Boston, Sunday, September 27, 2020
Before everything went haywire this year, I went to Dumpling School.
Dumpling School is exactly what it sounds like: a school where you learn to make (in this case) Taiwanese-American dumplings. A master chef named Patty Chen taught the class.
Patty and her husband, Marco, taught us how to mix the dough; roll it thin and flat; make two kinds of filling; stuff and shape and seal the dumplings into a classic half-moon shape.
It was harder than it looked: The springy dough seemed to have its own ideas about what it wanted to be. Instead of cooperating by folding itself into a tidy, tight shape and staying put, my dough seemed determined to reinvent itself.
Forget half-moon: My dumplings rebranded themselves as "Tire Blowout" and "Ruptured Amoeba."
Anyway, in between Marco's dad jokes (How much does the heaviest dumpling weigh? Won ton.), Patty worked like a Basic Training cadet.
She hauled buckets of flour, scurrying up and down the cellar stairs. She slapped into shape a pile of dumping dough big enough to double as a Large Cheese pizza. She stoked a steamer that boiled so aggressively it steamed up the windows and everyone's eyeglasses every time she lifted the lid.
Pipe in some dance music, and Dumpling School would for Patty look a lot like a cardio class.
"You have to fall in love with the labor," Patty said at one point—seemingly out of nowhere, as if in answer to my thoughts. "A lot of people open restaurants because they love food. But that's not how it works. You really have to learn to love the labor."
* * *
There's a cliché in writing: Writers hate to write, but they love to have written.
I've promulgated that idea myself from time to time, grafting it onto my identity and tending to the fused part until it was impossible to know what was native and what was not.
But it turns out not to be true: It's a lie—the idea that you can be a writer if you hate to write. At least, you won't be a writer for very long.
You can't love just the product. You have to love the process.
You can't love just the dumplings. You have to love the scurrying up and down the cellar stairs.
* * *
So the challenge for you and for me: How can we learn to love the work, even when it feels hard? And of course I'm talking about writing here... but it could apply to any work we do.
Here's what's worked for me:
Find the moment you love most in your work.
Blow it up. Slow it down. Make it last.
* * *
I hate writing first drafts of anything. Blog posts. New speeches. This newsletter.
It's torturous and painful and what I have in my head comes out Extra Stupid. Like I'm typing with mittens on.
So my solution looks like this:
1. Write daily for 15 minutes in a notebook I use to record fragments of ideas and rando thoughts. Flip through it before you sit to write a first draft (just a minute ago I flipped through what I'd written about Dumpling School; I'd forgotten that Blown-Tire detail).
This is a writer's equivalent of Barry's Bootcamp: high-intensity interval training. Bursts of thoughts, in succession. Don't stop before the 15 minutes. Don't NOT show up.
2. Rush through The Ugly First Draft (TUFD) like you're Usain Bolt and the TUFD finish line is April in Boston on a normal year. Make it quick: Set a timer. Spend as little time there as possible.
👉 Pro tip: Write your TUFD as a list. Anyone can write a list of ideas.
3. Change into your party pants, and go back to it. Once TUFD is out of my head and onto the page, I move it back into my head—but this time, only a paragraph or a sentence at a time or a single metaphor at a time.
Every minute in the TUFD felt like an hour, sitting in that chair. Now every hour feels like a minute. This is flow state. Revel in it. Enjoy it. Make it last as long as you want!
The endless tweaking that drives my editor nuts is actually what I love the most. This is the Patty part: the labor you love. Read it out loud until it sounds right to your ear. Or until the Dumpling is perfect.
* * *
You aren't me, of course. Maybe you love TUFD stage and hate the polish process. Maybe you love the research. That's OK. The point is to slow what you love, and rush what you hate.
Try it. Let me know how it goes?
* * *
Here are a few things worth sharing this week.
1. Speaking of Process...
Orbit Media released its 7th annual blogging survey, tracking trends in content marketing and blog writing.
Lots of great benchmarks in there that both document blogging's maturing and offer you some handy guidelines for more success with your own program. This chart, for example: