Lessons learned from writing

I am already learning some very hard earned lessons about writing simply by maintaining my relatively modest blog. I have been slowly getting into the routine of writing regularly and I have made some interesting observations about myself in writing.

 

My hope is to not just get my thoughts down, but to expand my knowledge (and ideally yours as well), to improve my quality of writing, to give you something interesting to read about, and to provoke thought.

 

Blog about what interests you

When you were in school (or if you are in school), have you ever had a paper that you just hated writing about, that you did not want to write, that you were dreading the deadline? We all have had papers like that in school and perhaps depending on your profession, in real life.

 

The lesson is that if you are not passionate about your writing, you will hate yourself. You will see maintaining your blog as a chore that you “have to do” rather than something that you want to do. That is a negative feedback loop at work and it will likely impact your writing quality. Write about topics that interest you.

 

From my experiences, my immediate interests can change pretty rapidly. So I have many topics that I like to write about, and I make sure that I keep regular topics on the many areas that I would like to discuss.

Write when you feel like it

I have quite a few drafts about topics that I intend to work on later on. Many are for very long posts that will take many days to write, then re-read, and finally publish. There are going to be times when you feel like you are the superhero of writing, just writing on and on, while in other days,

 

Sometimes when I start writing, some thoughts change, like I realize that this is not a hot topic that I wanted to write about so badly or perhaps that when the reality of typing meetings the thought, the ideas are not as good as I thought. When that I happens, I stop. I do something else. Read the news, research, relax, or something else that takes my attention away. Depending on whether or not my interest returns, I may elect to either keep the draft, perhaps returning to it someday, or to continue once again with renewed vigor.

 

There are going to be days when your fingers have the “itch” to just write on and on. There are also going to be days when you fight to even look at the webpage. Do not fight yourself. Just let it flow naturally.

 

As this is not a formal paper that will be graded nor do I derive any income for my writing, I love the fact that I have the freedom to write as  I see fit, the way I see fit on my deadline. Writing when you want to ensures a better level of quality that you would get versus being forced to do so I find due to a tight deadline. The other reason why I think this is desirable is because unlike when you write because you must for a subject that you dislike, writing what you want on your deadline leaves a positive feedback loop.

 

There is a level of authenticity when you are writing what you really believe in, rather than say, what you think your professor wants you to write. That in turn affects the quality of what you write. You will write with conviction, and although it does not come across as verbally (after all, most of our communication is in our body language, the tone of our voice), it is very noticeable. Listen to a great speech. You can always tell that the speaker really believes in what they say, when they are beaming with conviction and confidence. Listen to their tone, look at their body language, and their choice of words. Online, body language, gestures, and the like are not available, but tone, choice of words, and a few other areas certainly are. Indeed, the in the absence of body language, they become more emphasized.

 

Life will get in the way of blogging

So far, I have a rough plan of what I plan to write, and when, but “writing when you feel like it” is not conducive to a fixed schedule so I have been reluctant to follow one. Actually, I think that not having a schedule may be a good thing in that it positively impacts quality. It is far better to have fewer articles that you wanted to write about that you took the time to curate, rather than writing because you feel compelled to be on a fixed schedule.

 

The other problem is that life happens. Right now I have a job that allows me the spare time to write as I see fit. That is something that I am very grateful for. I suppose there are many predictable things in life. A job with steady hours, for you they may be your schooling and perhaps your workload. We can also plan for busy periods (ex: right before exams in school or during very busy work periods such as a year end or right before the deadline of a very big project). However that may not always be the case. There may be overtime, or something unexpected that may result in me being “on call”. You cannot always plan for such contingencies, although you should always have a list of “Black Swans” of sorts that you have plans for. Outside of work, we all have other commitments. Life just happens. These all inevitably take up time.

 

The point though is that these interfere with the time to write, which is something that is in limited supply, along with interest. Having the time is a prerequisite towards writing great posts. Also remember that if it is that important to you, often you will make the time. Perhaps you will not be able to blog as often as you would like, but you will be able to make the time to do so.

 

Thoughts will come and go

Previously, I have written about the importance of writing down quickly your thoughts. They come and go very quickly. Our short term memories are very ephemeral. We will forget what does not get written down quickly I find.

 

Frequently when I am writing one topic, my thoughts will spontaneously come on a new topic that had nothing to do with the topic that I am writing about. When that happens, I quickly make a new draft to gather my thoughts. I know, having learned the hard way, how quickly thoughts can come and go.  Also, even within posts, ideas about what to write about within a certain post (this is especially true for longer posts) will come and go at a very rapid pace. I recommend jotting those thoughts down and writing long articles in a non-linear fashion.

 

Just remember – write it down! Fast! You can always choose to not publish the ideas that upon closer examination, you realize were flawed. You cannot however choose to publish anything that you have forgotten because you have so many things happening in your mind at once. There is no assurance either that when you think about something, you will remember what you have forgotten. So write, and write it down. You can always have a dedicated “notes page” if that is what works for you.

 

You will wonder what on earth you were writing previously

There are times when looking back, you will wonder, “how could I have thought that?” This is a good thing. It makes you look back at your entire thought process and question how your writing came to be. It is an important piece of self-introspection.

 

In the past, I have been told by a mentor for formal papers and published works to write something weeks in advance, then totally forget about it for at least 2 weeks, then, and only then, look back at it. Scrutinize everything very closely. Often you will wonder about what you have written.

 

So far I have not fundamentally changed anything that I have written, perhaps because I have carefully thought about what I wrote beforehand. I do not expect that to hold forever. Also, facts sometimes do change. There is a quote attributable to  the economist, John Maynard Keynes, that when the facts change, he changes his mind. So do I. Ultimately it is about the search for truth that matters the most.

 

There will no doubt be future lessons

 

I’ve noticed how similar this post is to my last one. I wrote this post without any glance at the previous one as the words came to my mind. Going forward, this strikes me as a trend rather than an unusual event.

 

I know that writing is a constant learning experience and that the more I write, the more I will have to learn. I think that it is inevitable that I will learn many new lessons – in many cases no doubt, learning the hard way. People learn from their mistakes much better than they learn from their successes.

 

“The more you know, the more you realize how much you don’t know – the less you know, the more you think you know.”

– David T. Freeman

 

I suspect that there is a lot that I do not know about writing, that I will learn in the coming years of blogging. Ultimately, it is about learning not just how to write, but from research, (hopefully) discussion, and writing intellectually engaging content. I hope that you will join me in that journey and that you too will learn.

 

On that note, I would love to hear about if you have learned anything from writing, or what advice you would give to anyone writing?

4 Comments

  1. Benjamin David Steele

    I’m not sure I have any good advice. I write because I feel a compulsion to do so. But I also hold myself to a high standard. I don’t want to post anything to my blog that doesn’t add any original insight or a unique take, as the world is already full of too many pointless writings, people just wanting to hear themselves talk.

    So, first and foremost, find something worthy of writing about. I want to understand the world and help others understand the world or, failing that, to express something about the confusion and ignorance that dominates the world.

    It helps if you have many interests and boundless curiosity with a mind that never stops thinking. My brain is on permanent overdrive and I’m endlessly looking for some new angle. Your writing can only be interesting as your own mind. Rule number one is to make sure you’re never bored and that will increase the probability that readers won’t be bored. Being bored and being boring are closely related.

    As a writer, I think it’s best to err on the side of having too strong of an opinion. Take hold of some idea or viewpoint and play it for all it is worth. See where it leads. Don’t hold back. Or if you find yourself holding back, then maybe it just isn’t all that great and so you should focus elsewhere. Don’t waste your time on what isn’t worthy.

    Reply
    1. Chris Liu (Post author)

      I think that people who are naturally curious have a huge advantage when writing. Those who do not will quickly get writers block. For me, that has never been a bottleneck. Time has been by far, the largest bottleneck. It has actually taken quite a while for me to get into the habit of updating my blog, but once you get into the habit, it is surprisingly easy to keep on writing.

      I think that you might be right about erring on having a stronger opinion. It is far more likely to get the reader fired up, whether they agree with your ideas or if they do not agree with your ideas.

      Reply
      1. Benjamin David Steele

        Yeah, time is always a major limitation. Combined with being easily distracted, I don’t do as much blogging as I’d like.

        I’m not a consistent and regular blogger. I post when I get around to it, but I follow no schedule.

        I spend much more time on activities that contribute to my blogging, from reading to researching, than I spend on actually writing blogs. It’s similar to how I sometimes can spend more time reading book reviews than reading books.

        Reply
        1. Chris Liu (Post author)

          Thanks for the comment. Yeah it is one reason why I am reluctant to commit to a schedule.

          I would agree that for every minute you spend blogging, you probably spend several times as much reading, and actually thinking about how to write. It is necessary, otherwise what you wrote would not be as compelling as it otherwise would be. Research too takes time. Writing is a time consuming activity, but I would argue a very good one to have in one’s spare time as it is quite stimulating intellectually.

          I think it may be worth speaking to several book writers about how they write and their approach.

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