Hello, Sternal Journalists!
Today is the second of a two-part conversation with Joe Cabello—writer, comedian, general proliferator of entertainment and/or media. If you’re dropping in after some time away, welcome back! You can check out part one here.
It’s always a bit self-indulgent when Joe and I put something into the world because we also just like talking and assume others will enjoy hearing us talk, but something that stuck with me from last week’s part of the conversation was when I asked if Joe understands just how much output he has compared to other people:
I just assume that everybody’s doing that . . . I go on Twitter, Facebook, whatever, and you have people who are like, “I’m doing a show,” and another person’s like, “Hey, I’m doing a short story,” and another person’s “I’m doing this.”
To me, that’s all one person that did all those things. And they’re doing it every week. So that’s how I see it. So I’m like, “I will keep up.”
I was thinking about that a lot this week: the fine line between motivation and self-flagellation. I don’t really have a point or reconciling thought about it. I just a good thing to remember when chasing ambitious goals. Or maybe it’s a good thing to forget? Depends on what you need, probably.
Anyway, back to Joe and I’s conversation:
JC: I would feel pretty confident writing for anything at this point, and that’s not to say it would be amazing or not difficult, but I’ve written enough of this and that to feel pretty good about what I’m saying.
JS: Was it 2015 or 2016 when we started texting each other “We Got Next?”
JC: It may have even been 2014. It’s been a while, and in some cases, we had the ball for a while and didn’t realize we had it. We were like, “We got next,” and they were like, “Dude, you’re dribbling.”
JS: [Laughs] Do you still feel like that? Do you feel like you’re always dribbling now, or are you ever like, “I got next?”
JC: Now I realize “We Got Next” is a good mentality to have, or trying to get next… Everyone reading is like, “What they fuck are they talking about?”
JS: [Laughs] I’ll put a picture of the meme.
JC: It’s a good mentality to have as long as you respect where you are and what you’ve done as well. The “you’ve got next” is just to achieve more of your dreams, but the other day, I got to drink margaritas while breaking story with my notebook, you know? And that’s for a job.
When we “have next,” what’s it supposed to look like? Ambrosia and pussy all day? What is it? So I’m trying to think about that a lot now that this new job has really kicked in. I’m like, oh yeah, this is what you would wanna be doing. So what is next?
JS: Do you ever get writer’s block or creative block?
JC: Oh yeah, but then I just move onto something else.
JS: That’s what I thought we might be talking about. You really do show up on time to every social engagement, podcast, party, anything we’ve ever made plans to do. But you also get an idea, and then you don’t just start it. You finish it.
JC: Can we shout out A Once Sacred Sky? Go check it out. It was a fictional weekly newsletter taking place five years in the future. It came out every week for nineteen weeks, and it’s over now, but you can go from the beginning.
JS: To put that into the context we’re talking about, you texted me one day and said, “Got an idea for a dystopian newsletter” on like Saturday at 3:45PM, and had it launched Sunday at noon. And this wasn’t just writing. There were graphics you had to design!
JC: It was pretty quick. I think it was a Saturday, and Andi, my girlfriend, was showing me this wellness app that this girl came out with. And it showed the weather and a mini podcast. And I was like, “Oh, that would be really cool to do a fictional app like that.” So I immediately went to my computer, spent an hour researching how to make an app.
Then I was like, this is stupid, that’ll be too expensive. So I got a bunch of digital assets and designed this vertical, scrolling-style newsletter. And then just kept that template going. I was like, “Okay, it’s five sections. I could write five sections every week.” And I just wrote five sections every week.
JS: So. A few things. You say you immediately went to your computer. Were you in the middle of a conversation, and you were like, “Shh-shh-shh-shh?” Or what were the mechanics of that?
JC: I did let her finish. I was like, “That makes me think of,” and then I explained to her the idea, and then she was like “That sounds pretty cool.” So I let the conversation finish.
JS: You weren’t in the middle of something, and she was like, “Wait! I thought we were gonna watch this?”
JC: No, I probably had to work. I think I skipped my work and had to do it the next day. It took an hour and a half or two hours to put it together.
JS: Okay, so two hours. You get the idea. You start. Do you have your phone? Because, when I don’t have Instagram deleted, we are in constant contact on Instagram. And I think it’s impressive that you can focus for two hours start to finish on something—literally start to finish, because you have the idea and you finish it—while being as addicted to Instagram as I am. Something new that I’ve been doing is, I don’t add to whatever I’m doing today.
If I have an idea, I can write everything down that think of, but then I assign the task to tomorrow, because then I can set aside time to work on it. If I assign it for today, it’ll just distract from everything else. And so the fact that, in the flow of your day, you can sit down and start and finish something, while being as addicted to alcohol and Instagram—
JC: [Laughs] And I definitely am.
JS: How do you do that?
JC: I don’t know, it just happens. I chase the fun, so I’ll be working on maybe an assignment or personal writing, and I’m like, “This isn’t working. I could spend three hours doing this task at 20%, or I could say fuck it, and work on this other task at 110%.”
So I do the 110%. Kill it. Get confidence. Get hella energy. And then I go do the other tasks.
JS: So you worked on it for two hours because it was fun for two hours, and got finished in two hours. Then you did it for nineteen weeks. Were there times over the nineteen weeks where you were like, “This isn’t as fun?” Maybe you were procrastinating against it with other tasks?
JC: Yeah, that’s why I have… so let’s say I have my job job. That could be anything. Let’s say that’s unfun writing. Let’s say I have to edit something. And then you have Once Sacred Sky, and then I have lettering, and then I have like, “Write a fun script for me.”
So at any point, I can just bounce around and be productive, but it’s all fun. I’m like, “Okay, let me work on this for about an hour.” And then I’m recharged. Jump into some other bullshit. And that’s just the way to do it.
JS: You also said that you set it at five sections. Is that part of your process? Are you like, “This is the shape of this thing. This is how many boxes I have to check off.” Do you have to think of something that way?
JC: I knew for that I had to set it up like that. And there were weeks where I was like, “Dude, it’s Friday. I don’t feel like working at my job,” and then I would load up the Once Sacred Sky document, and I was like, “Alright, cool, I can do this.” And then I’d be excited. So it was fun in those moments.
But then there were moments where I was like, “I gotta write Once Sacred Sky? I have no idea what I’m gonna write.” Because yeah, the idea came Saturday and it came out Monday. So guess what? There wasn’t a fully fleshed out story. I do think it came together, given that.
JS: Did you always know it was gonna be nineteen weeks?
JC: No. I thought it was gonna go on. I thought I was gonna quit earlier, and then I thought maybe it’ll go on forever. But then I got an idea for a new thing like that. So to go back to the original question, the new thing I was thinking of doing is a similar weekly release, exploring how you tell a story after and before the fact.
That’s what A Once Sacred Sky was all about. It’s a sci-fi action dystopia, but you can’t convey action in a newsletter. All you can do is suggest what might happen next week, and then show the outcome. And I really like that. I think it’s a fun constraint to tell stories in. So that’s gonna be the new thing I’m working on. I might do it. So don’t expect it.
But I like constraints: I can come up with a joke for tip of the week, I can come up with a safety tip, I can come up with a story. I can come up with those things every week, I know it. If I try to say, “It’s going to be an hour long podcast, scripted every week,” I know I can’t do it. But I can do this. And that’s the only thing I did the project: “This is doable, and I’ll have something at the end of it that’s presentable and cool.”
So I think you’ve gotta have constraints to yourself. Because the biggest killer, even with productivity, is to be like, “I need to write fifteen pages today.” You’re not gonna. You have to be like, “I’m gonna write a page today.” And then you’ll write five.
JS: Were you like this in school?
JC: I don’t really remember. There were some moments. I created a WWF zine for my teacher for a while.
JS: Just your teacher?
JC: Yeah. No one else was reading it. I just printed out a copy and gave it to him. I guess in high school and college I was writing short stories. Not really in a prolific way. In a pretty pathetic way. You know when you’re like, “I’m a writer!” “Oh, what are you writing?” “Well, I write one thing every eight months. And it’s a short story. And it’s not like I’m working on it for all eight months. One night, I wrote it.”
That type’a shit. I’m always trying not to be that anymore.
JS: Do you think you need to be… he’s taking another hit just for the readers at home. But I’m the one who lost my train of thought—
JS: Do you think you need to publish in order to still feel good about making things? Whether that means publishing a comic or posting Instagram about progress… do you think making A Once Sacred Sky is easier to do because you know there’s built-in accountability, because if you don’t send it out, you’ve failed even at the work in progress? That’s obviously why I do the Sternal Journal.
JC: Right, I think it did do that. And I didn’t have a big readership, but I had some people who were really into it even if it was just one person a week commenting. But now I put it on WebToons, which is typically a comic website. But I uploaded it on there, and I’ve gotten a way bigger audience than I ever did with the newsletter.
It’s like 400 views and they’re only in week 10, so pretty good given what the original newsletter did. So there was a humiliation. And I have a Patreon, so I wanted to do something for Patrons. It was released to everyone, but I wanted to do something that was like, “Hey, this thing wouldn’t exist without you patrons, because I can afford the time and energy.”
So I think there’s something to publishing your stuff to get you going, but I guess I don’t care if anybody writes. But my heart breaks for the people who seem to want to, or claim themselves to be writers who haven’t, and I just wonder, “Where have you lost the fun of it?”
If you used to write feature film screenplays and you’re not doing that anymore, stop. Go write an article. Write a movie review. Write a poem. It can be all these things. Look at me. I’m writing tv, film, and all these things, pursuing that. Then I was like, “I wanna write some comics, see this shit get made. Fuck it.”
Robot. Black Belt. Champion. wasn’t even supposed to be a comic.
JS: Neither was Bottom’s Up! I think we talked about it on my birthday walk.
JC: It was supposed to be a cartoon. I started hiring an animator to make it a cartoon, then I was like, “This isn’t gonna work. Let’s make it a comic.” And then I was like, “This is a blast!” So it’s like, just change it up. Follow the fun.
That’s why I wanna shake the people. Writing doesn’t have to be hunched over a fuckin’ computer. It could be doing a newsletter about dystopia.
JS: I wanna break that down. When you say your heart breaks for the people, that’s very generous. I think there are times when you and I are both like, “Fuck those people.” But the better way to feel is compassion, and how to help them.
JC: Yeah. My heart breaks more for people who I know are talented and are on a roll, and then COVID stopped them. If it’s not COVID, it’s something else. It’s a breakup. It’s whatever. Not to diminish COVID. I’ve had my moments. We all can and should.
But it's like, “Hey. You are talented. You should be doing this. And you’re saying you want to.” Wouldn’t you feel bad about not doing it?
But the people who are like, “Oh, I wish I was writing or being a writer,” are never gonna write no matter what, one hundred per cent. Those people, I’m like “Fuck off." You want to have written. You don’t know what it’s like to want to be a writer.
To want to be a writer is you have an idea in your head, and then you just write it down on a piece of paper, and you’re like, “Oh, that felt good to put that down.” And then the piece of paper gets thrown away, and you don’t give a fuck. That’s a writer.
JS: I think that’s the hardest part. I know the entire spectrum of people who feel that way, where they’re scared to write something, throw it away, and not give a fuck. Or write something, keep it, and never do anything with it. It’s interesting because you’ve got all the ideas swirling around in your head. And you and I do it differently, but at this point, I think we both make sure that our thoughts are not just staying in our head.
And I think the flip of that is we’ve seen our thoughts be really bad. We’ve taken our thoughts out of our head, and like, “This is a bad thought. There’s nothing interesting about this thought. This is a boring thought.”
JC: Yeah. I thought this was something, and I even spent some time on it, and it wasn’t.
JS: So I think the hardest part about helping people like that is how to convince them maybe that, some of their thoughts will be boring, and the process of writing is just cycling through all the thoughts and figuring out which ones are boring and which ones aren’t. That nobody just has exciting thoughts.
JC: And it’s doing the work. Like, “Oh, this is boring. How can I make this interesting?” And you go make it interesting. You work on it. No one knows that you did that one and all they know is your hit that came next. And who cares if it is a hit? You don’t do it for anyone else either; you do it for yourself.
I’ve said before and I’ll say it here just so it gets published: I think insecurity is a venomous narcissism. So I do not respect insecurity. I think people, their insecurity is, “I’m so important. God forbid I do something bad. Because everyone pays attention to me. So when I write my bad article and my bad screenplay, oh gosh, all eyes are gonna be on me and I’ve let down the world!” No one cares about you. Shut up.
That’s just as bad as someone being like, “I’m writing my screenplay; it’s gonna change the world. What, you don’t like it? Well, you don’t know anything.” So I can’t get down with any insecurity when it comes to writing. Because I’m like, look at what’s out there. Let your bad thing live.
JS: Meaning, there’s plenty of bad stuff out there.
JC: Yeah, who cares! I got a bad review on Bottoms Up the weekend Mortal Kombat came out. And I gave Mortal Kombat a bad review on my movie review podcast. And I was like, Yeah! If I can give this bad one hundred million dollar movie a review that’s bad, let my bad thing exist that cost three grand. My bad thing can be among all these other bad things. Who cares?
JS: Right. It’s okay to make bad things.
JC: Yeah! Everybody’s doin’ it. Why shouldn’t we
JS: [Laughs] So have you never been insecure about your writing?
JC: Oh, no. The bad review wrecked me. I still question my choices. When you write a comic book, I could change the script. But not really. The thing’s coming out. And if I change anything based on any feedback, that’s just gonna fuck everything up more. So it’s—I’m of course insecure about it, but who cares?
Also, when I lift weights my muscles hurt after. Who cares. That’s part of it. That’s what I don’t get. Why does everybody want writing or creativity to just be this gold fountain that gives and gives and gives.
No. When you work out, your muscles get sore and you get tired. When you write, you deal with insecurity. You deal with loss. you deal with a lot of stuff.
JS: So how to reconcile the fact that you have no time for people who are insecure because it’s a venomous narcissism. But also you’re insecure yourself.
JC: Have you ever heard it from me?
JS: Your insecurity? Maybe once or twice.
JC: Yeah. Once or twice. And we all have moments. Right? That’s the thing. Other people make it their career.
JS: I agree with everything you’re saying. But if I know one thing about insecurity, it’s that, if you say, “Your insecurity is actually even worse than you think it is; it’s a more selfish thing than you think it is” that only makes the insecurity worse. How do not send those people into another cycle of shame and insecurity over their selfishness?
Or is that just the food chain? That’s process of elimination and those people don’t write. Is that what you’re saying?
JC: I don’t need them to write if that’s the case. I need the person who stopped writing eight months ago and feels sad about it to listen to this and go, “You know what? Okay, I’m gonna write a paragraph on Parasite. Because I love that movie.” And then they go do that, and they go, “Hey! That was fun. That’s what I want.”
But no, just because you made your house with a floor of eggshells doesn’t mean that I need to watch how I walk. You shouldn’t have invited me over.
JS: And you showed up right on time.
JC: Knock, knock, knock. So no. I understand. And I would never have a one on one conversation with somebody who was insecure like that. Actually, no, that’s not true. I probably would come at them, now that I’m playing it quickly in my head.
But no, there’s room to be delicate.
JS: What specific person were you imaging? You can name them. Clubhouse? UCB?
JC: It’s kind of an amalgamation.
JS: I’m glad you didn’t name them. As I was saying that, I was like, “I should not have challenged him to do this.”
JC: Yeah. Why do you even wanna write is my question. And it’s nothing new to say there are people who want to have written, and there’s people who want to write. Everybody wants to have written. But is that what you really want?
JS: What about this? Would we contend that everything you just said is true, but once they’ve written, they aren’t people like that. Right?
JC: What’s that really mean?
JS: Maybe I’m just trying to figure out how [Laughs] to make it a more uplifting ending to the conversation.
JC: Well, here’s the thing. If what I’m saying doesn’t speak to you, I am not gonna be your sensei. You’re gonna have to find somewhere else. But there’s gonna be somebody who’s like, “Oh yeah, that makes sense.” If your therapist isn’t working, get another therapist.
JS: Exactly. If your therapist is Joe Cabello, probably get another one in any event.
JC: Yeah. I don’t have a license.
JS: But yeah. I guess I just don’t think it’s permanent to be someone who claims to want to write, but really wants to have written. I think you could be eighty years old, and one day be like, fuck it, okay, I’m gonna write that paragraph about Parasite. Then you’re on the other side.
JC: I don’t know if you’re on the other side. You’re stepping towards something, having written one paragraph. But that’s just nitpicking it. But yeah. It can change at any moment. I’m not saying you need to be like, “Oh, I’ve been a fuck up my whole life and lying to myself about being a creative genius. I’ve been nothing but a cog in a wheel of some dying machine.”
That doesn’t mean that the next day, you can’t be something else. That you can’t be a writer. But it’s like, you have to enjoy doing it. Might be a start. And to know if you enjoy doing it, you might have to do it.
JS: I feel like people have a lot of, and I mean people who do get writing done, have a lot of different opinions on whether you actually have to enjoy doing it or not.
JC: What’s enjoy doing it?
JC: Do I sit down and am I happy writing? Every minute. No. It’s not that. That’s not how it looks.
JS: What does it look like?
JC: I think going to the gym is the best analogy that’s worked for me. I don’t think they like all the feelings of when that two hundred pound bar is over them, and they’re on rep nine. And they have to push it up. I don’t think that’s fun. But that is fun.
There’s something about the pain that’s done. It allows for the release. Something about, “Oh, the book’s done. The script’s done.” Andi knows if I’m having a hot writing night because I’m hollering up here. Just hooting.
Those moments aren’t all the way through the hours-long process. It’s like watching a scary movie or playing a video game. Andi will see me playing this one multiplayer game that, if I don’t focus one hundred percent, I don’t do well. And if I don’t do well, well that sucks. What’s fun is doing well when you’re trying your best.
She’s like, “This doesn’t look like it’s fun for you.” And I’m like, “No, it is. But it takes work to really have the fun. This isn’t eating ice cream.”
JS: I think that’s the only place we can end. Anything else you want to add?
JC: If this inspired you to write, let us know.
JS: Absolutely. Rate us. Review us. This isn’t a podcast—
JC: We actually do not know what this is.
JS: [Laughs] You never know. But you can follow us on @cabellocomics, @joecabello, and @julianmstern.
JS: Have a good one.
JC: Is this a podcast?
And there you have it. The conclusion of at least this conversation with Joe Cabello about writing. If you liked what Joe had to say, well (a) go follow some fun. But (b) go check out the comics, newsletter, podcasts, and other things we talked about at Joe’s website.
Bloody Mary Morning. Song. This Willy Nelson song has been stuck in my head all week and
Zombie Philanthropy. Article. Interesting explainer about donor-advised funds, things that allow mega-wealthy to make charitable donations that don’t… ever have to get to a charity. It’s one of those “What in tarnation did you do, capitalism?!” things. Check it out if that’s the type of thing you might find interesting.
Shadow and Bone. Television. Just started. Not sure how I feel yet! Could be the source of some future hot takes. Like should I be watching Mare of Easttown instead, or nothing?
I Hate Everybody Including You. Article. I really enjoyed this collection of rejection letters by famous people from Lists of Note and Letters of Note creator, Shaun Usher. A highlight: E.B. White with:
Thanks for your letter inviting me to join the committee of the Arts and Sciences for Eisenhower.
I must decline, for secret reasons.
Thanks again for reading, again! With much love and no secret reasons,