16: The lull - Writers don't write
I used to be so hungry.
One morning earlier this week, my housemate and I were talking about our bedtimes. We had both fallen asleep early the previous night and it made us think about 2020. 2020, when we first started to dream of living together. He worked with me on my podcast at the time and there were many nights when we both stayed up, on the phone, either collaborating or keeping each other company as we worked on our individual projects.
In 2020, I worked full-time at an Extended Reality creation lab. My key role was as an educational researcher but it was an intimate company with a small staff so I did much else - whatever had to be done. We had long days, especially when working towards a project. This is when I started working on my first podcast. This was definitely the busiest period of my life. I worked long days taking calls for work all the way up to 9 pm on some nights. Then at 10 pm, I had a meeting with my podcast team. Sometimes the meeting was to talk about an episode, sometimes it was to have a table read before recording a script. I spent most nights editing audio or setting up interviews.
Repeat the next day.
I remember nights when I thought about the people that closed for work at 5 pm and spent their evenings relaxing. I spent my evenings working on my passion.
I don’t know what was happening in 2020 that made me so hungry. So hungry to do so much. Whatever it was, I need to rediscover it.
Incase you are new here: My name is Mo Isu. I am an audio producer based in Lagos, Nigeria. I am currently attempting to build a career in audio journalism. I have taught myself everything I know so far. You are reading issue 16 of my newsletter detailing this segment of my journey. Read the about page for more
I think there’s an appeal to the lull. It can be an opportunity to recalibrate and reflect.
It reminds me of the silence that occasionally falls into conversations.
The silence that falls into conversations, if you are not comfortable with it, forces you to speak, to want to fill it with something else, something to say, something to share, something to ask. OR the silence forces you to flee. Calls become shorter because you take the lull as a sign to leave, a sign to end.
Goodbye, talk to you next time we can have a 10-minute conversation without a single moment of pause.
Imagine taking this lull as a sign to stop writing these newsletters. Because I have been unable to write doesn’t mean I should stop writing, does it?
This lull, like the silence in conversations, has been an opportunity to think.
In one way, I have been thinking about the lull itself.
Why do I lack motivation? Why have I been unable to create?
Why do I no longer stay up late nights?
Why have I not made any narrative stories this year?
Why is this lull so long, so silent?
What happened to my hunger?
Have I lost my drive?
There are many ways in which I am disappointed in myself this year. It’s a pretty consistent emotion for me to feel that I am not doing enough, but no year has it been as pronounced as it currently is.
This year, I have felt as if I have been very inefficient. I feel like I have not written as much as I have in past years. I feel like I did not make enough stories. These are my principal inefficiencies.
The lull has afforded me the ability to see them. And in seeing them, I have realised something else that is important to me.
There is a phrase that used to be the note on which I guided my efforts.
It acted as the way in which I reminded myself of what efforts were important to me. And it was very simple, if I say to myself that I am a writer, then obviously, my efforts should be towards writing more things.
I have learnt through my introspection, but also with the help of Jack Conte’s articulation, that writers do not only write. They publish.
Writers don’t write, they publish
This feeling I feel, about how I have not done enough work, is linked to my failure to publish this year. This year has been the year I published the least number of stories. Except for an audio essay I made as an entry to a competition, I have not published any audio piece this year.
I have contributed to a number of others but I have been very uninspired to make any of my own. I even worry that maybe I might have forgotten how to.
I was looking at my pitch document on notion today*. The task on my kanban read “work on pitch.” The key result was an expectation to find a story I could actually make progress on. I found none.
Somewhere over the past couple of months, as I have developed an obsession for creating pitches - for developing a good story that someone else might be interested in, I have neglected making stories that I am interested in.
I have neglected it so much that it suddenly feels like I am unable to do it anymore. I have forgotten how to make stories.
Last year, I made almost 40 original stories, stories that started as ideas in my own head, stories that I interviewed for, edited, and published.
Last year, I worked with the goal of publishing.
It’s what explains the hunger I had. Working to publish is the reason that one Thursday night last year, midway through my first season of weekly published episodes,
I drank a cup of coffee,
transcribed two interviews,
wrote a script,
edited the episode
edited marketing material
and published it, all before 9 am on Friday.
Working to publish can feel like the wrong motivation if you focus on the wrong things, things like
how many people saw this
how many people shared it
what is my brand voice
number of views? number of listens?
It’s not that focusing on those things is wrong, it’s just very easy to focus on them and lose sight of what matters to you.
Why do you create at all?
Working to publish is actually a noble motivation:
It is about giving back
It is about contributing to the world
It is about making a mark
Along with other questions that this lull has inspired in my mind, I have also been thinking about why people gravitate toward the work I put out. I am always very confused to find that people are interested in what I have to say. I have learnt not to spend too much time questioning it and spend more time creating but it’s something I always wonder about.
But a few weeks ago, it clicked. Someone reached out to me on ig and said something along the lines of how I helped them see that what they wanted for themself wasn’t ridiculous. This comment helped me realize something of a pattern in the response I get from people.
“The purpose of my work is to make people feel less alone.”
This is the thing I am so good at, this is what I am able to do every time I publish. Across every medium I have explored, this has been the answer to that question for me,
Why do you create at all?
Why do you go through the pain of creating something from nothing
Perhaps this is the biggest lesson I have learnt from this lull, the lesson of what I am hungry for. I am hungry to publish.
I am not hungry to get thousands of views, reads or listens, How many people are interested in what I make is barely in my control. The thing that is in my control is that I make things and I publish them. The thing that is in my control is that everything I make is authentic and sincere and hopeful and makes people feel less alone.
Writers don’t write. Writers publish.
And yes, this means the newsletter is back to being weekly. I apologise for the lull.
Behind the scene
This is a new segment where I will share some things from the process of putting this article together.
*I was looking at my pitch document on notion today*
This was the first sentence I wrote in this article. I initially thought it was going to be the beginning of this essay but every time I came to drop new notes, it kept going down until it found its way to where it is now.
I deleted 4 paragraphs because they were unrelated to the central theme, including a paragraph about how you can’t plan when you will publish good work or which of your work will get great reviews. During the process of creating, you don’t know what is going to be the best thing you ever make, your job is to keep making stuff and to always make it with all your heart.
The themes in this essay came to me in this order
- The lull
This idea came first but made more sense being introduced after the prologue instead of in it. My first draft of the prologue actually hinted at it.
- I used to be so hungry
This idea came right in the conversation I had with my housemate. Once I uttered the words ‘i don’t know why I was so hungry In 2020’ i knew it had to be the beginning of this essay.
- I want to publish more
This came last but in revelation and in writing but it was what I needed to learn to be able to bring all the ideas together.
PS: Let me know if you like this section.
Please subscribe to my newsletter if you aren’t already a subscriber.
Share the newsletter with a friend or on your social media timelines. Would really appreciate that
If you have a substack newsletter, you can recommend my newsletter to your subscribers. You can read about how to do it at the button below.
This essay was brought to you courtesy of 3 cups of coffee. You can help me write my next issue by buying me a cup of coffee