People assume that I love writing. That’s fair. I used to write a lot in the past and these days I’m really trying to scribble stuff down whenever I have some free minutes. Makes sense to assume that I just love doing it, because why bother otherwise?
Truth is — I hate writing. Hate it. It literally irritates the hell out of me and has a tendency of blowing me out of my comfort zone. It’s because having to write something actually forces you to formulate your thoughts and put them into something readable and meaningful. And let me tell you — THAT PROCESS ABSOLUTELY SUCKS.
What’s more, I’d go as far as arguing that many professional writers and popular authors hate it as well. Seriously. Take one of my favorite autors, Stephen King, who actually published a whole book on writing called, believe it or not, “On Writing”. Yes, I stole the title of this article from his book and if you figured out the connectionn – that’s awesome. I’m a huge fan of Mr. King. Anyway, one of the best pieces of advice I read from his book is that whenever somebody asks him “how he writes”, he always answers with “one word at a time”. If you’re wondering what the hell does that mean – well it means exactly that. There’s no secret recipe or gift or whatever the heck you think there is. It’s just discipline (arguable in his case, I know, but still – it boils down to being disciplined enough to just sit and write).
Logically, one might ask, and rightfully so – why in the world do people write if they hate writing? Well, those who make huge profits from it at least have some valid reasons, but what about those who write for the sake of writing? Like myself for example. I get ZERO profit from this blog and I even stopped looking into any kind of analytics. I have zero clue how many article views am I getting at all.
So, why write if you hate it and you are not making living out of it (hint: very few people make living out of it)? Well, I write because I love the outcome! I absolutely get lost in that sensation of seeing the article finished. The effort being done. The result of hard and intense intellectual labor being published.
I do writing because I love the way it makes me feel once I’m done writing.
Careful observer would probably realize it’s the same reason why people exercise every day. You think they love it? Ha ha. Think again. They HATE IT. And I used to do it for quite a while, so I know the feeling – exercising SUCKS. But you do it because how it makes you feel once you are done exercising. And because of the long-term benefits that you surely have to observe.
Same is with diet. Or any other kind of thing that forces you to refrain from instant gratification (e.g. eating a cookie and watching Netflix) in favor of delayed one (e.g. feeling like a rockstar after you publish an article or finish your morning exercise).
Naturally, the question becomes – how to write effectively? And that’s what I’m going to tackle next.
How to write efficiently
As Mr. King would say it – one word at a time 🙂 But that requires some more explanation.
If you’re looking for a short answer, then it boils down to writing your soul out and expecting that first version will suck one way or another. If you want to have this elaborated – well, read on.
Writing is hard. Damn hard. So hard that it’s way easier to avoid or procrastinate for as long as possible. It’s hard because it forces you to sit and think. It forces you to clarify your thoughts. It forces you to put the actual effort. It forces you to introspect and understand your thoughts, and that’s way harder than thinking about it. Just ask anyone who ever had to write a Graduastion or Master Thesis. Or if they are Microsoftie – who had to write their semi-annual introspection called Connect. It’s HARD WORK.
How do you make something that is HARD become less hard? Well, you just do it. Literally. With some tricks of the trade really, but mostly boils down to just doing it.
The best advice on writing that I ever found is to just sit and write your mind out. No spell checking, no thinking of wording, no reference checking. Just sit and write. And once you are done – you step away and leave it for a day (or more).
What that means in practical terms is that when you need to write something, whatever it is, the worst thing you could do is write a sentence than rethink and edit for 10mins. That’s like the fastest route to getting a writers block and ending up with a blank page. And those blank pages are scary!
What you need to do instead is – just sit and write. Whatever it is just literally sit down and start typing. Forget the grammar. Forget the facts. Forget looking up links and alternative words. Anything that needs to be rechecked/linked/whatever gets (TODO: Recheck this) in suffix. You sit down and you write ANYTHING that is on your mind. You write until it’s all out (or until you’re dead-tired). And then you step away and don’t touch it for at least a day.
The result of this is called a “First Draft”. Because that’s what it is – a draft. Something unfinished that needs further redo. But that redo needs to happen after you let the first draft bake for a while. I believe Mr. King always leaves his drafts for a week at least.
The ‘science’ behind this, if there is any, is actually simple – it’s how you overcome the fear of ‘not being good enough’. Because your initial fear is that whatever you write is not good enough, and then you spend hours reworking a single sentence thinking that that sentence is all that mattes. You have zero insight into the whole product, but you only focus on one minor segment. So by applying this ‘write the hell out of it’ approach, what you are effectively doing is delaying that anxiousness, which, once you let your draft sit for a while, almost diminishes and gives you a new perspective of the work.
Once you leave the first draft rest, you go back to it, re-read it and modify what needs modifying. Usually it’s about removing bunch of stuff, but sometimes you just fix grammar and that’s about it. Rinse&repeat for as long as needed but chances are that after 2 or 3 redos it will be more than finished (or you just get bored and never publish it, but that’s a different story).
Another trick is to expect that your first draft will suck. And that’s how it should be.
Your first draft will suck. And that’s how it should be.
The thing is that, the fear of writing comes mostly from the fact that you are not sure if you can express yourself properly. And if you don’t express yourself properly, well, people will misunderstand you and you will fail as a preacher, yadda yadda yadda. Blah.
Best way to beat that perfectionism is to expect to produce a shitty first draft. Forget about ideal words and grammatics and most certainly forget about ‘sounding right’. Instead, just expect that it will be crap which you can and should improve later.
The trick is that, nine out of ten times, what you produce will be anything but crap. But you have no clue about it until you re-read it. And that’s where the “first draft” story comes into play, again 🙂
Writing can be therapeutic
One of the first things I learned when I was starting REBT (Rational Emotional Behavior Therapy) some God-knows-how-many-but-probably-8+-years-ago is that whenever I feel upset or confused about anything, I should go and write about it. It served dual purpose – it helped my therapist know what’s going on while I’m not with them, and it helped myself clarify my thoughts and situations. I hated it at first, but pretty soon I learned that it’s actually one of the best things you could do.
By writing stuff down, you are, in some crazy way, uncluttering your brain.
One advice that I always give whenever I do a “here’s how to fuck up and then fix your mental health” talk is to go and jot down whatever it is that’s bothering you. Be it a decision you are trying to make, a frustrating thought you are fighting with or just general concern that you are having. Open up Notepad or take a piece of paper, write your soul out and observe what happens. It somehow, mysteriously, loses its intensity and becomes much clearer and easier to deal with. Try it 🙂
Where to get more advice
That’s about all I could think of. Just go, do it and expect it will suck at first but can be improved afterwards.
Here are some of the relevant resources I’ve discovered that could be a helpful reference: