Penn Jillette gave me writing advice (yes, that Penn)

Image from He’s a big dude.

Ok, he gave it to me through a podcast I listened to. And he wasn’t talking about writing. But advice is anything that helps you so I’m going to stick with saying that Penn Jillette gave me writing advice.

Anyway, we’ll get to that.

The Statue of David astounds me. I’m in awe whenever I see it, and I’ve never even seen it in person.

Michaelangelo made it sound so simple:

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”

Ok, but how? How do you see an angel in the marble? How do you set that angel free?

I don’t get it. I can’t get it.


As much as I don’t get it, as much as I can’t seem to get it, as firmly as I am in awe of The Statue of David, it doesn’t compel me to want to sculpt anything. I’m completely happy being an admirer.

I say that because of what I’m about to say about how I started writing.

I found myself reading article after article after article after article after… yeah. Articles about all sorts of things — life lessons, self-improvement, being an entrepreneur, basketball, pornstars. I felt like an addict. I’d read 10 at a time without even thinking about it. I’d read them on the toilet at work. I’d read them in meetings. I’d read them on my phone before I slept.

And then one day I had a thought that pretty much forced me to start writing:

“These aren’t actually that good. I think I could do better.”

Was I right? Was I wrong? It doesn’t matter. The point is that was the thought that got me writing.

This brings me back to what Penn Jillette said on that podcast.

He said that if you like rock music, and you like The Rolling Stones, then you’re good. You don’t need to be The Rolling Stones, and you don’t have to try to be them, because they already exist. They’ve got you covered.


If you like rock music, and you don’t like The Rolling Stones, then maybe that’s something to do. Maybe that’s the space in which you should create.

And that’s exactly how I felt about writing, and exactly how I didn’t feel about sculpting.

I was content to admire The Statue of David, and I was content with knowing I’d never, ever create anything like it. I had absolutely no desire to do so.

But when I was reading those articles, when I had that thought — “I think I could do better” — I felt compelled to try. Not trying would’ve been painful. I would’ve 100% regretted not trying.

This is why I write about life lessons, and self-improvement, and self-awareness. Because so many of the articles I read were awful. There was no story, no blood, no vulnerability. There were just a bunch of opinions without telling us about the pain, and the mistakes, and the failures that had led to those opinions.

I loved the articles when I first started to read them, and then they made me angry. And that anger made me write. And writing made me write more. And writing more made me write better. And writing better helped me leave my 9–5 and write full-time.


If you’re thinking about writing but you’re not sure what you want to write about, what kind of writing do you love but also want to make better?

What kind of writing do you love but also maybe sort of hate?

What kind of writing are you content to admire? What kind of writing makes you want to write?

If you’re already writing, are you writing the kind of writing you’ve always wanted to see be written better?

Whether you love the advice in this post, or whether you think this is a terrible “writing advice” post… let it make you write.

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