🎵“Cause I’m just a nicheless writer, baby”🎵
Hello Tangentians! Welcome to this week’s edition. 👋
Today’s piece is a reflection on my current writing journey.
If you joined January’s writing experiment, I have instructions for the upcoming week at the bottom of this piece.
I want it all now and I can’t choose.
Two questions trigger my impatience and ambivalence:
-What do you write about?
-What do you want to do with your writing?
To the first question, I have my scripted answer, which I always deliver sheepishly: “I write about a bunch of things. Mainly, I try to make the mundane interesting.”
To the latter, I swim in an ocean of daydreams and desires: I want to be a non-fiction writer, an essayist, a novelist, a poet, a songwriter, a screenwriter. Heck, I want to write an Ad as iconic as David Ogilvy’s Roll-Royce Ad.
All the best-sellers. All the awards. All the cultural relevance, and riches, and fame. Maybe not the fame—I find mass notoriety dreadful.
But because I want it all, nothing is clear, just abundant. It’s hard to drink the ocean (it’s very salty—do not recommend).
These abstract desires come with heavy expectations that feel like a bulletproof vest designed for an elephant.
I feel the need to grow my Substack wildly (10X baby!). Otherwise, what did I accomplish during my sabbatical?
Oh, and to grow my Substack faster than ChatGPT sign-ups, I need to pick a niche. Otherwise, how else will people find me and read my work? Substack doesn’t have a category called “whatever the fuck this is.”1
I’ve written nearly 100 essays in the last couple of years…with no clear category or theme that my pretty little eyes can discern. Common wisdom said that you write your way into a niche. What gives?
These streams of thought all coalesce around the same question:
What is wrong with me?
Turns out—nothing. I’m just in my writing adolescence.
I have to thank, as well as ’s essay “Why I can’t just pick a niche,” for lifting me out of my doldrum.
Charlie asked me about the rules/expectations I was setting for my writing.
Going down that path of self-inquiry showed me that a lot of the expectations I set for myself and the scripts I’ve formed are ultimately the result of my desire to be loved.
“Love me, love me” —The Cardigans (and also me)
A big reason why I write is because I want people to react to my words. I want to influence millions. That would make it “worthwhile.”
My brain knows that there are other virtuous reasons for writing. For instance, writing to explore the world, indulge my curiosities, and try to live in greater harmony and acceptance with myself. Not everything has to be done so that it leads to something else. That’s just utility tyranny (h/tfor the great term).
But heart trumps logic. And beneath my desire to inspire and entertain people with my words lies a deep desire for approval. Writing so that I am worthy of being loved.
I know the validity of this feeling has more holes than a honeycomb—but it is so strong because it’s a manifestation of what I think is probably the hardest thing for me to unlearn: accepting myself fully and finding a sense of self-worth in my existence, not my accomplishments.
Just Embrace It
It was also Charlie Bleecker that made a point that has stuck with me: You need quit your whining and pouting and embrace this stage of your writing journey.2
I need to embrace my writing adolescence.
When I was a teenager, I had many dreams. I loved politics and leadership; I got voted “most likely to be President of the United States” by my peers senior year.3 I wanted to a soccer player, because most Latino men will go through that stage at least once in their lives.4 I wanted to be a music producer, a journalist, a floriculturist, a coffee farmer, and a fashion company owner.5
You can probably see the parallels here.
And I recall that time filled with dreams, yes, but also with crippling anxiety and fear about the future, about my place in the world, and my ability to be someone that my family would be proud of. That I would be proud of.
If I were to time travel and talk to teenage Camilo, I would tell him the following:
Enjoy your adolescence; the horizon of possibilities, the days where you feel rudderless, the hidden treasures you’ve never suspected.
In John Mayer’s words, never wish for less time. At a recent concert, he said:
“Everything you love and hate leaves at the same speed: Done. Done. Done. The thing you hate that you have to do tomorrow will be over before you know it, and the thing you're looking forward to tomorrow will be over before you know it…
I have a new rule in my life, and the rule is: Never wish for less time. Waiting for things to be over is just wishing for less time.
Waiting to get this done to get to the next thing—that's just wishing for less time.
So wherever you go, just make a home right there and do that thing…Wherever you are, go, 'this is where it's all at right now.
I’ve been having the time of my life because I figured that out…”
I would tell him to focus on authenticity. That word gets thrown around so much that it has grown stale. But for me authenticity is self-awareness + honesty + intention.
“The essence of being as good as you can be is you gotta figure our who you are, and you gotta figure out that in a relentless effort to try and get clear about what’s important to you, what uncompromising principles do you stand by, what makes you who you are, so if you don’t go through that process, you don’t do the self-discovery, then you don’t have an opportunity to be your best, because you don’t know who you are yet...
Maximize your authenticity and be connected to that true essence of who you really are.”
Finally, I would tell him:
You’ll be alright, kid.
Writing Experiment Week 2: Editing your shitty first draft
Thanks to all of you who’ve decided to enlist in this experiment! I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the response!
By now, you should have your draft, don’t sweat it if you don’t have it yet—make an effort to get something on paper this weekend!
Here are three things I’d like you to do over the next week to edit your draft.
1. Read out loud: Reading your story out loud is probably the most important thing you can do. I get it, it can feel awkward. The benefit of reading your story out loud is that it helps you catch spelling and syntax errors easily.
Also, you start getting a feel for the flow of the piece. Are all your sentences the same length? Do you sound monotone? Does your story flow?
You catch these things by reading it out loud.
2. CRIBS feedback method: CRIBS is a concept I’ve learned in Write of Passage. It stands for Confusing, Repetitive, Insightful, Boring, Surprising.
Take a look at your story and try to identify these elements in your piece. You may not be able to catch all of these since you are not “fresh eyes,” but it is helpful to keep these elements in the back of your head as you review the work.
3. Get feedback from someone: This is a tricky one. Most people aren’t very good about providing feedback.
How do you counter this?
Tell your reader to give you feedback on specific elements. Guide them.
I suggest you ask them for three things:
What did you really like about this piece?
Was there anything that felt oddly repetitive or unclear?
What were the sentences that made you react (if you share a Google Doc with them, my suggestion is that they just add reaction emojis/commentary next to that sentence).
Finally, I would love to take a look at your draft and give you feedback. Please send it to me via email (or share in a Google Doc) to firstname.lastname@example.org. You’ll get feedback from me within 24 hours.
I learned today that what I thought was an em dash (–) was just a slightly longer hyphen. This (—) is an em dash (Option + Shift + dash key on a Mac).
Share this post with a friend. Go ahead and make their day.
Thank you for reading and until next time!
I’ve taken creative liberties with the paraphrasing. Charlie is a sweetheart.
Narrator: In fact, Camilo cannot become President of the United States.
Now my shitty knee and I cause mayhem at my local indoor soccer league.
All these inspired by Colombian Telenovelas.
Writing “former” in this sentence was very painful.