Photo by Ivan Samkov on

I’ve been watching, shall we say, a fair amount of YouTube. You can learn anything there, from post-apocalyptic building techniques to curly hair care to why the face of Venus is so obscure in that painting by Velazquez. You can learn how to keep a plant alive. How to clean your house. If you’re vegan, there are beans and cream-free sauces and waifish young people assuring you that baby steps are cool. You can listen to music and watch short films, and hear all manner of art dissected by people who don’t make art themselves but are pretty sure they can tell you how it’s done.

For my writing, it’s been wonderful. I love hearing how other people work, how they outline and get a draft down, and plan a series and so forth. I’ve always thought of writing as an ugly process, but these young people are kind of beautiful with their sweaty faces and unwashed hair, the hunted, manic look that precedes a deadline. I adore their giant glasses, their planners and kanban boards, their colored pens and highlighters and sticky notes all over the floor. I like to play along with their pomodoro live streams and awkward chats. I’ve even completed a Nano, because why not? I’ve got nowhere else to be.

In spite or because of all this YouTubing I managed to finish a book. The first draft has always been hardest for me, so I started dictating that part, in order not to see what a goddamn mess was turning up on the page. In fact, the mess is the point, because voice-to-text is bound to make one anyway so there’s no use trying to be precious about it. You dictate it, get it on the page, and give yourself something to edit. Thanks be to the gods of modern technology.

However, I’m old and wise enough to know that what unsticks me once might not do the trick next time, so I’ve been loading my pockets with all kinds of new tools: writing sprints, schedules, word counts, index cards, notebooks. The different methods are a comfort. They give me a fallback plan. As I start to work on book two of this series (it’s a sci-fi romance thing), I’ve already deployed the notebook and index cards, and I’m giving heavy thought to the post-its. Plain yellow or multicolored. These are the questions that vex me.

What have you learned lately?