“Just F***ing Start…”

It’s the key to everything. Including finishing.

I spent my lifetime preparing to write the manuscript.

Actually, I spent a lifetime talking about writing the manuscript. It was always an idea, something I would tackle one day. And so, a lifetime sped by. There was oatmeal to spoon into tiny mouths, and tantrums to tame. And there were various bosses to treat likewise. They can be so fussy when they’re hungry or smelly!

You can occupy a full lifetime that way, as I spent nearly a lifetime learning. The reason God laughs when s(he) hears about your big plans? Because s(he)’s heard it all before. Talk is a devalued currency, because way too much of it circulates.

And I have released my share of that gassy effluent, in an attempt to distract myself from the fact that I was doing everything but writing. I was advancing my magazine career, learning to be an editor, contorting myself around various bosses, becoming a boss myself, and contorting myself around my daydreams of a writer’s life.

But does anybody actually make a living at writing, I wondered? My college mentor had written a book called The Author’s Empty Purse, which detailed all the ways writers have been shortchanged through history. It’s a long list. Which made it easier to pursue a career as an editor, because people get paid to do that.

Until the pandemic, that is.

The magazine I was editing (NatuRx: Better Living Through Cannabis) went away like a puff from a vape pen, and I asked myself a long-overdue question: What’s next?

So, miraculously, I started writing a project I’d been talking about for at least a couple of decades: trying to make sense of my adult life — the full death-march of days — by seriously considering how it all began, when I was a boy wandering through Europe, looking for purpose in unlikely places. I had no idea how to manage that narrative, what to include, what to leave out. But I learned, day to day, month to month, by doing it.

After a pandemic year of writing, I had 110,000 words stacked like cordwood, awaiting the spark that would ignite a new phase of my writing and editing career. I’m not claiming victory; a participation medal, in this case, is worth cherishing as well.

When I looked up from my laptop at the end of that process, I began sheepishly admitting to my publishing industry friends that I had actually done so. One expressed amazement, given her many false starts over the years.

I shared her amazement, given my many similar false starts.

I showed her my daily schedule — instructions from a stern boss (me) to a wayward employee (also me):


8am-9am: Fuck off; buy things; plan travel; send emails

9am-11:30am: Start writing. JUST FUCKING START! (Alternate: Plan/outline/research day’s writing, THEN FUCKING START WRITING)

11:30 Light proofread, plot next day’s intro

12:00pm-12:30pm: Lunch

12:30pm-1pm: Wrap up morning work

1pm-3pm; nap/exercise

3pm-5pm: Read source material; take notes

5pm: Yoga, wine, dinner

[Monday: 7–9, painting]

I developed that ironclad schedule under orders from Annie Dillard, in The Writing Life.

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives,” she wrote, peering at me accusingly. “What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order — willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living.”

I didn’t always stick to my own program. Who could? But the days when I really did JUST FUCKING START were my best ones. Writing is marathon training. There are lots of ways to cover 26.2 miles, but none of them work until you take the first step.

So whatever your project, whatever your dream, just fucking start. It’s the only way to fucking finish.




Road 2 Where, Exactly? Hope you’ll join me for this picnic.

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