Posts Tagged “writing”

Digital Morning Pages Again

For over a year now I’ve been writing my morning pages by hand. At first the exercise was all about moving away from the growing stack of digital tools I was using. It was becoming tedious continually sitting at a screen so I started handwriting my morning pages.

The exercise itself forced me to slow down a bit more and practice my handwriting. It’s been going well and I’ve got a stack of full notebooks to show for it.

I use a Hobonichi Techo planner for logging a few things through the day and scheduling important meetings and work. It means I’m writing a lot more than I did in the past, and the time I’m spending on writing is growing. If I had no client work on then it wouldn’t be a problem, but I’m doing client work most days.

Whether my morning pages are handwritten or typed, I’m know that I’m still getting the value out of my morning pages, but the time taken to type my morning pages is much shorter than handwriting them. To that end I’m typing my morning pages again on 750words.com.

I started this morning with a weekly review and will be using it just like I did with my handwritten morning pages, focusing on a particular topic for each day and just writing.

I love using pen and paper where I can. It’s portable and flexible. There comes a point though when the digital alternative has clearer benefits and it’s definitely the case here.

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Still Here

The observant among you will have noticed another lull in my writing here. It’s been a frustrating few months trying to get back to a steady rhythm of blogging. I truly miss the days from a couple of years ago when I was writing and publishing on a daily basis. Those were good times.

There are a number of reasons why this has happened and I won’t bore you with the obvious ones like “I’m too busy” and “I’m too tired”. Instead I thought I would take a look at the not so obvious reasons.

I don’t have the thousands of avid readers that others have but there is a steadily increasing number of readers here. Page views and visitors have been going up over the last two three years. A good sign that I’m doing something right. And yet ever since I noticed the amount of traffic my blog has been receiving, I’ve noticed that the frequency with which I write to the blog has been decreasing.

Stage fright?

You might call it that. I’ve lost track of the amount of posts that I have started writing and then abandoned. It’s frustrating to start writing something and then trash it and go over the process again and again. I find that half the battle is not in writing something but writing something fit to publish.

The second reason is the choice of topics. For a long time I was writing daily about apps, web development, freelancing, productivity and a few other things. Trying to find something to write about in these areas has been a struggle lately. I’m starting to wonder if I am restricting myself in the topics that I could be writing about. Do I need to start looking further afield? Maybe. Or maybe I need to look back on what I wrote in the past and refresh it? Lots of things change and the topics that I wrote about three years ago could have changed.

Who knows.

All I know is that the mere act of reflecting on the lack of writing has prompted me to write something for the blog. And that is a start in the right direction once more.

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The Benefit of Writing When Blogging

When Ethan was at golf coaching before Christmas, he asked the professional how many balls he would need to hit to get his swing perfect or as close too. His reply straight to the point, “10,000”. Given the chance I have no doubt that Ethan would have started that night trying to rack up as many swings at the ball as he could.

If you practice something long enough you’ll eventually be good at it. Great? May be. Good? Most likely. It doesn’t matter if you’ve already got prior knowledge or your new to something. Spend enough time at it and you’ll get better.

The same goes for writing.

When I first started blogging I looked for something to write about that people would like to read but that’s a rookie mistake. If you want to find something to write about then write something that you will want to read as an individual. Write the web you want to read.

Yes, we’re borrowing slightly from Austin Kleon’s “Write the book you want to read”, but the goal in each case is the same.

I also don’t write straight into my blog anymore. I did this for a year, but there came a point where I was just going through the motions. I was filling up the space for the day and when I read back what I was writing, I didn’t like what I seen.

Instead I write far away from any digital interface that will allow me to easily publish. I write in notebooks, plain text files, and in some cases, even on an index card. Write anywhere that doesn’t have a big “Publish” button at the side of it. It will give you a chance to read, review and edit your writing.

I’m certainly not an expert on whether my writing has improved using a scale of measure but I would like to think that after this amount of time writing on this blog, I have improved my writing in some respects.

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Kill, Commit or Transform Your Writing

I’ll be honest. I’m probably not the ideal person to be giving advice on writing but here’s a little bit of advice for those aspiring bloggers and writers who frequently question their own writing much like I do.

Last week I had an idea for a technical article. Over the course of the next few days I outlined the article, wrote a couple of drafts, edited it and then read the final draft back to myself. I hated it. It lacked purpose and it didn’t offer enough value to the programmers who would be reading it. In the past I would have simply trashed the article and moved onto something else but is there another way?

In her book “Manage Your Project Portfolio”, Johanna Rothman has great advice about evaluating software projects and deciding what action to take with projects.

Once you’ve decided you should do this project, you have a limited number of decisions to make. You can commit to a project, kill a project, or transform a project to increase its chances of success.

This could be equally applied to writing.

I’ve already mentioned that in the past I would trash any articles that didn’t meet the grade. Everything else was published. What about transforming that article into something else though? Could we salvage something from it?

I decided to transform the article rather than killing it. It took a couple of hours but in the end up I had a different style of article on a related topic to my original article. I was happy enough with the final result and its now added to the growing pile of technical articles to be published next year.

When it comes to writing it doesn’t need to be publish or trash. If something doesn’t meet the grade then consider transforming it into something else. It’s definitely worth considering rather than throwing away what could be a potentially great piece of writing.

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Morning Pages Should Be Like Skimming Stones

The morning pages habit trundles on with my Moleskine Volant notebook filling up by the day. Some days it’s easy to get started while other days it seems like a struggle. It shouldn’t be like this.

Every year we visit Jennifer’s family just outside of Toronto. The holiday usually revolves around shopping for the girls and golf for the boys, but on those days where we want to spend the time together as a group we sometimes head down to the lake. It’s a great spot for a picnic and a walk, it lets the kids explore and of course there’s that love of skimming stones. You spend a couple of seconds looking for a good stone and you throw. There’s no concern about the quality of the throw, a few throws is all that’s needed to get better. Also you know that once it’s thrown that stone is gone forever. Well at least until it’s washed back up back onto the shore again.

Your morning pages should be like this. Just writing, seeing where it takes you and never worrying about that writing coming back. It’s an exercise to clear your mind and nothing more. Also it doesn’t matter about the content of your morning pages. It’s all for you. No-one else. Once it’s written it can disappear from the eye of the public forever. Just like your little stone skimming across the water and disappearing, your morning pages can hide forever.

This morning I was stuck for something to write about, so I just started writing. Half a page in and it started to get easier. The next time I start my morning pages it won’t be so hard to get started. I just need to remember it’s just like skimming stones.

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An Empty Cartridge

I’ve just checked the order on a batch of Pentel pens and refill cartridges I bought from Amazon. It was around sixty days ago. Since receiving these pens from Amazon I’ve tried to build a habit of writing my morning pages on weekdays. Rather than typing like a demon possessed, I’ve used pen and paper for this task. To be honest I’ve skipped a few days, but I’ve fulfilled my daily quota on most of the days.

Yesterday was a bit of a milestone. I ran out of ink. That one pen lasted about sixty days in total. What I was left with was an empty ink cartridge. I’m not sure how many pages I’ve written in my notebooks in total as my morning pages are spread out across two different notebooks and there’s stuff between each set of morning pages. Might be time to dedicate a notebook to this.

Checking back on my writing I’ve looked through what I’ve achieved and been impressed by the amount of words that I’ve written. Most of it will never see the light of the Internet but there’s a few ideas in there for posts and writing projects. Hell, there’s even a few ideas for novels in there.

I’ve popped in a refill cartridge ready to start the process all over again. Around sixty days from now I expect to burn through another cartridge. If I haven’t, then I’ll know I’ve missed out on more than a fair share of writing days.

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The Hobby Writer

I’ve got something of a fascination with writing. It’s not that I want to become a writer, although the idea is rather tempting, I’m just curious about the process that writers go through from an idea or concept through to the final published article or book.

The fascination with writing started in secondary school. For an assignment we had to submit a short story on anything we wanted. I wrote about my first experience with a death in the family that happened just a few years before I started secondary school. After submitting the story I didn’t think anything else of it until the day we got our assignments back. There were a few red pen marks where I had bad grammar or spelling mistakes but other than that I received a “very good” on my assignment. After class the teacher asked me to stay back for a minute. He congratulated me on the honesty of my story and the re-telling of the moment in my life.

A couple of years later and during the build up to my exams we had to submit a short story. At the time I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy books, so I decided to try and pull the two genres together into a single story. Unfortunately it sounded too much like a series of books that was already out, but I decided to run with it any and see what I could do. I received a favourable grade for my story but I was marked down for my short story being unoriginal.

It was few years from then until I started a mind mapping blog called MindMapSwitch. It was my first attempt at writing and while the blog was a moderate success, it did get me more hooked on writing. It was during this time that I bought Stephen King’s On Writing book as well as a few ebooks on writing.

Today, I’m still writing as often as I can, but the idea of being a writer is something that seems so far away. A number of people I follow on Twitter have made the jump to being full-time writers or are on their way. They’re publishing as often as they can and they are clearly happy with the change to being a full-time writer.

Despite writing on my blog now for over two years, I still don’t identify myself as a writer. I do write yes but it’s more on a hobby basis. I write for myself when I can and that’s it. I have ideas for books that I would one day like to write but the prospect of even putting out a short book on a particular topic seems so out of my reach. For now I’m fine with having an interest in writing. As long as I’m on the fringe of writing, it will be something I’ll always appreciate.

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Where's the Value In Writing?

For the last two weeks I’ve been writing my morning pages. The fact that I have managed to keep this going for two weeks is a good sign and I’m glad to be doing it again. The content of the writing itself isn’t important, well not at the beginning anyway.

What eventually happens though is that I do find something to write about after those first few paragraphs. The writing then becomes more focused and I start to see where my morning pages are going. It doesn’t always become something of value, most of the time it’s just a stream of thoughts on the page but every now again there’s an idea or thought there than can be the basis for a blog post or an article.

In doing this I’ve started to realise something

When we make something easy, we reduce its value.

Writing a word is easy. Anyone can do it, but the value of the word is almost worthless. Without context or surrounding words to form a sentence, the word is nothing but a word. It’s worthless.

Writing a sentence is just as easy for most of us. Even writing a paragraph should be easy for most of us. And that’s when we start to see a glimmer of value. That’s when your writing can become something of value. Beyond this where do we go?

Writing a letter, a blog post, a long form article or even a book. As the number of words needed to fulfil each form of writing is passed, the next form of writing becomes harder and harder to do. At the same time though, the value of that piece of writing increases.

Writing enough words to make a book. That’s real value. Assuming your writing is coherent and is of a high enough quality for someone to take the time out to read it. That’s real value, but it’s also difficult to do and that’s the trick with writing.

If you want your writing to be valuable then it needs to be more than a word, a sentence or even a paragraph. Shorter forms of writing should be difficult to do but not out with your grasp. Anything longer than this will definitely be difficult to do but still possible.

Writing is difficult to do, but that’s what is going to make your writing stand out from the writing of everyone else (or even their lack of writing). You’ve taken the difficult road to writing something of value.

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Offline Tools

When we talk about tools that make us productive, we often refer to products and services that automate things for us. They do the leg work for a specific task while we move on with something else. While this is a nice idea in theory, too often than not, we find ourselves swept up by emails, messages, phone calls, social networks and other digital interruptions rather than moving on with that other task.

The best tools aren’t just tools that automate work for us (although they do help), they also let us do with the work without interruptions. These tools don’t rely on network connections, the Internet or any other digital highway to work. They just work, with or without an Internet connection. A few examples of tools spring to mind. For me tools like, Byword, Marked 2, Vim and Sublime Text are great tools for working offline, but being able to work offline aren’t the biggest selling feature.

As a software engineer I do a lot of reading of manuals, technical and programmming books. I also read a lot of programming language and framework documentation through the day. My memory isn’t as sharp as it used to be, so I might refer to the docs for a programming language or framework when I’m writing code. Most of these docs are available online. I’m not always online though. Which is why I love using Dash. It’s a document browser that allows to the documentation of various programming languages and frameworks offline. So whether I’m online or not, I can always be sure to get access to the documentation I need when I’m working.

There’s a huge number of apps now that try to keep us in a state of being permanently connected to the Internet, but it comes at a cost. Being online means being connected, being connected means being distracted and being distracted is how we fail do the work we intended to do. When it comes to being productive, look for tools that work offline. Turn off your wi-fi and get working. It’s surprising how much work you get done.

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Blank Pages

Blank pages are great. They are empty to begin with. Devoid of markings, letters, pictures, symbols or any written mark that represents something. They are empty for a reason. They need to be filled. But what with?

With a blank page you can start writing. A sentence, a paragraph, a poem, a short story, a long story, a film, a trilogy of films. It all begins on a blank page with a few words.

With a blank page you can start drawing, sketching or even doodle. Whatever it is you want to call it. Your thoughts visualised could be an idea that will change the world or act as a window for future generations to see through. It all begins on a blank page with a few lines.

With a blank page you can start making. Take an idea. Iterate over it with different approaches. Draw variations of it, list the pros and cons for each different variation. Finalize it before moving forward. It all begins on a blank page with an idea.

With a blank page you are recording a thought or idea that could outlive you and even the end of this century. With a blank page you are freeing yourself from the confines of technology. With a blank page you have decided that it is better to have a reliable means of recording that doesn’t require wi-fi, the Internet or even a battery.

Did I mention that blank pages are great?

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Writing Takes Time

When I first started blogging I thought I could simply keep on writing and the ideas would come. For a while they did and I would keep future ideas on a backlog so that I could return to them another day. Now though it seems that those ideas are not coming as fast as they did in the past. It took me a while to realise what the problem was.

My problem was that I set myself the goal of publishing more often than I could write. Yes I could publish small posts that required little effort but is that what I want to do? Minimum effort? I won’t learn anything from just simply firing out a barrage of poorly written blog posts.

What I want to do is improve my writing. That means spending more time writing, editing and proof reading. I want to review my writing a few times to ensure that I am completely happy with it. This takes time, not a lot of time but definitely more than the time it takes me to write a small blog post.

Writing takes time. Good writing I mean. The kind of writing where you write a draft more than once. You sweat over the little things like word choice and grammar. You spend time on each paragraph, sentence or even word.

Writing does take time, but the rewards of better writing far out weigh that of those hasty blog posts that I used to write. It’s taken me a while to learn this but it’s came at a good time. I’m hoping that this is a time where I can improve on my writing over the next few months.

We’ll just need to wait and see.

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