Before I start, let me make one thing clear. John Forde is a copywriter with a great newsletter who's also a good friend. And me, I'm Sean D'Souza. Which of course makes it really weird when I say I used myself for inspiration. It sounds a lot more than weird, actually. It sounds egocentric. Let me assure it's got nothing to do with ego.
And everything to do with desperation
You see when I started writing articles for my website back in about 2001, I was at best a cartoonist. If you asked me to draw something, you had a bouncy volunteer right besides you. But when you asked me to write, the bounciness would sure fade away pretty rapidly. You see not only did I consider myself an average writer, but I had enough reason to be afraid of writing.
And the reason I was afraid was because of girl named Clare.
I remember writing an article way back in the year 1990-91
I wanted to be a copywriter and in one of my diverse moods, I decided to “make some money” writing for the newspapers as well. So I met up with this guy called CY Gopinath, who ran this writing agency. Well CY gave me an assignment, and I wrote about it.
And Clare, who worked with him, edited my assignment. And when Clare was done I couldn't recognise the darned thing at all. There was so much edited; so much added; so much removed that it seemed to me not my work at all. Today I can't even remember the subject of the article.
But I remember the memory of frustration
I remember that I didn't want to be a writer. Well, who cares about writing articles anyway? I could be a cartoonist instead. I could write ad copy. Clare wouldn't be around to edit my stuff. And who died and made Clare queen anyway? And there I was, ten years into the future, and Clare was still bothering me.
In fact most months, article writing was a drudgery
I wrote articles because I was forced to do so. I knew I was supposed to update my website. I knew that one of our alliances, Allen Weiss (from MarketingProfs.com) would be asking me whether I'd completed my article. Somehow I had to banish Clare from my head and take away the fear of writing.
Article writing was intense drudgery
I hated every bit of article writing. I hated the start, the middle, and I couldn't be sure of the end. If I completed an article in one working day, I'd be ecstatic. Most days it would take me two days.
Two whole days and I couldn't honestly tell you if the article wouldn't end up in this article graveyard. Thankfully it was only two days in the whole month (Yup, I'd write once a month).
And then I decided to get inspiration from my own articles
I started looking back at the ones I'd completed, and felt this immense sense of satisfaction. Even inspiration. And so before writing, I'd look at my previous headlines. I'd read my own articles. And feel a sense of accomplishment. That put in a little juice in my reserve tank. That propelled me off the starting point.
And I coughed and sputtered, but at least I was writing a new article. It didn't make things any better. I was still a foul person to be around on article writing days. So I had to search for inspiration.
And inspiration came in the form of a guy named John Forde
I loved the way John wrote. His writing was always so effortless. He seemed to be having so much fun. And he knew his topic (unlike me who mostly knew about cartooning). And so I'd read many of John's articles. At one point, after getting to know him, I even asked him for an archive of sorts. Just so I could read and be inspired.
John's writing and mine: They both nudged me on
And while I got a lot better over the years, there was a moment in time when I got radically better. That moment was when I promised my members that I would write 5 articles a week. No one paid attention of course, but I had promised 5000bc members that they'd get this wealth of information week after week.
And there I was trapped—in a way. I had to write those articles. If you thought writing one is hard, five must be pure agony.
Actually, I found quite the opposite
The moment I started writing five-six articles a week, something changed rapidly. Not all at once, of course, but in a few months I found that I could literally sit down at my computer and turn out five articles in the course of the day.
At first this spurt of writing seems like a fluke
I was sure I'd run out of ideas in a few weeks. But the weeks turned to months. And months to years. The dread that I'd been feeling seemed to disappear, slowly at first, but the evidence was clear. I was never going to run out of ideas.
What's more interesting, is that I got faster, which allowed me to move from writing 800 word articles to 3000 word articles—often in a day or two, but also sometimes in a single morning. When you get through that much, and do so, so quickly, it's not a big leap of imagination to figure out you can write booklets, then books.
At first, the steps were halting, almost like someone was about to tap me on the shoulder and say “ok, you've run out of luck”, but in time, I realised that tap was never going to come. I'd earned myself that skill, fair and square and it was getting better all the time.
And when you see all of this from the outside, it's easy to think: This Sean is a genius. Or a mad man.
I don't see the same Sean as you do
I see the Sean who struggled with Clare's edit (she was only doing her job well). I see the plod, the drudgery of writing articles for MarketingProfs in the early days (I wrote almost 50 articles for them). I see the fear in my eyes when I promised to write five articles a week in a moment of madness. And I know that anyone can do it.
I don't care who you are.
I don't care what your education.
I don't care if you can even read—or write.
The best part is that you don't need to slave for almost ten years like I did. Or if you go back in time to Clare, twenty years. You can do it in three-six months. It's still going to be a slog, but you can do it.
And then there are going to be times when you're super frustrated
And the only inspiration you have is yourself. Or someone like John Forde. And if you persist, something magical will happen. You'll get enormously better at writing.
And you'll be an inspiration to others.
Start. Stop. Start. Stop. The biggest frustration with writing is it drives you crazy.
Yet writing is a “language” like everything else. Learn the structure and you can learn to write without the frustration and faster than every before.
E.J. Apostrophe says
Sometimes the spark of inspiration can be from other’s example. Writing is the most incredible art one can create and thankfully you, Sean, embraced this. Thank you for sharing your wonderful talent with us.
Jen Vondenbrink says
Thanks for the article Sean. I’m sitting here at my desk today as I promised myself I would write a couple articles. I got one done and then have been procrastinating the others. I think you’ve become my John Forde.
Sean D'Souza says
Elena Castro says
You did it, Sean, you put the fire under my bum. And made me realize, that it is not that uncomfortable after all to jump up. Hey, it is exhilarating! Thank you for your voice, and for the support it provides.
Sean D'Souza says
Good to know, Elena 🙂