Writing is damn hard. You have to somehow create a relationship between your words (that can’t change) and the emotions of the reader (that can change). You have to answer every question before they ask it and hit every note right when their brain expects it. You have to anticipate everything because there is no back and forth.
Sharing your writing publicly, in whatever arena, is like submitting a blind bid while everyone else has been looking at your hand.
No wonder this whole writing thing can be daunting.
Not to mention that we are our hardest critics. That’s good and bad. Good, because we will always seek improvement. Bad, because we don’t often give ourselves a chance to see what we need to improve.
Here are 3 realizations that help me attack the process so that I can keep writing even when what I’m scribbling doesn’t look good enough to share just yet.
Seeds, Not Microwaves
A post starts with an idea, a sentence, a thesis, an argument, a something. You might not even know what you’re trying to say just yet but for all that is sacred (and I mean Nutella and burritos), don’t keep it in your head. Write it down immediately in a place where you’re sure to find it again. For me, that’s Google docs.
If I come up with a unique idea that could be something more later, I write it in bold and then any supporting thoughts sentences or ideas will go under that. Maybe the bold section will become the whole point of an argument, maybe it will be the title or maybe it will change.
For instance, here what part of this Google doc looks like right now:
Success loves a witness but failure can’t exist without one.
If you’re throwing spaghetti against the wall make sure it’s cooked
Coworking Is Selfish
I work when I need to. I interrupt you when I need to.
You Gotta Get That Dirt On Your Shoulder
The Paradox Of Getting Things Done
There is a catch-22 to getting things done. The more we get done, the more we risk having the external recognition of getting it done, be the reason we continue doing it. We have to work hard to remember what was the intrinsic motivation in the first place.
Some of these might become individual posts, part of another argument, or nothing at all, but what’s important is, I get to see these things and every now and then I might come across something that adds to the idea and I’ll dump that thought underneath each of those headings.
You don’t start with the whole arc of an argument in your head, you start with a word, an idea or a sentence.
It’s funny how a hot idea becomes a hot mess in a hot second. Your brain is good at throwing random theories around but it holds on to big concepts like your hands do a wriggling fish.
Discovery, Not Dictation
The writing process isn’t a manifestation of what you’ve discovered, it’s a discovery of what you’ll manifest.
Put this in stone.
After years of writing, my assumption was that argument creation in my head would get easier and easier. It doesn’t. You think you know what you’re writing about until you try writing what you’ve been thinking about.
Most of the time when I’m writing a blog post I end up telling myself halfway through, “Bassam, what are you talking about and what the hell is your point?” Typically that’s because I have at least two conflicting points of which I’m not sure I side with more.
So I have to see if certain arguments float before I can convince myself if I should defend them. Just because she looks like a witch, doesn’t mean that she is one. (For all those getting the Monty Python reference.)
I know I’ve said it once and I’ve said it twice, write for 20-30 uninterrupted minutes for at least a session or two. Do not delete ANYTHING. Just keep writing. Find an argument in your mess. Do you like it? Does it need to change at all?
Writer’s block is quite often: I don’t know if I agree with what I’ve been writing. That’s ok, but get blocked because it doesn’t look right on paper, not because it doesn’t sound right in your head.
It’s hard to build a puzzle if you don’t first get all the pieces out of the box.
Mist, Not Lightning
A zinger won’t help a conflicting point.
Let your post grow and mature as a whole. The similes, metaphors, humor, analogies and alliterations all come later. If you spice up the first paragraph before you even have a second one, you’ll judge your unrefined writing to the one bit you do have refined leaving you with a shiny piece of dung in a glass case that you actually start to like.
If your wife wants to bake a cake from scratch, you can’t just storm in and dump a box of cherries on a pan with butter melting on it and go “Cherries, yo!”
There’s a reason the cherry goes on top. It highlights the cake, but it’s not what makes it a cake.
Write first, zing later.