour in research and maybe just as long in drafting that article, I felt lost.
More than that, I realized I was writing to be liked rather than writing to help.
That article may get released in due time, but I could tell that it wasn’t going anywhere.
So I took Kenny Rogers’s writing advice:
You've got to know when to hold 'em
Know when to fold 'em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
In a recent Substack article, I tackled how to know when your nonfiction is ready for the public.
Today, I’m asking the reverse: How do you know when you need to walk away?
Let’s consider a few telling signs that you may need a break—or even a break-up—from something you’ve written:
Writing is an uphill climb, but it shouldn’t feel Sisyphean. If the burden of your boulder keeps crashing to the ground, you may need a rest. (You may also need to seek another mountain.)
On your best days, a draft flows from your fingertips. Your thoughts are ordered and the words lay themselves down as if by their own accord. But when the river of words suddenly slams into a dam, or divides into multiple streams of thought, or plunges over an unforeseen cliff, your flow dies. If you can’t pick that flow back up after a few days of not looking at what you’ve written, you may need to walk away from that riverbed.
You realize you’re writing to be seen as a writer instead of a communicator. In my previous two bullet points, I’m likely toeing the line on writerly preening versus seeking to be understood. Especially for nonfiction authors, we should seek to be understood before we’re lauded for style. Metaphors and visual language help, but if the meaning gets lost in the message, what have we accomplished? Sometimes, a “writerly piece” may need to be demolished before it’s rebuilt.
In the immortal words of another musical icon, you may need to stop “when the thrill is gone.” No, the thrill will not always be there when you’re writing. It may not even be there most of the time. Resistance is real and menacing and tenacious. But if you’re not passionate about what you’re writing or excited to hear what others may think about it, why are you writing? Put another way: runners get excited for a race and likely hate the last third of it, but the lure of the finish line propels them. Are you being propelled?
Life gets in the way. It’s easy to set a goal of writing this newsletter once a week during my week off from my full-time job. It’s not so easy to maintain it as life picks up its normal pace. Give yourself grace. Do what you can in your writing life, but take care of yourself. I have hundreds of half-finished documents that will never be published, but they’ve been fertilizer for my growth as a writer. Even if you have to toss something you’ve written, never think of it as wasted time.
What would you add to this list?
What has caused you to hold ‘em or fold ‘em when it comes to your writing?
You can reply to this email or, if you want others to see what you’d add, leave a comment on Substack.
2 questions for you
If I published once per week, it’d be exactly what you’re currently reading.
If I published twice per week, I’d split my advice into its own email and my curated content into its own email (a good amount of which goes unshared so this current newsletter isn’t a book itself).
👍 Featured recommendations 👍
The Nonfiction Book Party Online Bookclub
To be a better Substack citizen, I recently browsed newsletters related to reading, writing, and publishing. As I become more familiar with the many authors on the platform, I’m sure you’ll see more Substack-hosted recommendations from me.
Today I’m recommending “Let’s Read Nonfiction” by Jaymi the OCBook Girl and her recently launched Nonfiction Book Party Online Bookclub.
Jaymi offers a ton of helpful nonfiction recommendations via her Substack newsletter.
What especially caught my attention was the launch of her online nonfiction book club and the fact that each month’s chosen book is up to you. She only prescribes a genre to choose from, and members of the free online book club can offer recommendations as well.
For instance, January’s theme is health and wellness.
I’ve long felt the need to read more broadly. I tend to get stuck in my preferred lanes. So this kind of loose direction is exactly the prodding I need to expand my reading.
If you’re in the same boat, I recommend joining the Nonfiction Book Party Bookclub.
Diaries of Note
Ever since he launched Letters of Note, I’ve appreciated Shaun Usher’s impressive research and compilation skills. So I was thrilled to learn that he just launched Diaries of Note (via Substack, no less).
Every daily email is from a notable diary entry from that same day in the past.
The entry for January 2 sold me on subscribing for this gem of a New Year’s resolution from drama critic James Agate:
1. To refrain from saying witty, unkind things, unless they are really witty and irreparably damaging.
The entries run from the humorous to the serious and should offer excellent examples of unvarnished, authentic writing—something I think we can all use to enhance our writing.
📖 Notable nonfiction 📖
If you keep up with nonfiction, you’ve seen a dozen or more best books of 2022 lists or the best forthcoming books of 2023. To wit:
40 Nonfiction Books to Watch Out for in 2023 (Next Big Idea Club)
New Books in January (New York Times, paywalled)
Nonfiction to look out for in 2023 (The Guardian)
Best Nonfiction of 2022: Great Books That Will Make You Think (The Washington Post)
Is there one new nonfiction work you’re looking forward to reading?
📚 What I’m currently reading 📚
I Will Teach You to be Rich by Ramit Sethi
I rarely read finance books but devoured this one. Read my review.
Surrender by Bono
Orator by Brutus
See this article as to why I was inspired to read it.
The Four Foundations of Golf by Jon Sherman
The Nature of the Game by Mike Keiser
Break-through Rapid Reading by Peter Krump
I set a lofty goal to read 48 books this year. Maybe I can get there if I can get through—and actually adopt—the practices in this book.
What’s one nonfiction book (new or old) you think everyone should read?
🧹 Housekeeping 🧹
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Yay I love seeing Jaymi’s nonfiction book party featured!!
Now I’m going to have the song stuck in my head all day. Thanks so much for the shoutout!