One thing I know about the writing life is that you get better at the thing by doing it.
I started out hoping to be invited to do the thing I wanted to do. But of course, this is before you’ve ever done it before, so you’re like on Draft 1 of your attempt. So you suck at it.
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I was so delighted to find this lesson echoed in Gaby Dunn’s book Bad with Money. You might know Gaby from her super-successful YouTube channel or her podcast. She’s been a guest on my podcast, and what’s hilarious is that the financial memoir I pitched in 2016 was also called Bad with Money.
So we have a lot in common, mostly that we’re both from financially sketchy Floridian backgrounds, trying to make the finances work while being our creative selves in expensive cities, she in L.A. and me in Seattle.
Here was my favorite page of Bad with Money:
This is what I call a Fake-out.
How to Give Yourself Experience
Fake-out: n. a project you invent for yourself to make yourself do the work you want someone else to invite you and pay you to do in the future.
As I say in my book:
Blogs make for perfect fake-outs. I started one about my Peace Corps experience, where I posted a virtual scrapbook of memories and photos. And sometimes I would write something creative for it. I wrote about the loneliness, the culture, and how having the dad that I had led me to be a volunteer. Because I had this canvas set up, sometimes I spent the endless afternoon hours filling it with art. As far as people back home were concerned, the blog served as little more than proof of life for my mom. Secretly, I used it to start writing regularly. I wrote more than thirty thousand words on my blog, 3 percent of my million words.
When you start from nothing, you have to build your career on your own time. This is free, apart from the cost of time, which not every has the luxury of.
But ask yourself what you’re really doing with your time. If it’s watching Netflix and waiting for someone to invite you to write about travel, throw away your tv for a year and start writing and sharing your thoughts on travel now. If it’s writing about business, start a blog on LinkedIn. If it’s investigative journalism, start following and tweeting about it.
Take yourself seriously first, and other people will come along.
Gaby’s book goes on:
The Leap from Nothing
Gaby is now an Official Big Deal. I saw the license hanging on her wall. If she wants to say something, she can get people to pay her to say it.
And for me, too, after years of doing it alone, writing picked up into something people noticed.
Again from my book:
You never know when a fake-out might become something real. After my viral story, I re-posted that essay about how my dad influenced me to become a volunteer. Then the Huffington Post emailed me and asked to publish it. I wanted to go back in time and tell my panicked self that she was already doing work that people would want to read one day; she just had to keep going so she could find out.
Looking at Gaby Dunn now, you’d probably never guess that she had to invent some blog to get experience. People’s pasts get washed away, and all we see are the things presented by their Instagram feeds or publicists.
But if you dig deep into almost any writer you know, I can almost guarantee you that there was years of work in the dark before anyone knocked on their door.