Today I got selected as one of the first Amtrak residents. The original pool was narrowed down from sixteen thousand to just over one hundred, and then again to twenty four. This event makes it increasingly difficult to push away the idea that I might actually be a good writer.
I was flattered, but not all that surprised, to find that I was one of the semifinalists. It was easy to believe that most applicants weren't even writers, and that the hook of me being a Time Magazine top blogger was enough to make it to the next round.
Looking at some of the others in the pool, though, I couldn't help but be proud of the company I was in. Besides little old self-published me were highly distributed published authors and columnists for major magazines. Even a lot of the people disappointed they weren't chosen were really impressive.
Time Magazine chose me as one of the best bloggers. Amtrak chose me as one of the best writers. Derek Sivers, whose book list I look to for inspiration, emailed me to tell me that he loved my book and was going to publish a good review of it on his list.
So maybe I'm a good writer. I don't feel like an imposter in most fields I'm skilled in, but for some reason I do feel that way with writing. Maybe it's the strange cachet of being a writer.
As I thought about what I'd write on the residency, I thought about the novel I started. Immediately I discount it, thinking that it's not a real novel, it's just a bunch of pages I've written. Maybe the plot is too thin. Maybe there aren't enough characters. Maybe I don't really know what I'm doing.
Or maybe that's just what it's like before you write your first good novel. Maybe most are filled with doubt because they know they're imperfect and can't reconcile that with the praise they get. And if that's true, maybe believing your own hype has some value. Maybe that's how you get motivated to do good creative work.
Very excited to be part of the Amtrak Residency! I think it's a really cool and forward thinking program.
As this posts, our ship is pulling into Tokyo Bay. The two plus weeks of the cruise flew by-- I can't believe it's almost over. Already thinking about the next one.
In my mind, "writing" breaks down to two things -- content and mechanics.
The content of writing is what you have to say: stories, philosophy, insights, analysis, etc.
The mechanics are the word choices, grammar, pacing, perspective, etc.
Great content in writing is more important, more rare, and harder to teach than great mechanics. There's plenty of mechanically excellent writers with nothing to say, but meanwhile, a mechanically-flawed-interesting-content writer is always interesting as long as the mechanics aren't totally in the way.
Your mechanics are probably at a solid "C+" -- you get out of your way, you don't make mistakes, you've got a good sense of brevity and conversational tone. People can relate to your writing and you come across humble enough, even when in hyperbrag mode.
Your content ranges from B+ to A+.
But the thing is, if at "C" or higher, the content just straight dominates the mechanics. A+ content with C+ mechanics absolutely slaughters A+ mechanics of C+ content. It's not even close.
A couple assessments:
"My Friends and I Bought an Island" -- C+ mechanics, A- content. Very interesting because so many people want to do it. Walks literally through the process. Mechanics are solid; nothing special.
"The Bernal Heights Piano Incident(s)" -- B+ mechanics, A- content. I think your mechanics came out in force here. Incident(s) in the title is hilarious already; that mechanical touch right there makes the word Incident(s) work harder and implies a lot about what's to come. "I'm embarrassed to say that I wasn't all that into the idea." is a killer opening line (and gets style points for being past tense yet still having tension in the story; it reminds me a bit of a detective story).
Anyway. Don't take the evaluations in the "C" and "A-" ranges to be any sort of knock. Imagine that "C" in mechanics is average among competent trained writers and each partial-grade up is logarithmically harder to reach. So again, that's a "C" grade among people who are professional writers, completed MFA courses, stuff like that. You stack up well against them and occasionally transcend.
But, here's the thing: most people don't embrace sheer human potential and absurdity, and can't make levity of that, and don't introspect or philosophize much. And then, you have adventures that would qualify for most people as the "craziest adventure of their entire life" ... how often? Quarterly?
So that's my assessment: you've got excellent content that's incredibly rare. And your mechanics largely get out of your way; they're solid enough to carry your philosophy and levity and experiences and occasionally add brilliant flourishes. There's still some room to grow on technical merit, if desired, though someone as busy as you will likely never max out on technical/mechanical writing ability.
For reference, A+/A+ writers in English: I think there's Shakespeare and Carlisle and I can't think of anything else. I read plenty of ~C/~A type writers though: most people who become highly accomplished (Ray Dalio in finance, Andre Agassi in tennis and competitiveness, Art Williams in entrepreneurship, etc) aren't mechanically excellent writers, because it's hard to be while doing the stuff to be incredibly interesting.
Thanks for the hint about using trains for travel. I tried out the Amtrak site and IMHO it's not very user friendly. They need the ability to pick two cities you want to travel between and then after seeing the route options, entering the date you want to arrive and provide you with the date you would need to leave. Instead, it appears to be designed for someone who is very familiar with the train schedules.
Congratulations, Tynan! You are a real inspiration for me - not only as a writer but as a fulfilled person. I started reading your posts only to inspire my own blogging project (my first too), and I found your confidence infectious. My blog followed my adventures as I biked down from Starkville, MS to Long Beach, MS, and along the way bumps in the road would discourage me. But your blogs were always there to rejuvenate me, and I thank you so much for that.
Since then, I've continued to follow your blog, and I am always surprised to see how applicable your advice is to my own life. I wish you the most success and pray that you never stop blogging.
I don't remember when Opposite Day is, but when that happens it'd be a real hoot to see a post from you that isn't primarily a venue for your incessant humblebragging. Just a request.
DId you seriously go to a guy's personal blog and request that he doesn't talk about himself? I don't think you understand what personal blogs are for.
Nah, I asked that he write something that isn't just bragging about how great he is and how much awesome stuff he does constantly. Most of his posts are along the lines of, "listen to my wisdom, for I have overcome the challenges of life with ease... while traveling the world 100s of times over and being a pickup artist with a massive harem." He's kind of the younger real-life version of that Dos Equis guy. To hear Tynan talk, he's totally beaten life -- thoroughly and totally. It's depressing to be less than he is, and I'd welcome it if maybe he'd admit to making a mistake (if that's ever happened) or not having an amazingly good time (again, assuming he's ever not been on cloud 9) so that he could at least look like he isn't a freakin' demigod. Granted, my plebeian requests may go unnoticed by His Grace, but I felt like stating them anyway.
When you read about the successes of other people, do you usually feel inspired that such opportunities exist, or depressed that some people are succeeding more than you?
Ask yourself the same question about seeing people have a good time in posts on social media.
I fear that you're in the minority of people who respond negatively to others' success rather than positively and it's possibly something you should work to fix. [Sorry, I couldn't demonstrate how you could do so].
I'd partially agree with you if Tynan's posts had little substance than to air his achievements, but that is clearly not the case, for two reasons:
And I said I'd only "partially" agree, because in fact hearing about the successes of other people does inspire me (within reason), and inspires other people in similar ways.
I hope I've been polite in responding, because I'm not trying to get involved in a fight, but I do want you to understand why Tynan's blog is so successful, despite not hiding various successes he's had.
Wow! Great news Tynan! Hearty Congratulations!
Reading about your strategies, goals and outlooks and then also getting to know about the results you are getting (also - the obstacles you face) proves both an inspiration and guide for the readers. Over the time I've been reading your blog, there have been many nuggets of wisdom that have helped me great deal in my own journey. Thank you.
Wishing you the best.
Simple message, but it hit hard. I've been suffering from adequacy issues, imposter syndrome, and thus depression to-the-max since 2010 and this year I've made incredible strides to get out of it. One of the lingering symptoms that had refused to go away are the nagging self-doubts and insecurities.
Last night i resolved to take time every day to look at my biggest accomplishments that day and my biggest accomplishments ever and just be fucking proud of myself.
Thanks for writing, Tynan.
In a plane, one of my favorite places to be, I filled in the form on the tray table.
If I designed customs forms, I would make them with a crease in the middle so that they could easily fit into a pocket. As is it's a bit of a predicament. I don't want to just hold on to the thing while I get my bag out of the overhead compartment. I might lose it or crumple it.
I don't want to fold it either. That might be a sign that I'm a drug dealer, or at least someone with some contempt for authority. Those bored people in the little glass booths have a lot of power. Deny my extra-long-and-thin piece of paper, and I'm in trouble.
I'm incredibly pleased to bring you insights from Jeff Goins today. He's one of the most interesting, insightful, and genuine people I've met in a long time. He's able to run a successful business and life by being relentlessly focused on his audience and mastering his craft. He's really living the dream. Below, we've got a hands-on interview with him on how he re-booted his blog that hadn't caught on and built it into a powerhouse. If you like the insights here, you definitely should check out Jeff Goins' Intimate Class On Building Your Audience (and Craft) with the proceeds going to charity.
Going From 50 Blog Readers to 100,000 Through Authenticity, Craftsmanship, and GivingInsights from Jeff Goins, as told to Sebastian Marshall
It really was a scary decision. Anybody who has spent time building something of value online understands the opportunity cost of stopping and starting over. That applies to building anything anywhere.
When I started my blog over, it was a process of me struggling with this for about six months. I thought I wanted to start a new blog, because with my previous blog I didn't think I could accomplish what I wanted to accomplish: write and publish books, and build a personal platform. I didn't feel like I made room for that with the previous blog.