Turning events from everyday life into stories is critical for nonfiction writing. It's also vital if you want to become a columnist, and it's even a practice that can help with your fiction.
Years ago, I had a dream of becoming a columnist. I sent off dozens of job applications. Eventually, I got a response: "Bryan, you could only become a columnist if you're somebody who people know and feel that their writing is worth reading." In other words, I didn't have any name recognition because I was a new writer.
Thankfully, these days, it's much easier to become a columnist. In fact, many traditional newspaper columnists are leaving the conventional print world to build relationships directly with their readers on Substack and other platforms like Ghost.
Nevertheless, you still need anecdotes and stories that you can turn into column entries because a good column is about more than an idea or writing about whatever is on your mind.
And that's the key takeaway from this week's interviewee, Matthew Dicks, a professional storyteller, and columnist for not one but three different publications.
In this episode, we discuss:
Matthew's book on Amazon
You'll find him on social media here:Support the show
If you enjoyed the show please leave a review on Apple. And if you have any questions you can find me on Twitter @BryanJCollins
Thanks for listening!
Matthew: It is not an exaggeration to say that almost every single day, I receive an email or a Facebook message or a tweet or a text from someone around the world who has started doing Homework for Life and experiences the same thing, that suddenly their life seems more important, it seems more full of things, they are recognizing moments in their lives that they didn’t recognize before. The tragedy of our lives is we move through our life experiencing things and then we leave those experiences behind and, ultimately, we just forget about them.
Welcome to the Become a Writer Today Podcast with Bryan Collins. Here, you’ll find practical advice and interviews for all kinds of writers.
Bryan: How can you turn events from everyday life into stories? Hi, there. My name is Bryan Collins and welcome to the Become a Writer Today Podcast. Turning events from everyday life into stories is key for nonfiction writing, it’s key if you want to become a columnist, and it’s even a practice that can help you very well with your fiction and with your novels. Years ago, when I graduated as a journalist, I had a dream of becoming a columnist. I thought it’d be great to write for a national newspaper about whatever was on my mind so I sent off dozens of job applications, CVs, and resumes to newspapers around Ireland applying to write and to become a columnist. I didn’t hear anything back and I found the whole thing very frustrating. But, eventually, after some persistent emails to one editor, I got a response and she said, “Bryan, you could only become a columnist if you’re somebody who people know and who people feel that their writing is worth reading.” In other words, because I was a new writer, I didn’t have any name recognition. Years later, I got a job as a columnist for Forbes writing about technology and productivity. Thankfully, these days, it’s much easier to become a columnist because you can set up your own column by blogging or by setting up a paid newsletter or even a free newsletter on platforms like Substack or on Medium. In fact, a lot of traditional newspaper columnists are leaving the traditional print world to build relationships directly with their readers on Substack and on other newsletter platforms like Ghost. That said, if you’re going to become a columnist, whether it’s for a newspaper or for Substack or wherever, you still need anecdotes and stories that you can turn into entries for your columns, because a good column is about more than an idea or more than writing about whatever is on your mind. And that’s the key takeaway from this week’s interviewee, Matthew Dicks, who is a professional storyteller and is a columnist for not one but three different publications. My other key takeaway from talking to Matthew this week is his simple storytelling exercise that anybody can use to turn events from everyday life into pieces for their fiction or their nonfiction. It only takes five minutes to complete this piece of homework, which Matthew also described on a TED talk on his website, matthewdicks.com, and he goes into detail about how you can use this storytelling exercise for your writing in this week’s episode. And it’s actually a piece of homework, or Homework for Life as he describes it, that I intend to use going forward. If you find Homework for Life by Matthew Dicks insightful, I also recommend checking out the excellent course by David Sedaris on Masterclass, because on this particular Masterclass course, there’s a lesson where David Sedaris explains how he writes his essays and his personal journals. Basically, what he does is, at the end of the day or at the start of the day, depending on his writing routine and what’s happening, he opens up his writing application and he writes up the day’s events as a scene from a short story or a novel, so it has dialogue, it has character descriptions, it has events, turning points, and so on, and he writes several pages like this. And then, later on, he takes these scenes that he’s written up from his everyday life and then turns them into pieces of spoken word and, later, into essays and, finally, of course, into the collection of essays that he publishes as books. In other words, he is extracting stories from everyday life and turning them into pieces for his creative work. And that’s also what Matthew Dicks does.
So I hope you enjoy this week’s interview with Matthew Dicks. If you do, please consider leaving a short review on the iTunes Store and you can, of course, share the show with another writer or another friend, because your review, stars, and ratings and, of course, shares help more people find the Become a Writer Today Podcast. And if you have feedback about this week’s episode, I’m also on Twitter, at @bryanjcollins.
Bryan: Welcome to the show, Matthew.
Matthew: Thank you for having me. It means a lot.
Bryan: Matthew, you have to be one of the busiest interviewees I’ve had on the Become a Writer Today Podcast. You have many different strings to your bow. What did your writing journey look like? Because you’ve been working in the area for two, maybe three decades now.
Matthew: Yeah, it started with the desire to write and the repeated failure. I wrote many 20,000-word attempts at novels that, thankfully, I had the taste to know they were no good and abandon them and moved on to something else. So it took a long time but, eventually, back in 2009, I published my first novel and, since then, I’ve published six novels, two books of nonfiction, and I’m a columnist for a couple magazines now. So, I’ve been very fortunate over the past, I guess, 15 or so years to actually have broken in and earn a living writing as opposed to what it was before, which was just the deep desire to do so.
Bryan: You’ve experimented with writing novels, writing nonfiction, the podcast, and you also instruct on storytelling, so it’s fair to say you’ve tried a couple of different genres or niches?
Matthew: Yes, I’ve written — I’ve also written musicals and plays and screenplays so whatever I can do in order to put sentences on a page, that is sort of what I am interested in.
Bryan: So, when you’re interested in so many different types of creative writing projects, how would you decide what to work on next? That’s a challenge I’ve often had.
Matthew: Well, for me, I’ve always tried to work on a multitude of things at once and that’s sort of how I avoid ever having writer’s block. So there’s always the project that I have to work on, like the book that is under contract that has a due date and that probably occupies maybe two-thirds of my day and any writing day is spent sort of trying to get that done, but then I spend the next third of the day working on the next project or the project I’m afraid to tell anyone about or the project that I really want to be working on that I’m not working on right now so I tend to have a few sort of irons in the fire, one primary one and a bunch of others that I like to dabble in whenever possible, especially when I’m stuck in one project, I can simply shift to the next.
Bryan: So, on a typical day, do you get up and write for an hour or two hours and then go to work or do you have some other process?
Matthew: Well, it’s a couple of things. I do get up in the morning early and that is good writing time for me. I spend a lot of time pounding out the words from, say, 4:30 in the morning ’til about 6:30 in the morning. But, you know, I think I’m most successful in what my wife describes as the black holes of the day. So I believe that if I have 10 minutes, I say to myself I can write four good sentences or I can read the last three paragraphs that I wrote earlier today and see if they’re still good in my mind. And so, although I have some times that I write early in the morning, maybe during my lunch break, if I’m teaching, if I don’t have anything to do. Later on in the evening, I spend an enormous amount of time throughout the day writing when I have these smaller moments. I talk to authors or writers all the time who tell me things like, “I can only write in a two-hour period or a four-hour period, I really need to be in a coffee shop,” and I like to remind them that, during World War One, there were men wearing gas masks in trenches with artillery exploding over their heads with tiny little notebooks scribbling stories that they would hope to someday published if they survived the battle. So if you think you can only write in a two-hour block or you need a latte, that’s really quite nonsensical. And if you really want to write, if you’re desperately hoping to get words on the page in the way I am, you’ll start to take advantage of every moment that you have.
Bryan: The big mistake I made when I started writing was, because I was working a full-time job, trying to write for four or five hours on Saturday for a book, and with three kids, but at the time with two kids, and I would wouldn’t be able to because you’d have to do family stuff then I would just wouldn’t write for another week and then another week so I painfully learned the lesson that you just described. But one thing I’ve always struggled a little bit when it comes to those daily writing practices is where do you put it? Like, so you’ve got 10 minutes or 15 minutes or an hour-long lunch break, are you just opening up Word or are you doing something else?
Matthew: Yeah, I’m just opening it up. I mean, my laptop is alongside me most of the time, occasionally been forced to write on a phone, which I despise, but if I’m in a dentist office and the dentist tells me, “We’re running 30 minutes behind,” and I don’t have a computer to write on or a pen and paper, I have taken out my phone and pounded away on that terrible little keyboard, if necessary. So it’s wherever I can get it. I also always remind writers that writing is not just moving the story forward but going back into a story and reviewing what you’ve done so even if you can’t sort of create from whole cloth in the span of 14 minutes, you absolutely can go back into what you’ve read before I begin reading it, revising it, even just cleaning up, simple editing of punctuation and capitalization and grammar, all of those things are ultimately necessary. So take advantage of the time that you have whenever you have it. I agree with you, those four or five hours on a Saturday sound lovely, except I have a 13- and a 10-year-old and I have a wife and I have two cats and I have a golf game that I play poorly but enjoy doing so it’s quite often that we will go to the farmers’ market, we’ll spend two hours there, and when we get home, everyone sort of needs to decompress for a little while before we go on our next adventure and it’s during the decompression time that I sit down and go, “Okay, I have 45 minutes before anyone’s gonna tell me to do something. This is when I’m gonna get a little writing done.”
Bryan: Your day sounds a little bit like mine, I run instead of playing golf though. When you open up your writing app or your computer, are you immediately going straight to your current writing project or are you just writing about something that’s been on your mind?
Matthew: Almost always going to my writing project, the one — I sort of have three documents open at all times and I’m probably going to the one that has a due date that’s under contract and I’m looking at it and saying, “Can I continue? Am I inspired?” One of the things I do is I never finish a sentence so I always — when I’ve done a writing session, whether that session is two minutes or two hours, I never complete that last sentence, I always leave it half completed. That allows me to sort of jump back in and jump into the flow. But there are times, like this weekend, I had something happen to me in a parking lot and I thought, well, I’m definitely going to want to include that. It’s either nonfiction I’m going to write or tell it on a stage as a story. Or maybe it’s going to become a scene in a book and I’m going to exaggerate it because it’s fiction. But whenever those things happen, I will pause and I’ll write those things down too.
Bryan: Yeah, I’ve had some similar experiences with observational writing. The practice that I use mostly is journal writing so I use Day One, which is a dedicated journaling app, and I try to write up like a scene from the day as a type of story, but it takes me a bit of time to do, I don’t manage to do it every day. But in your TED Talk, which listeners can find on your website, which is excellent, you described a story writing exercise that anybody can use. Would you be able to describe that?
Matthew: Yeah, I call it Homework for Life. It began with the desire to be able to tell more stories on stages. I was starting to sort of run out of stories that I might tell audiences and I didn’t want to be that storyteller who always told the same 12 stories, you probably have that person in your life who you’ve heard that person tell the story nine times and you’re sort of sick of it. So, it’s just a process by which, rather than writing a lot, I take an Excel spreadsheet or a Google Sheet and it’s two columns. It’s the date on one side and then I stretch that B column all the way across the screen and in that B column, I write down in that column the most story-worthy moment that took place that day, which is really to say if I had to choose something from a day, even if it’s the most boring day I’ve ever lived, what would the thing be that I would tell people? The actual prompt I use is if someone has kidnapped my family and they refuse to give them back until I tell a story on the stage about something that took place on this day, what would the story be? And my goal was to find one news story a month, 12 new stories a year, I thought that would be extraordinary. What happens over time for me and truly thousands of people all over the world, though, is when you start really taking a moment to examine your day and to think about what has been said and what you did and what you thought and what you saw, you’ll discover that there’s almost always something worth noting from the day. And if we look at my Homework for Life today, you’ll see that I average about six entries a day. Those are things that I thought, things people told me, something I did that I’ve never done before, a way that I changed my mind in some significant way, plan I had, all of these little moments. Not all of them will become stories. I did an analysis recently because someone was wondering, about 10 percent of the things I write down ultimately will serve me either on the stage or on the page. But a day doesn’t go by anymore. I lock in every day with at least one memory, which is enormously valuable for me just as a human being. But what has happened over time is, as I’ve started to really examine my life, I’ve discovered that the storytelling lens has afforded me the opportunity to see stories in all these places. And I’m not a unicorn and I’m not special in any way. It is not an exaggeration to say that almost every single day, I receive an email or a Facebook message or a tweet or a text from someone around the world who has started doing Homework for Life and experiences the same thing, that, suddenly, their life seems more important, it seems more full of things, they are recognizing moments in their lives that they didn’t recognize before. The tragedy of our lives as we move through our life experiencing things and then we leave those experiences behind and, ultimately, we just forget about them. A terrible thing you can do to somebody is you can say like take your age, whatever it is, let’s subtract 12 today, so I’m 50, subtract 12, I’m 38. How many things can you talk about from your 38th year of life? You went around the sun 365 days but when you do this for people, oftentimes, if there’s no divorce, if there’s no marriage, if there’s no child born, oftentimes, they can’t tell you anything from a year, they’ve let it all go. It doesn’t mean they had a bad year or a boring year, it just means they didn’t take stock in the year, they didn’t hold on to anything like it would be precious. So Homework for Life is the idea of I want something short and simple just across the screen, just enough to fill a screen so just one cell of an Excel spreadsheet, so it should be like brushing your teeth, it should be automatic, easy, and very simple to do. But through that time, you’ll gather all of these moments that you can use for your fiction, your nonfiction, your storytelling, all of these things.
Bryan: I think I’m going to try that practice for a few weeks and see how it goes. So, how long did that take me, five or 10 minutes? It sounds quite short.
Matthew: Yeah, at the most. I mean, to be honest, nowadays, what I do is, as I’m moving through my day, when I have a moment, I’ll often write it down, I’ll add it to my phone and, at the end of the day, when I sit down formally and right before my wife and I essentially go upstairs to bed, I say, “Okay, let me review my day,” and I look at my phone and see what I’ve already written down. The things I write down are often like, “My son said a crazy thing,” and if I don’t write it down right now, I may lose it by the end of the day. Even over the course of an hour or six hours, we can lose things, we can lose a memory. So I will grab things throughout the day and then, at the end of the day, review it. But it’s five minutes. It’s really five minutes. The thing I’ll warn you is that, even if you have the dedication, which a lot of people will lack, you’ll dedicate your life to a television show on Netflix but you won’t dedicate five minutes of your life to sort of see your life in a new way, the other problem people will have is the lack of faith to sort of commit to it, because you might do it for three weeks, look back, and go, “This is terrible. Nothing is happening in my life. I feel worse about my life now looking at it than I did before,” but that’s simply because you haven’t refined that lens, that storytelling lens that I believe everyone has. The important thing is to do Homework for Life every day and especially on the boring days. It’s easy to have lots of entries on Homework for Life on the day that you get married, the day your child’s born, the day you change your job, the day you get fired, those are all days that are easy to find stories. It’s when nothing really happen that we start to examine our interiors and find things that we’re sort of either not noticing or just discarding by the end of the day.
Bryan: How long have you been completing the Homework for Life exercise?
Matthew: It’s just over a decade now.
Bryan: Wow, you must have some great entries. I wrote a parenting book during the lockdown in Ireland and I was stuck for dialogue for a scene from the book and I found an old journal entry where my son, who’s now 16, said, “When you were growing up, was TV in black and yellow?” and it not something he’d say now but it was a perfect piece of natural dialogue that I was able to insert into the book so I could see the value of the exercise.
Matthew: I love that. I think so many parents will say to their friends like, “You’re not gonna believe what my child said, I gotta write that down,” and no one ever does and then, suddenly, their child is graduating from school, graduating from college, and they always say, “Where did the time go?” If you do Homework for Life, time slows down, because I do not lose a day and I have so many memories that I would have lost of my children growing up that I now hold on to.
Bryan: Yeah, so I wrote the parenting book, that was partly one of the reasons, to do something with all of those entries that I had. But I’m curious, when you have a lot of entries like that through the Homework for Life exercise, how do you decide what to use or what to turn into a piece of public-facing work? Because you mentioned earlier, Matthew, you only use 10 percent of your entries, if that.
Matthew: Yeah. So what I do is I create a sheet with 100 entries, and so that’s not 100 days because I have more than one entry on a day, but I get 100 entries in and then I shift to a new sheet. So I have many, many sheets of 100 entries each and what I do is I allow some time to pass before I go back and review. So, I’ll let a couple months go by before I’ll ultimately go back and start looking at what happened two months ago and start reviewing it. And what I’m looking for is what feels like a story, sort of with a beginning and an end. Or, you know, in May, this thing happened, it was the beginning of my story, I didn’t realize that at the time, and then July, another thing happened, and now I have a story, these moments are connecting. One of my favorite examples was, last spring, I had a really boring day and I remember I wrote in Homework for Life that the neighbors and my wife and I had dinner on the deck. It was the first dinner we had of the spring season and that was the best I had. I remember feeling, “Well, that’s not very good. That’s not the best Homework for Life entry you’ve ever had,” and I went to bed. One month later, the neighbor to my left, the house I’m looking at right now, they announced they were getting divorced and we had no idea that there was a problem in the marriage.
Bryan: The neighbors that were having dinner with you?
Matthew: Yeah, exactly. And that same week, the neighbors to my right who were also having dinner with us announced they were getting separated. In one week, the neighbors to my left and right announced that their marriages were falling apart and a month earlier, we had all been on the deck enjoying dinner, thinking everything was lovely. And I suddenly realized there was only one happy couple on the deck, it was my wife and myself. We were the only ones that were actually enjoying our lives and it became a story about how you never know what’s going on inside someone’s marriage, that on the outside they can seem so content, and then as soon as they are behind closed doors, you just have no idea what’s happening. And that became a story that really meant a lot to people because it resonated with people. We all have like that couple who we loved and thought loved each other and then, the next day, it turns out they’ve been broken for a long time. But I wouldn’t have that story if on that night in May, I hadn’t written down what I thought was going to be a boring Homework for Life entry, but I was able to connect those moments in reviewing my Homework for Life. So that’s where I find the stories, through that reviewing process.
Bryan: It sounds like the scene for a John Cheever or a Raymond Carver short story. Did you turn that into a piece of spoken word or did you do something else with it?
Matthew: It’s a piece of spoken word right now but I’m a big fan of taking any idea that you have, any bit of content that you create and expanding it whenever possible. So, right now, I told it on a stage a few times so far and people have really loved it. I won’t be surprised if, five years from now, something similar ends up in a novel that I’m writing. Or I write for magazines, so I write an advice column. I might not be surprised if that story doesn’t end up in an advice column someday with someone who’s dealing with friends who seem to be not getting along or a couple that seems to be fracturing. So, I think one of the struggles writers have is that when we imagine what we want to do, we imagine it in one way, “I wanna write a play and I want it to look like this,” and a lot of times, the play that you want to write that looks like this might be a play but also might be a novel or it might be a short story or it might be a song or a poem. I think that ideas are so precious, we can’t commit to the one view that we have for them, we must expand that view as much as possible. So, right now, it’s spoken word, but I’m sure something else will happen with it down the road.
Bryan: I know you’re a columnist, Matthew, and you’ve experimented with different genres. I was a columnist for Forbes a few years ago but I was a kind of a productivity technology columnist and the emphasis back then was you need to know who your reader is and focus on what they want. But what I found with observational writing is that’s much harder because it’s more personal, so like, for example, an anecdote from my life as a parent, it can get harder to figure out who that would appeal to. Is that something you ever worry about who your ideal reader or who your ideal audience is? Or do you just put it out there because you were inspired by the story?
Matthew: I put it out there because I’m inspired by the story but I also fundamentally know that people are drawn to story. I found that my most successful columns are a blend of here’s a thing that happened to me and here’s an idea that I took away from it that maybe you can take away too. Whenever I write a column that basically says, “Here’s what I’m thinking,” it doesn’t ever go as well as, “Here’s something that happened to me and, as a result, I’m thinking this.” I think the story is sort of the door that opens people’s minds to the idea that I’m going to share and the more storytelling I can engage in a column, the more I can share a little bit of myself, the more likely that they’re going to know me, they’re going to want to come back to me a second time, but that they’re going to have an open heart and an open mind when I actually present the thought that I really ultimately planned on talking about in the first place.
Bryan: Is it fair to say a good column is story driven rather than opinion driven?
Matthew: Yeah, it is for me, and I think it’s probably sensible for most people. I think, as an elementary school teacher for 25 years now, I know that if I can tell my students a story before I start teaching them long division, they are going to be more likely to want to learn long division from me, they’re going to be more enthusiastic about it. And if I can tie that story into the actual process of long division, that’s going to be even more successful. I just think storytelling puts everyone in a frame of mind to be able to listen to the next thing that is coming.
Bryan: When I wrote the parenting book I described, I showed it to some people to make sure they were happy with being featured in the book. You described featuring your neighbors in one of your stories. How do you handle reactions from people when they see themselves in your work?
Matthew: Well, I always tell people don’t say anything about people you care about if it’s going to damage a relationship. We have too many stories in the world to work with so I’ve advised people don’t say that terrible thing about your mother because you love your mother and there’s no point in damaging what is meaningful to you. A lot of times, I will sort of change enough details that people don’t see themselves in the story. I think one of the most remarkable things is someone will appear in a novel, I have a character in a novel that is absolutely based on a real person and, in my mind, it is the real person and that person can read the novel and never see themselves in the novel because I think what happens is, we always see ourselves in one particular light and it’s sort of never the light that other people are seeing us in. And so for the neighbors, for example, I fortunately have neighbors left, right, back, and front so as long as I don’t say left and right and as long as I don’t use names and maybe even change genders to a certain degree, I’m going to be fine in talking about them. You can also talk about neighbors getting divorced in a way that is not incendiary in any way. You can say, I love my neighbors, they were on my porch, they seemed very happy, and then one day they were not. There’s nothing dishonest or cruel about saying those things. If I don’t take sides in the divorce, at least while on stage, those kinds of things will prevent me from getting into any trouble.
Bryan: Yeah, I find if you change sexes or physical descriptions or even geography, that can work quite well. So, you also are host of a podcast about storytelling and you mentioned that you speak at the Moth Storytelling Workshop, is that what it’s called? We don’t have that in Ireland.
Matthew: Yeah, it’s a storytelling show. I perform on stage and mostly in competition so 10 storytellers take the stage and judges determine whose story is the best at the end of the night. My wife and I produce a storytelling show here in Connecticut and I perform around the world now telling stories, but I got my start with the Moth.
Bryan: Does it take long to prepare a piece for the Moth?
Matthew: It used to take a long time. I’ve been doing it for 11 years now, I’ve told 150 stories on stage, so it takes a long time to find the right idea, the one that is worth telling a story about, although sometimes something happens to you and you think it’s a story already, like it’s fully formed right in front of me, but the actual crafting of a story doesn’t take me nearly as long as it used to, just because I’ve worked that muscle. I work with new storytellers all the time and it can take them six months to be ready to take the stage but, for me, I can get an idea and a couple hours later I can be on stage. A lot of it has to do with nervousness too. I’m not nervous in front of an audience, so when you’re not nervous, you have a lot of bandwidth to work with. You can manipulate words and sentences on stage, if you’re not panicked about the people who are in front of you. As soon as panic comes into play, you need to be a lot more prepared. So, for me, I don’t require as much preparation because I can do a lot of the things I need to do on the stage in front of people.
Bryan: You’ve done a lot of things that newer writers would like to accomplish. One is being a columnist so I suppose I have to ask, how does somebody get a job as a columnist today?
Matthew: I’m a columnist for three magazines and I think, unhelpfully, in all three cases, they came to me asking me to write. Now, ultimately, I know one of those magazines saw me tell a story on the stage and asked me if I would consider writing a column based upon the stories they had heard me telling on stage. Another column, I write a humor column for a magazine, and they read my novels, which are lightly amusing, I like to think, and they thought they were the same tone as the magazine had and so they asked if I might write humor columns based upon what they had already read. So I guess if you want to be a columnist, you probably have to put something out in the world that people will see and recognize is both good and tonally appropriate for the column they want you to write. I think that’s probably the best way to go, which is probably not super helpful, rather than the magic pill which I think most people want.
Bryan: Yeah, it’s a fair answer. Back in the day, when I originally trained as a journalist, I thought you could just apply for a job as a columnist.
Matthew: Well, maybe you can today, I don’t know, I’ve never tried.
Bryan: Maybe you could start your own one online. But, yeah, an editor after I annoyed her politely told me, “Look, you need to be somebody that people want to read before you get published.”
Matthew: Right. Well, I’ve been writing a blog post every single day. It’s the first thing I write every day for nearly 20 years. I haven’t missed a day.
Bryan: Do you schedule in advance?
Matthew: No, I write it literally every morning. Now, I have a whole bunch of like half-prepared ideas for blog posts and I sort of sift through them every morning or something new is in my head. This morning, I wrote about something brand new that just popped in my head. But putting that content out in the world for 20 years every single day has also garnered me an audience that I think helps me in that regard too. So I liked your idea about start writing, just put it out into the world and see if someone notices. That’s important.
Bryan: Yeah, well, it’s easier today because we have more tools in WordPress, email newsletters. Substack. Just to go back to publishing and writing every day, what do you do when it’s a holiday or when you’re sick or when life intervenes?
Matthew: I haven’t missed a day. You know, I have some posts that are always ready to go, sort of evergreen posts, in the event that I need something.
Bryan: Break in case of emergency.
Matthew: Yeah, exactly. But I’ve had pneumonia twice and I was writing through pneumonia. I had COVID and I was writing through COVID. I was writing on the day my first child was born, I was writing in the delivery room in between pushes because my wife knew if I finished the novel I was writing — literally in between pushes because, there’s these big gaps between the contractions and in between the contractions I was writing. The nurse said to my wife, “Should we find you a new husband? This is ridiculous,” but she knew I was working on my second novel and if I finished it and sold it, she would be able to stay home with that child that she was pushing out of her body so she was encouraging me as much as I was encouraging myself. So you just make some plans, you have some evergreen things ready to go and then you don’t miss a day.
Bryan: Probably gotten easier over the years as you’ve built up the writing muscle and the habit of writing every day.
Matthew: Yes, absolutely. And there are days when sort of I take a picture of my son that I think is just delightful, I write six sentences about that picture, put the picture on the post, and that’s done. And then there’s other days when I write 3,000 words about something that’s deeply meaningful to me. So, a blog post doesn’t mean nine paragraphs, it could literally be four sentences and an image that I found on the internet particularly compelling. I put something out every day for readers. And even when I’m just showing like, “Hey, watch this video, here’s why I think it’s amusing,” that still is telling readers my sensibilities, what I believe is important, what kind of parts of the world I find interesting. I think all of those things are important too.
Bryan: Just finally, what is the Lord of Sealand? And, for context, I’m reading this off your list of other interests on your site.
Matthew: So, there’s military platforms off the coast of the UK that were used during World War Two to defend against German attack, and one of those military platforms back in the 1960s was taken by a man and he declared it his own country and ever since then, he has occupied this British military which is out in the open waters, he could declare it his own, and he declared it a country called Sealand, and there’s one country in the world that actually recognizes him as an independent nation, it’s some independent nation that’s looking to be recognized as an independent nation, but what he did was in order to generate funds, he sells lordships and ladyships and knighthoods from Sealand, so for $50, I became a Lord of Sealand, I received a packet with a certificate, all of this stuff. My wife thought it was like terrible, it was like why did you waste 50 of our dollars on this ridiculousness, but when you hang something on the wall that says you’re the lord of any place, that is almost priceless, and people ask me about it all the time which just gives me another opportunity to tell a story. I love that.
Bryan: It’s a good Twitter handle as well.
Bryan: So, Matthew, where should listeners go if they want to check out your latest work or read your writing?
Matthew: Well, you can get my books wherever you find books and you can find my podcast, Speak Up Storytelling, wherever you get podcasts, but if you just go to matthewdicks.com, you can find all of those things and more there.
Bryan: Thanks for your time and also for the great advice about getting started with story writing.
Matthew: I really appreciate it. Best of luck to everyone who is trying to do it. I know it’s not easy but don’t give up.
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