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Reread Books

In the run up to exams in a few months, my life has turned super busy again.
So once again, I turn to wiser people and the things that inspire me, to keep my writing habit going :)

Let’s start with Ryan Holiday.
In his post, Ryan Holiday Picks 20 Books to Help You Live Better in 2020, he concludes with a sage paragraph on the benefits of re reading books that matter.

When I wrapped up my list of books last year, I made one final recommendation that I will repeat this year. Whether you read any of the books above or not — this year or next year — I do think you would be vastly improved by the experience of picking three or four titles that have had a big impact on you in the past and commit to reading them again. Seneca talked about the need to “linger among a limited number of master thinkers, and digest their works, if you would derive ideas which shall win firm hold in your mind.”

And no matter how many times you read a certain book, you never read the exact same book twice because you change from one reading to the next. So this year, go reread To Kill A Mockingbird. Give The Odyssey another chance. Sit with a few chapters from the 48 Laws of Power. See how these books have stood the test of time, and see how your perspective differs from when you read them last.

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On Writing as a Discipline, a Practice

My brain is too scattered, so here are a few scattered thoughts on writing and why I write.

On the why?

Writing, to me, is cathartic exercise.
It acts like a pressure release valve.
It makes me calmer.
The very act of writing clarifies my thoughts, and helps sharpen my mind.
It gives me distance from my thoughts, makes me more objective.
It helps me learn better.
As I was learning Maths last year, the teacher constantly reminded me that learning, true learing and understanding, comes from written practice. Knowledge, he’d say flows upwards, through the pen to your fingers, through your brain and into your mind.

On how often?

Should you write regularly?
Thrice a day? Once every day? Once a week?
That does not matter.
The point is that you do write.
Often.
And to a rhythm, you find comfortable.

We need a routine.

Tim Ferriss on getting back to basics.

but without a regular writing practice, books eventually became terrifying. It was like committing to an Ironman every few years without doing any training in between. Even if you can muscle things on game day, and even if the outcome looks great from the outside, the lead-up and the internal experience are likely to be anxiety-ridden and unpleasant.

All because I stopped blogging.

Private journaling is a step in the right direction, but it’s not a replacement. I need to face the squirmy discomfort that comes both before and after publishing. So…

I’m getting back in the writing game, and I’m going to publish something on this blog at least once per week.

[…]

I hope that some of the writing will be decent, but a lot of it will be worth taking behind the barn and shooting in the head. Some of it will be long (e.g., unpublished chapters from secret book projects), and some of it will be short (e.g., terrible haiku out of desperation). As long as I publish something — anything — once a week, it doesn’t matter.

On writer’s block

Thing you will get stuck? I assure you, you will. :)
I do, all the time.
This post was supposed to be an quickie.
And forty five minutes two hours later, I am still trying to grasp at what exactly I want to share.

The best way out, is through.
Power through the block.
The Daily Stoic, has sage, stoic advice.

What about when a writer gets stuck? What about when the words don’t seem to come? John Avlon, the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Beast described writer’s block as “getting stuck in a desert, a nightmare.” Similarly, Esquire writer Cal Fussman has said this on his ten year war with writer’s block on a particular article: “On the sunniest day of summer the fact that I couldn’t write that piece hung over me like a dark cloud.”

The first key is simple: Do not despair. As Marcus Aurelius wrote to himself as consolation: “Not to feel exasperated or defeated or despondent because your days aren’t packed with wise and moral actions. But to get back up when you fail, to celebrate behaving like a human—however imperfectly—and fully embrace the pursuit you’ve embarked on.” Marcus talked a lot about rhythm, about how important it is to return to it, to stick with it.

Again, this is why routine matters so much.

So you build a habit and a routine to write no matter what—that’s how you overcome writer’s block. John Avlon who we mentioned earlier has said that “writing is a muscle: it gets stronger the more you use it. If you let yourself fall out of the habit, it can be hard to get back in form.” Same goes for author Jeff Goins: “What do I do when I feel blocked? I write through the block.” How would you get rid of runner’s block or talker’s block? By doing those very things.

Of course it’s not just about putting your ass in the chair. The Stoic advocate and bestselling author Tim Ferriss has talked about how his routine involves just “two crappy pages a day.” The goal is just to make progress, anything more ambitious can be intimidating or cause paralyzing anxiety. But those pages add up and eventually crappy pages can be polished and refined in editing.

Being disciplined and establishing a routine can help you beat writer’s block, but the bigger lesson is this: Creating a habit and a routine is true for just about any profession and any desire to live a better life. Routine and habit are the only way to do it. You can’t just randomly improve. You don’t do great work or make great decisions on accident—not, by definition, with regularity anyway.

Routine is everything. In writing, philosophy and in life.

Like Seth says

Streaks are their own reward.
Streaks create internal pressure that keeps streaks going.
Streaks require commitment at first, but then the commitment turns into a practice, and the practice into a habit.

Read my summary of Atomic Habits, to help you build sustainable routines.
If you need more detail, go buy the book. I promise you it’ll be the best two hundred bucks, you will ever spend.

Writing is work

I used to think, that I could write whatever, I wanted, quite easily.
My language is fairly good. I have a decent vocabulary.
How hard could it be?

But now, after years of writing, it still hasn’t gotten easier much.
It might be easy for other folk, but I still struggle, every time, I put pen to paper.
One thing to note though, if I keep to my rhythm, the flow stays and the words come easier.
So all I need do, is to just keep swimming writing.

Susan Fowler agrees. This is her, reflecting on her writing.

Becoming a Better Writer (and Writing a LOT)
This year was transformative for me as far as my writing skills are concerned. I got to the point where I can now sit down and knock out 3000-5000 good words in one sitting, even when completely exhausted at the end of a long workday. My day job as an editor made all the difference here: since I’m so used to thinking of writing and editing as work, I no longer get writer’s block and writing has lost most of its mythical quality (which is a good thing, as far as I’m concerned). In addition to finishing my memoir, I also wrote a couple of pieces for the Times, two novels (which I am currently revising), and one very joyful screenplay.

Writing Isn’t Magic; It’s Hard Work I used to struggle to get my thoughts onto the page because the first time I put them down, they were complete crap. The second time I put them down, they were also crap. And the third time. And the fourth time. And the fifth time. But each time, what I was writing got a little bit better, and eventually I realized that by approximately the fiftieth time I revised something, I’d have something really good; therefore, if I wanted to write something worth reading, all I had to do was put in the time and effort to revise it enough times. This is a general lesson that I think applies to most things: if you want to get better at something, you have to do it over and over and over again and incrementally improve with each new try; given enough time, you can take something from crap to good (and maybe even to great).

But in the end, it’s worth it.
You’ll become calmer, more objective, more kind, more thoughtful.
You’ll become as immortal as you’d ever be, with your words carrying your thoughts after you are gone. Like Sam says,

That’s what death is, isn’t it?
Forgetting. Being Forgotten.
If we forget where we’ve been, and what we’ve done, we’re not men anymore, just animals.

Writing gives me, us, our humanity!
And so, I write.


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How to be Unhappy (Or Happy!)

Riffing off a quote in last week’s newsletter,

Make any behaviour you want to encourage easier to do, and any behaviour you want to discourage harder to do.

How to Be Unhappy:

  • stay inside all day
  • move as little as possible
  • spend more than you earn
  • take yourself (and life) too seriously
  • look for reasons why things won’t work
  • always consume, never contribute
  • resent the lucky and successful
  • never say hello first
  • be unreliable

Invert for happiness:

  • get outside each day
  • move: walk, exercise, dance
  • spend less than you earn
  • view life as play
  • be the one who looks for solutions
  • develop a bias to contribute and create
  • learn from the lucky and successful
  • be the first to say hello
  • be reliable

I stole this from James Clear’s 3–2–1 newsletter.
You should subscribe. They are short, pithy and awesome!

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P.P.S. Feed my insatiable reading habit.


How to Stop Checking Your (My) Phone

As I battle my physical demons, the newsletter will probably be on this slightly off cadence as I struggle mightily throughout the week, thinking about what to write, failing and then at the last minute panicking and sharing a short snippet of something I love and enjoy.

LMP

I hope you do too :)

So where was I? Oh yea, my favourite personal development, web researcher, Mr. Barker has this to share on what the issue is with our minds and how we can all gain some perspective and a bit more happiness by not checking our phones ever so often.

From How To Stop Checking Your Phone: 4 Secrets From Research,

We’re not looking at the problem correctly. For starters:

You do not have a short attention span.
We have a “mind control” problem. But it’s not other people’s ability to control your mind. It’s your own.
We spend so much time trying to get others attention yet the true determinant of our happiness is where we direct our own.
So what do we do? Throw our phones in a wood chipper?

Well, I wouldn’t :) So what do we do?
We gain Attentional Control.
By strengthening the part of our brains called the Prefrontal Cortex (hereinafter referred to as the PFC), our thinking brain against the onslaughts of our lizard brain.

Here’s his 4 step plan in a nutshell.

1. Get your sleep. Get your exercise. Be healthy.

No sleep. PFC weak. That simple.
Even one round of exercise will improve your PFC strength.

2. Control your context.

Basically, what’s around you?
How is it that the phone slips into your hand and your thumbs go scrolling without you even realising it?
For me, I am a tech news junkie.
So if I am in a queue, or on the potty, or going to bed, I read!

And to fix that, I now rely on a simple trick I learnt in Atomic Habits.
Make any behaviour you want to encourage easier to do, and any behaviour you want to discourage harder to do.
So now, the news apps are not easily accessible, twitter is no longer installed, there are no notifications, and I have to type a complicated password to unlock the phone.
I am pleased to report, that while I am not completely cured, my consumption has dropped significantly.

3. Mindfulness

Well, this is my good habit!
Apparently it’s a good habit everyone should have.
Because, it is a superstrengthener of your PFC!
I even wrote a whole blog post about it.
Need I say more?

Well, I think Eric’s being a little sneaky here. When I look up, I see changes to mind, body and soul.
So in an even smaller nutshell, what he actually aims at is

4. Be the change, you want to see in yourself!

Once again, this is an idea I read in Atomic Habits.
The best way to sustain and build a habit?
By deciding that this is what I am like.
I hate exercise and physio, but I do it.
Why? Because I am a man with a broken back, who has learnt his lesson and wants to be healthy and pain free, and who exercises in order to stay that way.
I don’t stress about smoking.
Why? Because I am not a person who wants to ruin his life by being a smoker.
Vegetarians don’t stress about eating meat.
Why? Because they just don’t eat meat.

I decide, who I want to be :)
Like the old bon mot goes, It’s simple, not easy.
And it’s worth it.



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I Am Here, (Trying Really Hard to Show Up)

Sorry, but not sorry about the lack of the weekly email yesterday :)
The phone is dead, the computer’s crashed and the net is not working.
In short, Murphy definitely has not left the building.
But if I am to be successful at what I do, if I aim to earn your trust, I need to show up :)
To quote Seth,

Showing up on time, with a smile on your face is almost always more important than what you actually say or do.

and this

“I am here”

Showing up matters more than ever, particularly if you promised you would.

Not just showing up in person, but showing up emotionally, or with support, or with a resource that was inconvenient for you to produce.

We're no longer judging you by what sort of widgets your factory makes. we’re judging you by what we can expect from you in the future.

Which is what today’s little mail is about.
I am just writing this, so that I can say,
I am here.
I am showing up.
And thank you all for reading my little screed.
You folks, are wonderful people :)

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Gaiman on Writing

The truth is, I think, […] for me inspiration comes from a bunch of places.

(Counting on his fingers …) Desperation, deadlines …

A lot of times, ideas will turn up while you are doing something else.

And most of all, I think, ideas come from confluence.

They come from two things flowing together, they come, essentially from day-dreaming. It’s … it’s something I suspect that’s something that every human being does.

Writers tend to train themselves to notice when they’ve had ideas. Not that they get anymore ideas or get inspired more than anyone else. We just notice. We notice when it happens, a little bit more.

You go,well, you know, everybody knows that if you get bitten by a werewolf, when the moon is full, you will turn into a wolf. You know that.

And then there’s that moment when you’re sitting thinking, so what happens if a werewolf bites a goldfish?

Or what if the werewolf sinks its fangs into a chair? And what if you’re sitting in that chair and the moonlight touches it? Slowly it starts feeling more and more wolfish and it growls and what about the … you know? And oh my god! Then you’d have to set it in the winter, cuz you’d need the snow for people to try and figure out why you’ve got chair leg marks in the snow. By the body. That has its throat ripped out.

And suddenly, you have a story!

The whole video is funny, yet so full of wisdom.



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