Three Ways to Get a Rush from Your Writing

RushI have no clue who this guy is. No, really, I don’t. Alright, well, I know he emailed me to let me know I had a broken link in a post. And I know he was interested in what that link led to, which made me think well of him, so I emailed him back. And I also know that he was fast on the replies, quick with the wit, and he had a nice-looking blog. Oh, and he’s written a book. Two books, in fact.

I know something else. His name is Phil, and he’s not afraid to ask for what he wants. In less than 5 emails, in fact. Phil’s ability to get to the point, quickly and succinctly, after helping me, is a lesson to many people out there – because that ability (and his kindness) made me click to see just who the hell he is, what he’s about and notice that -… damn! Phil can write! (Okay, and he’s smart, too. Smarts count.)

The result? Today’s guest post. I liked it. You will too.

My favorite band is Rush. Always has been. As a kid, it was the music that attracted me, but as I grew older and presumably wiser, I was able to move beyond. I could understand lyricist Neil Peart’s visceral and profound lyrics.

They began to speak volumes to me.

Nicknamed “The Professor”, Neil has written books, penning four incredible texts about traveling, loss, and music. As I began writing books and blogging myself, I developed an entirely new appreciation for Peart’s genius that affects my writing to this very day.

In this post, I share some of Neil’s writing tips that can help scribes of all levels.

Get it down before it gets away.

This is perhaps my most important rule of thumb, whether writing books, blog posts, or emails. Too often in my early “career”, I found myself striving for perfection from the minute that I typed a word on a screen or page. (Yes, I am old enough to have actually used a typewriter back in the day.)

Forget writing well. Just write, before it gets away.

Centuries ago, Voltaire expressed the same sentiment: “The better is the enemy of the good.” While different people have different writing styles, I find it best to build now and polish later. Often I force myself to finish a page, paragraph, or even a thought when I am sure that I can do better. Much better.

Why do I force myself to accept mediocrity temporarily? Because the value of seeing it on the screen exceeds the value of having it in my head – where it could easily be lost and never again be found.

Listen to Picasso

After the release of his fourth book Roadshow: Landscape With Drums, I listened to an interview with Neil by original MTV VJ Mark Goodman. (Yes, I’m dating myself again.)

Neil was speaking about his writing style and quoted Pablo Picasso:

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working.”

This is a very powerful sentiment and one worth remembering. Expecting the material to just magically flow once we sit down to write is typically an exercise in futility. I can think of many moments while writing my first book when I had a great idea while I was at the gym—i.e., nowhere near a computer.

Rather than continue my running and hope to remember it later, I would do the following:

• Stop
• Take pen to paper
• Jot down the note
• Diligently go to work upon returning home.

Jerry Seinfeld does the same thing when writing his standup material. Some may remember an episode of the eponymous show in which he thinks of a hysterical joke in the middle of the night and then writes it down. Upon waking up, he can’t remember what he wrote and promptly enlists George, Elaine, and Kramer to decipher his text.

Hopefully, you write notes neater than Jerry does. Whether it’s a notebook, BlackBerry, or some other mechanism, make sure to capture your thoughts as soon as they happen. Remember that you don’t know when they will hit you, so be prepared.

Don’t be afraid of the fifty-cent word.

Listen to Rush songs and you’ll find words or phrases not frequently used in everyday conversation. Hey, it’s a cerebral band. Some of my favorite Rush songs include words such as “stratospheric”, “parallax”, and “subdivided”.

Is this showing off or using big words just for the sake of doing so? Hardly. An avid reader, Neil writes each word with a distinct purpose.

Trust me. You don’t write a song about the dawn of the nuclear age without brevity, clarity, and a sense of mission.

I’ve read different opinions on the matter that run the gamut, especially with respect to blogging. On one hand, some believe that you should never talk down to your audience. Of course, if you only write with a grade school vocabulary, then what does that say about your audience? On the other hand, why rely exclusively on polysyllabic words when simplicity will suffice?

I try to strike a middle ground when I write. Clearly, using words like “desiderate” rather than “want” seems to be a bit excessive and unnecessary. But I’m a big believer in nailing a sentence with a true gem of a word, much like Dennis Miller does (or George Carlin did) during their standup routines.

The Take-Away Message

I’ll be the first to admit that what works for one doesn’t work for all. If you don’t heed the advice in this post, I’ll get over it. Really. I work as a consultant, so I’m used to being ignored, blamed, crucified, and worse.

But if you do listen, if you do take a few minutes out of your day and think about what Picasso, Neil Peart, Jerry Seinfeld, George Carlin, and Dennis Miller have said and done, your writing should improve. And isn’t that part of why you read this in the first place?

Am I off base? What do you think?

When he’s not listening to Rush absorbing intelligence or networking like an S.O.B and blinding people with his great writing, Phil Simon goes around sticking technology right where it belongs – in the workplace. Check out Phil’s site right here – and yes, people, there are plenty of posts there that you’d be interested in. Go!

Post by Agent X

Agent X is the name many mysterious and intriguing people take on when they guest post at our site. Their mission is to slip in like a thief in the night, leave you with entertaining, valuable and useful content, and slip away again - without getting caught.

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  1. As a stand-up comic, I could attest to this wholeheartedly.

    Carry a small notepad with you wherever you go. Write down anything, and I mean *anything*, that would potentially be a new blog post, book idea, promotion, whatever. Buy a digital recorder even!

    Even if you can’t flesh it out right away, you have all these bits and pieces of information stored somewhere. When you need inspiration, just go back and look over it. You wouldn’t believe how many times a quick idea from a year ago will stir up a new thought in your mind.

    No matter what, don’t fool yourself and say “oh, I’ll remember that!”. You won’t. Trust me. 🙂
    .-= Jordan Cooper´s last blog ..Building an Army with Nicholas Cardot of Site Sketch 101 =-.

  2. This article made me think about my own writing.

    If I had one theme in my writing, I would like to think it’s writing to bring people up. Not just emotionally, intellectually.

    What I mean is I attempt to explain complicated things in language as simple as possible, but no simpler.
    .-= Dave Doolin´s last blog ..Website In A Weekend: Thursday evening – Get into the gate =-.

  3. Rush=win.

    I am rediscovering the love for writing I had when I was a kid. For some reason I left this passion behind for a few years. So good to come back to it and so glad to find such great, practical advice.

    Specifically, your point about finishing that page or paragraph and then going back to edit reinforces a mantra I’ve adopted for 2010: “Just finish something.” Like my hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, I start a lot of projects and then get sidetracked. You’re dead on, man. Go to get that first draft done.
    .-= Justin´s last blog ..Cool Stories =-.

  4. Phil,

    I admit it, I raced over because of Rush. Loved them since I too was using a typewriter and watching Mark Goodman.

    On unreadable handwriting—yes, yes, capture every idea, but DO turn on a light when you capture those midnight thoughts. I once had a scribble of some critical piece of knowledge that was so crazy-yet-nearly-readable that I made a blog post out of deciphering it. We had a good time in the comments, but I’d still like to know what my dreamself wanted me to know when I woke up.

    Off to check out your blog now…


    .-= Kelly´s last blog ..One in a Million, Revisited =-.

  5. Awesome post Phil!

    (Full Disclaimer: I am a card carrying member of both the Phil Simon and Men with Pens fan clubs. Therefore, I am totally geeked out about Phil guest posting here. And oh, before you ask about them, you should probably know I made the fan club membership cards myself—I’m a little, I believe the fifty-cent word is “Wackado.”)

    My favorite Pablo Picasso quote is:

    “Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.”

    I am pretty sure he was talking about first drafts.

    Therefore, I agree wholeheartedly with Phil’s quote:

    “Get it down before it gets away.”

    Waiting until your great idea moves out of the inspiration phase before you write it down (or however else you creatively express yourself) is a guaranteed way to forget all about your great idea.

    My house is littered with ideas scribbled on the back of old business cards (I have accumulated quite a few of those in my nomadic career and wanted to put them to good use).

    I also own three digital voice recorders (one for the house, one for the car, and one in my laptop travel case – did I mention I have OCD?), so that I can capture ideas when away from pen and paper (or keyboard and screen).

    How “great” are these great ideas? I don’t allow myself to think about it—until after I have written a first draft based on the idea—and even then I don’t let myself read the draft for at least one day.

    Yes, when I do read them, most of them totally suck—but some of them…

    Thanks for providing some great writing advice!
    .-= Jim Harris´s last blog ..Video: Twitter #FollowFriday – January 15, 2010 =-.

  6. I’ve had too many ideas vanish into the strange and wonderful place between my ears. No, I won’t remember it later. I’ve started scribbling.

    First drafts are also idea generators. Blurt, clean it up later, and if something comes to you while you’re blurting (and something usually does), write it down.

    Trying to get it right the first time just ties you up in a little ball of self-consciousness.

    The other half of the household works in the IT industry – I’ll be sending him to the Virtual Soapbox. Thanks, Phil.
    .-= Stacey Cornelius´s last blog ..Perfectionism, pirates, and a free marketing class =-.

  7. And now I have “Tom Sawyer” stuck in my head.
    .-= Stacey Cornelius´s last blog ..Perfectionism, pirates, and a free marketing class =-.

  8. Stacey,

    Hahaha. I have “Time Stand Still” stuck in my head (I know that makes me something less than a purist), but “Subdivisions” was running around early this morning, too.

    Until later,

    .-= Kelly´s last blog ..Gone Fishin’? =-.

  9. When I bought my voice recorder to interview Kevin Parent, I thought to myself, “Great. I’m going to carry this around forever so I’ll never lose a thought again.” Of course, then I became paranoid I’d actually record over the interview and there it sits, brand new and unused beyond its intended purpose.

    And, during that interview, I asked Kevin about those crazy moments when thoughts come out of the blue, and we had this fantastic discussion about how they slip away like fish off the line. I got wistful thinking about those awesome ideas I lost forever, and he told me, “There are plenty of fish in the sea.”

    I console myself with that thought each time I find myself saying, “DAMN! I just HAD it!”

  10. Okay, anyone that quotes Voltaire, Picasso, and Neil Peart in the same post gets a thumbs up.

    Phil, the whole “get it down before it gets away” thing is, for me, the most important part. Every time I read something like what you wrote, I get that positive reinforcement that keeps the perfectionist in check, and keeps me writing.

    Thanks for the renaissance writing.
    .-= bencurnett´s last blog ..A Brief Post About Content Brief Contents =-.

  11. All

    Great comments. Disclaimer – I am not receiving any royalties from the band for my plugs.

    @thestudiosource – glad to put Tom Sawyer in your head!

    @ocdqblog – Voice records are great. I use my BlackBerry sometimes for that.

    @Jordan_Cooper – did you ever hear Jerry Seinfeld talk about how hard it is to create five minutes worth of material? I believe that it was in his DVD “Comedian.”
    .-= Phil Simon´s last blog ..Vote for My Enterprise 2.0 Conference 2010 Proposal =-.

  12. @Phil: Of course I have. ‘Comedian’ is a MUST see documentary for anyone interested in writing humor in any capacity. Most people don’t realize that you usually have to write a full notebook of material in order to just squeeze out a small bit of usable stuff.
    .-= Jordan Cooper´s last blog ..The Power of Hanging Out =-.

  13. I can’t tell you have many times that I’ve been sitting at my computer at work, and a topic for our blog pops into my head. I used to try to remember it for when lunch time, or when I got home. Of course that thought was lost to the recesses of my cerebral junk drawer.

    Then one day it dawned on me, “Hey, dumbass, send yourself an email.” Ever since, I’ll jot down a topic, a quick reminder of where it came from, and then get back to work like a good little worker ant.
    .-= Todd´s last blog ..The 10 best exercise tips ever =-.

  14. When it comes to short/long/simple/complex words, my rule of thumb is to use the most accurate and precise word that the intended audience will understand.

  15. Mary E. Ulrich says:

    Enjoyed the blog and the comments. My new favorite quote is: “Forget writing well. Just write, before it gets away.”

    Can’t tell you how many times I would write an idea down on the notepad by my bed and find out the next morning, it was written on top of three other midnight brilliant ideas which were also undecipherable (hope that’s a word).

    Wishing you all, pleasant dreams and legible notes in the morning.

  16. All true. I’ve started carrying a notepad around because I really don’t remember correctly snippets of overheard conversation in coffee shops that made me laugh, sad, or angry.

    I also wrote something down in the middle of the night and went back to sleep. In the morning, it looked liked gobbledygook. I don’t think George or Elaine could decipher “the gbbtr grot bye”

    I also am the type who edits each page (well, maybe each paragraph) as I write. Bad! Speed bumps that make writing much more difficult than it needs to be.

    So ok. Just write and polish later. Will try.

    .-= Marisa Birns´s last blog ..Speech! =-.

  17. I use to get a rush from writing, but now that I write so many posts it seems that I have lost my spark. Maybe I need to start writing more about things I’m passionate about, rather than business objective posts.
    .-= Dennis´s last blog ..Warehouse Heating Solutions =-.

  18. @Dennis Passion definitely makes it more enjoyable. I find that even when it’s something that I’m passionate about, if I feel that I “have” to do it, I tend to not enjoy it.
    .-= Todd´s last blog ..The 10 best exercise tips ever =-.

  19. I seem to get inspired while I’m waiting for my gym class to start or driving in traffic. It is the only time that I ever seem to sit still! I keep my mobile phone next to me and jot down notes that I can use the next day. It’s essential for a writer to carry some sort of writing instrument with them!

  20. Thanks for the reminder. I’ve been meaning to start carrying around a notepad and pen. Some of my best thoughts come during my morning jog around the park .. and just like early morning dreams they evaporate into the ether – leaving just a vague feeling that they were some of my best thoughts.
    .-= George @ Dial Indicators´s last blog ..Video: Dial Indicator With Magnetic Stand =-.

  21. I’m a huge believer in the “get it down, polish later” theory, as well as keeping a notebook on the nightstand, in the car, in the bathroom–whatever it takes. I get a lot of good ideas in the shower and often bolt out barely dry to jot them down. Just occurred to me that my kids’ bath crayons might be a good solution to the sopping floors going forward. Great post!
    .-= Deb´s last blog ..Welcome =-.

  22. Great ideas! As someone who is developing his “writing voice” I find the advice useful and applicable. Keep posted notes/note cards/small notebook handy, you never know when an idea is going to arise. I also find the advice of Bob Dylan on how to write a song, “look out the window, get outside, and see what is going on”

  23. Thank you for sharing this. When someone is passionate about what they are writing with any given topic, the result is usually incredible. This information will definitely assist in that process.

  24. Passionate? I’ve been called worse.

    I’m using my passion to raise funds for the new book:


  1. […] on 17. Jan, 2010 Categories: Misc. Writing I originally wrote this post for Men With Pens, one of my favorite writing sites. There were quite a few interesting comments. Since I’m […]

  2. […] The last time Men with Pens saw me, I had just written a guest post for them entitled Get a Rush from Your Writing. […]

  3. […] The last time Men with Pens saw me, I had just written a guest post for them entitled Get a Rush from Your Writing. […]

  4. […] For the entire post and an interesting string of comments, click here. […]

  5. […] The last time Men with Pens saw me, I had just written a guest post for them entitled Get a Rush from Your Writing. […]

  6. […] For the entire post and an interesting string of comments, click here. […]

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