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Karen Hahn, Kathryn Hahn: Hello and welcome to another episode of Working Overtime, working as bi weekly advice focused Side Hustle. I’m your host, Karen Hahn. Hi, Jean, how are you?
June Thomas: And I’m your other host, June Thomas.
Karen Hahn, Kathryn Hahn: I am also. Well, at least I can make your. You manifest myself into being swell and not just like. Okay, fine. So but we’re recording together, which is, I think, an auspicious start for me. So this week I want to actually address a listener email. I wanted to work it in. Did you say I could hit the notes in a conversational way? Do you think it worked?
June Thomas: I think you thank you very much for working in radio.
Karen Hahn, Kathryn Hahn: Until we fully produce a jingle anyway. Okay. So Rachel Cass wrote in and here is the email that she sent to us. Do you have any advice for someone interested in exploring a new creative pursuit but without much background to build on? In my case, I work in the book industry and would love to work on my writing skills. It’s not that I have any aspiration to be a published writer. I don’t have the drive and ambition and point of view for that. But I’d love to exercise those creative and technical muscles more than I do. Put another way, I love to read and feel like I’d be a better reader if I could learn more about writing. It seems scary to just dive in with no guidance, but I also think I would enjoy it if I could figure out how to start.
Karen Hahn, Kathryn Hahn: Okay, so I want to start by addressing this question kind of on a more broad level, just to anybody who’s thinking about kind of picking up another creative pursuit. But I do promise that we will specifically talk about writing as a creative pursuit later in the episode. But before we get to that June, I wanted to ask you, do you have other creative pursuits and what are they?
June Thomas: I do, but I don’t quite know what words to use for them because I’m not very good at the things that I’m about to mention. It’s very different to how I feel about writing, but as a hobbyist or in a very amateur way, I like to sketch and do the kind of journaling that I think I’ve referred to before as K-Pop journaling, because it’s a style that’s often used to write about K-Pop bands or K-Pop biases. It involves small pieces of paper and tiny bits of washi tape and lots and lots of layering.
June Thomas: And I also like to make books and journals, and for me it isn’t so much about developing skills, though you do always get better at things the more you do them as being about putting my mind on a sort of leisure track after a day’s work. You know, I absolutely love watching TV, so I’m always happy to do that. But I think I feel more satisfied when I spend time creating rather than just consuming. Yeah, and I say just consuming because often you can combine things, you can sketch and journal.
Karen Hahn, Kathryn Hahn: I feel like I find sort of the same isn’t typical where I have things to do. For instance, I’ve recently taken up piano again after not having played it since I started college, basically. As you know, I like to sketch and like draw. And I also have a loom that I like set up but haven’t properly used yet. So there are a lot of things I like to do, but I think the main thing that would have any bearing on my writing at least is like I do think that drawing in a way does have something to do with it because you have to find a subject or come up with a subject and use your imagination to that degree. And also, again, my lady and Digger perished after I moved to the West Coast, and everyone else is still in New York. But that in itself also sort of helps your writing skills because you have to figure out in particular how to write, quote unquote, with this group, how to set up your character in a convincing way, how to set up an arc and things like that.
Karen Hahn, Kathryn Hahn: And I think it’s also important to realize that the things you do for leisure can also count as creative pursuits. I think a big piece of advice that’s often given for learning how to write better is to read books. And similarly, I think that watching movies and TV playing video games, they’re not just passive activities. You’re learning what you like as a consumer as well as how to execute these kinds of ideas well or what makes it go poorly, if you know what I mean. So would you agree with that? And in the terms of like something that you think of as passive could actually be more active in helping you.
June Thomas: Yeah, absolutely. And I also really, truly don’t understand how someone who doesn’t, for example, love reading could think that they’d be able to write. Or maybe another way of putting it would be how much better a writer they’d be if they read, or how someone could think that they could write scripts or comics or whatever without really living in those worlds. I mean, that just feels really necessary to me. And if you live in those worlds, that means that you’ll meet people either virtually or in person who have similar interests. And so that would expand the creative genres that people in your circle are working on, which expands the world of ideas that you’re exposed to.
June Thomas: So all of those things can be transformative. And I think basically the message that we’re both saying is anything that you work on that’s creative improves all of your creative activities. So yeah, I think it’s absolutely essential to be into the thing you think you’re going to do professionally, but also if you just kind of want to develop skills.
Karen Hahn, Kathryn Hahn: I mean, I feel like it also boils down to Scott It will sound like a very trite point, but it’s like inspiration can come from anywhere. Like even just hanging out with friends, going out to dinner or some random stuff that you talk about. Like anything you feed into sparking your inspiration in a different medium, I guess.
Karen Hahn, Kathryn Hahn: I also wanted to ask, how did you get into the creative pursuits that you now have and have you been doing them for a long time?
June Thomas: Most of my creative pursuits stem in a way from my lifelong love of stationary. But in recent years, YouTube has really expanded my horizons like I got into urban sketching after discovering some urban sketches on YouTube, and I started making journals again after I found someone whose aesthetic matched mine like it was purely aesthetic. We have nothing else in common. But I really dig what she was making and I really wanted to copy what she was making, which I think is a really great way of just finding something that excites.
Karen Hahn, Kathryn Hahn: You really.
June Thomas: Nicely to this disturbingly powerful black trans.
Karen Hahn, Kathryn Hahn: Like, in some ways it’s just awful. But in other ways it does open you up to so many creators who are doing really, really interesting and cool things. Like my partner and I watch like a lot of cooking videos. I feel like that’s our number one thing, but it’s like pretty straight cooking videos too, where it’s just like, Here’s how to make this dish then. But then like other things, like really crazy compilations of outsized street food in Korea and just things like that. So it does feel like opening a whole new window. Yeah.
June Thomas: Yeah. I’ve also I’ve watched a lot of Korean street food videos are Korean like Korean ramen like I don’t think I’ve ever had that so many years later. Every time I watch that, I’m like, Why didn’t you want it?
Karen Hahn, Kathryn Hahn: Okay, we’ve we’ve set it on the panel, right?
June Thomas: We’re going through. We’re going. Yeah.
Karen Hahn, Kathryn Hahn: So I would say a problem with the creative pursuits that I don’t have and enjoy those that I definitely don’t devote as much time as I want to to them just because of the necessities of like work and other commitments. And like again, I said that I’ve started playing the piano again, but I want to spend more time on it. I want to actually use my loom. And also, as we’ve discussed in our New Year’s Resolutions episode, I want to use my Wacom tablet more, which I really I haven’t done it since we recorded the episodes. I’m really falling behind. Yeah, but it’s really hard to find the time to do this stuff. How do you find the time or force yourself to find the time to. To devote to this? Yeah. Hmm.
June Thomas: Well, it’s really interesting that you said force yourself, because for me, what’s important is being very clear that this is relaxation, this is something I’m doing to decompress from like work, work that makes it so much easier for me if it’s just something that I’m doing very casually while I’m watching TV or like while I’m shifting out of work mode, I can find time, you know, just like I can somehow always find time to watch television. The things that I find hard to make time for are pursuits that feel like work.
June Thomas: Yeah. Whether because I’m kind of trying to turn it into a side hustle and make money for it, or I’m like, making it kind of heavy and taking it very seriously. So as long as I can just keep it on the level of like, Oh, this is just a lark, I always seem to be able to make room for that, but I also don’t know that that’s quite what Rachel’s referring to because since like she really kind of wants to learn still, I think you do learn if you devote time doing.
Karen Hahn, Kathryn Hahn: It totally.
June Thomas: Easier to devote time to something if you feel like it’s.
Karen Hahn, Kathryn Hahn: Okay. We’re going to take a quick break, but we’ll be right back after this.
Karen Hahn, Kathryn Hahn: Hi listeners. Are there any topics that you’d like to hear us address on the show? Do you have any questions for us that you think we’ll be able to answer? Let us know by emailing us at working at Slate.com, or even better. You can call us and leave a message at 3049339675. That’s 3049330rk. Okay. Now back to the show. I want to address Rachel’s question more specifically. What is the best way to start working on your writing skills? June How did you get started writing?
June Thomas: It was just something that I’ve always been obsessed by, you know, reading, writing, making stuff up. I used to spend hours and hours writing letters to friends.
Karen Hahn, Kathryn Hahn: So it’s like back on.
June Thomas: By now. Makes me sound.
Karen Hahn, Kathryn Hahn: Cool. Did you write letters.
June Thomas: To Jane Austen? I got amazing. Amazing. And then no matter where I was living or what I was supposed to be doing, I always seemed to find a magazine to write for. I mean, we’re talking small and obscure, not, you know, national magazines or anything, but like local or kind of community papers. And I’m like totally a hermit. I don’t go out and put myself out there, but somehow I always did whatever it was that I needed to do to make that kind of connection. And I wasn’t really aware of like, I’ve got to go and do this. It wasn’t, you know, something that I wrote out, you know, a hundred times in my notebook. It’s just, for whatever reason, doing that kind of work, even though it was work, made me happy.
June Thomas: And I should also say that I’ve never really studied writing. I’m not that much of a reader of kind of books about the craft of writing. I really don’t know that I’ve taken classes, but I’ve learned a lot from putting myself in situations where I had to write in. Different styles are on all kinds of topics. Like for me, the thing that has most improved my writing is being edited by great editors, and I’ve been lucky enough to have that experience on many occasions. But that is something that’s very hard yeah to do if you’re just kind of, you know, in the situation that Rachel describes where she says she doesn’t really want to do this, you know, as a side hustle or as a job. She already has a job that she likes. She just wants to get a bit better. So that’s something that I think maybe you could have.
Karen Hahn, Kathryn Hahn: A right to say something like if you.
June Thomas: Have friends.
Karen Hahn, Kathryn Hahn: Friends who are kind of of a similar mindset, I guess, and you can make it a kind of low pressure environment to write with each other and sort of grow with each other. Then that might be a good start as well. I’ll admit I didn’t do a lot of writing after I graduated from college until I started freelancing, which I think was maybe like three or four years after I graduated. And the fact that I did get back into it was sort of similar to you where I enjoyed doing it. And more importantly, I was writing about stuff that I was passionate about, namely film and TV.
Karen Hahn, Kathryn Hahn: So I guess my advice on that front, besides maybe trying to start a writing group with like minded friends, is to think about what you want to write about, like what do you want to talk to your friends about? And you can just write those thoughts down and you’re already well on your way. And to that end, even just writing a diary or keeping a record of the things you watch and read or eat and writing down your thoughts about those things can be really helpful to orient yourself, whether it’s figuring out what’s most important to you in any of those genres and what you really want to talk about there.
Karen Hahn, Kathryn Hahn: I know a lot of other writing advice tends to be much more structured, like the Pomodoro method or doing daily pages, but I feel like that advice is maybe meant for people kind of further along in their writing journey, or as you sort of put it, when writing becomes more of a job and more of something that you are really devoting time to in that sense, what do you think about that?
June Thomas: Yeah, I agree. I think and also I think first, you know, they work for some people. They really work for some people. I remember when we talked on an early episode of Working Over Time about the Pomodoro method, and it wasn’t really anything that really resonated for for any of us. And people wrote in and said, it really works for me. So like a lot of these things, you know, try thing, try that, all of the things that you just mentioned and maybe they will be, you know, they really connect for you. I think, though, that for me, what you said about just like just write write about whatever grabs your attention, you know, any moment that you have when you’re waiting for someone, you know, I’m not saying don’t get on your phone because phones are fun, but you can also, you know, spend that time that you would be scrolling, you know, just making notes about what you had for dinner or, you know, the TV shows that you’ve been watching.
June Thomas: You know, some of the hardest things about writing are coming up with ideas, coming up with ideas that are fresh, that are interesting, expressing them well. Those kinds of practices, they’re really about building muscles, you know, doing them over and over so that you can do it when you have to. Even if you have a lot of talent, it’s not something that necessarily just, you know, drops from the sky. So if you want to be a critic or if you feel that you could be a critic, you know, just write criticism, whether it’s in your notebook or maybe it is on the web or on a blog. But wherever it is, it doesn’t really matter. Although I do feel pressure more effective if you’re doing it in public and kind of getting feedback, even if it’s just yeah. And even know it’s just a little bit of feedback. You don’t need a ton of readers, you know, just a small group of people who maybe, you know, again create in that kind of and.
Karen Hahn, Kathryn Hahn: I guess this is circling back a little bit, but I did want to talk about books, about writing. My dad, for instance, was a huge fan of Stephen King’s on writing. And you said you you tend not to seek out those books or not find them helpful. Is that right?
June Thomas: Yeah. Yeah. I’m not a big reader of craft books. I guess they’re called even when I know that there are things that I need to work on. Like this happened again on a recent episode of Working Over Time. I know that in writing I have a bit of a weakness when it comes to structure. I find it very difficult to outline. That’s just not how my mind works. Structure always just seems to kind of emerge from the process rather than something that I, you know, scaffold and then fill in. And I would like to change that or at least maybe have more control over it.
June Thomas: But even when I’m told about good books, I think, you know, Isaac recently recommended a couple. You know, they sounded great. I bought them and read them. You know, I just don’t feel kind of motivated to do that. And it’s not because, you know, I’m an intellectual, the one who reads the great texts. You know, I have a terrible weakness for productivity books and I read lots and lots of those. And I actually do find them helpful. But around like organization and time management rather than language and, you know, working with words. So I guess the short answer here is, you know, whatever you connect with, whatever you actually enjoy reading and things, I like it.
Karen Hahn, Kathryn Hahn: It also almost it’s a sort of difference between like, you know, when people learn better, when they hear the thing and then people who learn better when they do the thing. I feel like we both sort of fall into the latter category where it’s like I would rather than reading a craft book, I would rather be working with an editor who will work with me actively and help me grow, as opposed to reading it and thinking I’m becoming better because I’ve read Stephen King’s axe about writing. Yeah.
June Thomas: Yeah, yeah. And I hear that’s an amazing do and I may even have read it, but.
Karen Hahn, Kathryn Hahn: All right. We’re going to take a little break, but we’ll be right back after this.
Karen Hahn, Kathryn Hahn: All right. Now back to our conversation. So we’ve talked about, I guess, reading, writing books and working with editors and a writing group. But I’m curious, are there ways to learn how to or more about writing that don’t involve actually writing?
June Thomas: Mm hmm. I don’t know about, like, excluding writing altogether, but I’m going to suggest one. As I mentioned before, I’m an absolute sponge for productivity content. And I would recommend that anyone who’s interested in writing nonfiction, I’m not sure it’s particularly as helpful for fiction, and I think it might be especially useful for like articles or even Twitter threads or shorter things. I would recommend everyone go to YouTube and search for Zettl Karsten. One of my favorite words for linking your thinking or personal knowledge management. And I know those are some broad terms.
June Thomas: So if you go to the show notes, I will suggest two or three good resources places to start. I think that the first video you watch, you will either know whether this is something that you want to watch more of or you think it’s it’s a bunk. But I just think that there are certain techniques for like keeping track of your ideas or keeping track of even thoughts that just really can be quite generative, can really help you just figure out what it is that you even want to write about what it is that if you, you know, just imagine, okay, if I had to write every day, what would I write about? Oh, you know, most of us can do that for about three days.
June Thomas: And then it’s like, but if you can kind of build a system that helps you figure out, okay, like what? What is it that interests me? What is it that I want to tell the world? I think that can actually be pretty. I don’t know if generative is the is the word that I can’t escape. No, not at all. I don’t want to ask if that sounds like nonsense to you, because I suspect the answer might be yes. And that would that would differ. But what what do you think? Are there anything.
Karen Hahn, Kathryn Hahn: That I was thinking about? If I learned about that, I’ve already said the answer, which is just like, well, maybe here’s the slight variation on my answer. Think about the movies and TV shows that you really like. See if there’s a writer in common with any of those, or even just if there’s like one movie where you like. The writing on this is so incredible. It’s just amazing to figure out who the screenwriter is, see if you can even find a copy of their scripts online or something, or just seek out the other movies that they’ve written on and then watch them because you’ll get a better idea of how this person works, if that makes any sense.
Karen Hahn, Kathryn Hahn: And I guess this is specifically kind of geared towards screenwriting or maybe kind of more fiction writing in general. But there are also a lot of podcasts out there, I think similar to what you’re saying about finding YouTube videos that are around this topic, where writers will talk about their process and craft and what’s important to them in crafting a story. It’s sort of, I guess, the equivalent of like creating your own college course, which is maybe not too fun, but hopefully more fun because you get to watch movie TV and stuff.
June Thomas: Yeah. And I think that, you know, a lot of people say it’s kind of the ultimate compliment for like just to give an example of a particular genre that I’m thinking of, well, let’s just call it like The New Yorker piece that kind of, you know, it’s a very stylish, sometimes just stylish piece. Sometimes you read one and you like it so much, you just want to kind of read it. And, you know, as I said, I’m not a structure person, but sometimes they’re so good. You just want to sit back, read it again and figure out how did they do that?
Karen Hahn, Kathryn Hahn: Absolutely.
June Thomas: How do they catch me right at the beginning and really just bring me all the way through to the end? What were the techniques that they used? Did they use a kind of a, B, C kind of thing that you might be aware of when you’re looking at poetry? You know, just try and figure out how they did it. You know, again, if it’s a piece that you didn’t particularly care for it, that’s not going to be productive. But if it’s something that you just like, oh my God, that was so amazing. You know, I think one writer who a lot of people talk about doing this with, like Janet Malcolm, you know, I’ve read her book so many times and yet I always think, how did she do that? Yeah, there’s certain writers.
Karen Hahn, Kathryn Hahn: I’m sure, Rachel, that are doing this because she says that she loves reading and doing this kind of stuff. But I guess are you into before you start writing anything is try to think about the works that you like more structurally or kind of more analytically and see what you can take away from that. All right. That’s all the time that we have for this episode. Hopefully you find it helpful. Thank you so much for listening. And if you like the show, don’t forget to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and if you have ideas for other things, we could do better or questions you’d like us to address.
Karen Hahn, Kathryn Hahn: We would love to hear from you. You can send us an email at working at Slate.com or give us a ring at 3049330r. K.
June Thomas: If you’d like to support what we do. Please sign up for Slate Plus at Slate.com. Slash working. Plus you’ll get bonus content, including exclusive episodes of Slow Burn and big.
Karen Hahn, Kathryn Hahn: Big thanks to our producers and have be.
June Thomas: So happy to.
Karen Hahn, Kathryn Hahn: Be here on Sunday with a brand new episode of Working and in two weeks we’ll have another working overtime. Until then, get back to work.
June Thomas: So.