On Making My Writing Less Hard

You probably remember that I recently said I was revising the plan. Well, that was saying that I intended to do that. So here’s the next iteration. I got lucky and a couple of things hit this week. Or really, more than just a couple of things did.

First, I found Oliver Burkeman’s newsletter The Imperfectionist. I forget how I got to that, maybe it was when I returned his book to the library early via the Libby app and clicked the link to his website. Or maybe it was randomly from another newsletter. Or maybe hackernews. Let’s not get too distracted.

Hmm. I think it was the newsletter.

Oliver has this great edition about making writing less hard. Just like the source I linked to last, I’m going to do an advert for this post. It’s really great.

  • Because I haven’t found a better way to make this point in my own words for you, I’m just going to quote his first section heading: “Good writing is pointing out.” There’s a lot more helpful explanation in that section. This framing, that good writing is about showing what you found interesting, what caught your attention, was really helpful to me. I’m doing it right now.
  • He’s got some words about knowing when to stop. This didn’t resonate with me at first, but it does now. I think I’ve still got a lot more processing to do on this particular lesson. I’ll be coming back to it.
  • Finally, Oliver reminds us that writing doesn’t really start with a blank page. And this is the section that I am responding to here today. This is the one that inspired the next iteration in my writing plan.

To finish my advertisement: it’s a good article, good writing, short, direct, practical, actionable advice. I don’t know if it is helpful for everyone. It is helpful for me.

So, what’s the revised plan?

Before I get to that, I want to connect this bit about not starting from a blank page to some other things that I’ve read this year.

The same book that Burkeman mentions, How to Take Smart Notes by Ahrens has a lot of useful practical advice on writing. He is writing about academic texts, but it applies lots of places I think. Ahrens also talks about not starting from a blank page, start from your notes of what you have been reading. But how? I’ll be honest, as practical and helpful as Ahrens’ prescription is, it still didn’t make sense to me.

Later I read some slides (edit: link added) about practical epistemology. The author talks about not only how to go about forming beliefs that are both more correct and less wrong. He also makes some suggestions about how to write, since writing is a great way to get feedback from yourself on your own writing. Honestly it was very similar to Ahrens’ advice, but slightly different. It’s a good set of slides. Like I said, I’ll add the link.

The penultimate (thus far) connection was some things that are the Bullet Journal Method book. There are a lot of really good, practical, tips in that book. If it seems like something that might work for you, I really suggest you take a longer look at it. Go grab the library copy and browse through it. The thing I want to highlight here is the sprints. I’ve used sprints before because work. But I’ve never run my own sprints. And I’ve never run my own sprints for my own projects at home on myself. That’s what we’re doing to try here.

Quick aside: there is a whole mess of other relevant things in that book too. But I’m going to omit that stuff for now. Just know that it wasn’t only the idea of sprints that was helpful here.

The last connection was Burkeman’s article.

So this is the plan. First, since I haven’t been very good collecting post ideas I’m going to jump start that. Well, since it took a bit to finish writing this, that part has already happened. Second, I’m going to take one of those ideas and work on it for an hour. Not finish and publish it, because I don’t know when it’s done. Just show up and work on it.

Third, I’m going to reflect on that process and refine, Deming loop style, to see what I should update. This is the mini sprint to jump start the flywheel. Last, it’s just not credible that I will be publishing daily anymore. I have a full time job, and other stuff, and a daily blog is just more than is realistically achievable. Often, hopefully more than once a week, but, well, as the sub-title of the blog says, no promises.

Let me summarize the plan again.

  1. On day 1 of the sprint, spend an hour brain dumping out all the ideas for blog posts I can think of. With what the next step is. I believe that is possibly due to GTD (edit: link added).
  2. On day 2 of the sprint, go through that list and pick one do the next step. Probably also brain dump all the random unordered thoughts onto the page too. Finish by attaching the next step.
  3. On day 3 of the sprint, reflect on how that went and decide what needs to be updated. Decide the next steps and when/what the next sprint should be.

A few things to note here: the time limits, the separation of idea generation/capture from post development, the focus on process instead of outcome. These are all things that were connected to these different sources I’ve mentioned.

That’s it, that the plan for now. Hopefully those ideas that I’ve generated in step 1 can be used for developing future blog posts and research. But I’m not sure how soon they’ll be ready. I guess one revision that’s already available is to distribute effort going forward between the ideas that seem closer to ready and those that will need more work so that posts are evened out a bit. Idk, I’ll have to think about it.

PS: there are a couple of steps I didn’t do on this post that I will be doing going forward. They’re both from Ahrens' book: live outlining (making an outline and constantly updating it during drafting), and editing more drafts. This version here is draft 0. For this post I wrote the word jumble to get all my ideas on the page, and then I wrote draft 0. Copy-paste to here, and make a couple of tiny tweaks before hitting publish. I will do more next time.

J. Garofoli @garo