I want to get better at writing. I'd love to be able to turn ideas into articles and share them with my friends and family and hear what they have to say about them. Instead, my ideas are almost a burden because they take months to write and frustrate me so much that I wonder why I'm writing them in the first place. There's plenty of room for improvement here.
I've been bad at writing ever since english in high school, 10 years ago. I didn't take it seriously until year 12, where I needed it for uni, and that necessity didn't turn into results. Every essay was more or less 12.5/25 and it crushed me. I remember finishing some of my essays early so I could get feedback on them before the due date. Then I would go on to turn that feedback into a fail, which wasn't very inspiring. I ended up passing and thankfully only had to write one essay at uni. It didn't go very well either.
Last year I started practicing mindfulness and started writing about my experience. I instantly discovered all the anxiety, frustration and inferiority I felt back in school. Fortunately, practicing mindfulness taught me a lot about these kinds of feelings so I ended up practicing while writing. When I felt frustrated, I practiced patience and acceptance and remembered to breathe. I think it helped overall. Writing was challenging but I also found it really enjoyable, maybe because it’s so different from my career as a Software Engineer.
I write lots of notes at work and I've been doing it for years. They're quick and to the point and there's no grammar or paragraph structure to get in the way. Notes help me keep track of things but this short style of writing also translates well into chats, emails and short documents where I can quickly and efficiently articulate things.
Adjusting to longer forms of writing has been difficult. I found myself getting frustrated when I couldn't find the words, sentences and paragraphs to express what I was thinking. Now that I've practiced more, I realise that's only natural considering how bad I was to begin with and how little time I've put into it. I'm learning that writing isn't strictly about turning your ideas into words, it's also about exploring different ways to express those ideas.
It's been interesting to explore the balance between brevity and waffling. I wrote bullet points for this article in minutes but actually writing it takes hours. I'm hoping with practice it becomes easier but I also wonder if there's a way to publish bullet points in a way people can understand, somewhere in between a Tweet and an article perhaps. Books are on a whole other level. Non-fiction books frustrate me because they take me months to finish which just isn't practical for a lot of topics. I suspect some topics are panned out to a book length purely for monetisation. I'm far too terrible at writing to even think about monetisation and perhaps that gives me some level of authenticity because I don't have that conflict of interest.
I've written most of my Practicing Mindfulness article on Monday evenings, from about 6pm to 10pm. My girlfriend is kind enough to cook dinner for me that night and leave me relatively uninterrupted so I can do whatever I need to do to get words on the page. That usually means pacing around the room. I found writing on Monday night made it easier to write later in the week but overall it's been slow progress because I'm still writing about it 9 months later.
Now I'm starting a new strategy - write everyday. I recently found this article, the unreasonable effectiveness of showing up everyday (comments on hacker news), and it puts words to some of the ideas I've been thinking about recently. Just show up, practice consistently and regularly and don't set goals. 90 minutes is long enough to get into some deep work without needing a break and you can flow between sessions because it's easy to remember where you left off. When other things pop up in your life you can move sessions around or make them shorter if you need to. Projects will take as long as they take and you don't need to measure progress against arbitrary goals. Slow is smooth and smooth is fast. Focus on the input and the output will take care of itself. It's neat because it lines up with my mindfulness experience as well.
I've started waking up at 6am before work, practicing mindfulness with meditation and yoga, then writing until I start work at 8:30am. That's about 90 minutes of writing. I've found it much easier to flow between sessions with a daily cadence than a weekly cadence, particularly at my level. Waking up early has been a bit of a transition though. I enjoyed the challenge the first week then I became really tired and frustrated the second week where I wrote my article on writing notes. I felt pressured to make progress because I was tired and up so early so I rushed through it and I think it comes through in the article. I'm just not at the level where that mindset is productive but it was good practice. My bedtime has somehow adjusted to 9:30pm now and it's not so hard to wake up anymore and I think it will become easier with summer approaching.
I’m feeling much better about this article and enjoyed the 5 sessions it took to finish it. I thought about working on my Practicing Mindfulness article since I started it so long ago but this was a fun idea and I want to write about fun ideas. At my level, writing is far more important than what I'm writing so I suppose this is productive procrastination. I'm just going to write every day and hopefully that turns into articles. And if it doesn't, well, at least I showed up. Now that I think about it, Elizabeth Gilbert talks about something similar in her Ted Talk, Your elusive creative genius (thanks David for the tip!). What a fun note to finish on.
Here's some other writing resources I've found interesting:
- Writing, Briefly, hacker news comments, converted to bullet points. A list of writing tips by Paul Graham.
- Writing is rewriting. A Tweet by Paul Graham where he shares how he actually wrote an article.
- Consume less, create more, hackers news comments. An article about writing your first article.
- Writing Is Thinking, hacker news comments. An overview of writing with some good tips.
- How to write in plain English, hacker news comments. Some helpful guidelines for writing.
- Write Simply, hacker news comments. An article on writing style by Paul Graham with lots of recommendations in the comments.