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Posts about writing (old posts, page 6)

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 Some of it will be long (e.g., unpublished chapters from secret book projects), and some of it will be short (e.g., terrible haiku out of desperation).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 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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My Friend

I have to learn to make time for reading and writing, which has slowed to a crawl ever since I am slowly getting back to life.
Hence these untimely letters.

This week, I present a little story I read when I was, oh, about ten years old.
Thirty years later, it still guides my actions and affirms my faith.
It has always given me a strange kind of freedom, when it comes to my how I go about life, encouraging me to do my best, and not to worry even if I stumble.
It planted the very powerful seed, that God if (s)he exists, is more loving than just.
I just ought to be a good human.


Malik, son of Dinar, was much upset about the profligate behaviour of a youth who lived next door to him. For a long time he took no action, hoping that someone else would intervene. But when the youth’s behaviour became intolerable, Malik went to him and insisted that he change his ways.

The youth calmly replied that he was a protégé of the sultan and so nobody could prevent him from living the way he wanted.

Said Malik, “I shall personally complain to the sultan.” Said the youth, “that will be quite useless, because the sultan will never change his mind about me.”

“I shall then denounce you to Allah,” said Malik. “Allah,” said the youth, “is far too forgiving to condemn me.”

Malik went away defeated. But after a while the youth’s reputation became so bad that there was a public outcry about it. Malik decided that it was his duty to reprimand him. As he was walking to the youth’s house, however, he heard a voice say to him, “Do not touch my friend. He is under my protection.” Malik was thrown into confusion by this and, when he was in the presence of the youth, did not know what to say.

Said the young man, “What have you come for now?” Said Malik, “I came to reprimand you. But on my way here a voice told me not to touch you, for you are under his protection.”

The profligate seemed stunned. “Did he call me his friend?” he asked. But by then Malik had already left his house. Years later, Malik met this man in Mecca. He had been so touched by the words of the voice that he had given up his possessions and become a wandering beggar.

“I have come here in search of my Friend,” he said to Malik, and died.


This lovely parable is just one of many, in Anthony de Mello’s beautiful compendium of parables, The Song of the Bird.

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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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Books I’ve Read, October Edition

Before we begin the festivities, here’s a small aside to the techheads who follow me and the tech muggles who care about privacy.
(Which should actually be all of us, considering the various invasions of privacy happening)
My friend and mentor, Kushal writes short newsy notes on what goes on in that world. Why privacy matters and how the powers that be are stripmining our privacy and what we can do to protect it.

Go, subscribe now!


October

Alright, back to the music.
As you know, I spent most of last month cooped up in bed.
What do I do if I am sick?
I read :)
So this month is a big doozy :)

  • Can’t Hurt Me, David Goggins
    (absolutely must read. Lindy read.
    My second Lindy read in a month! I must be really lucky.
    I’ve been fascinated by David, ever since I read Living with a Seal.
    This book reveals the mental mindset behind his superhuman feats.
    If you’re wondering who David is, this will help.)

  • The 33 Marks of Maturity, Brett & Kate McKay
    (absolutely must read. Lindy read.
    this book is short and packed with wisdom, about what it takes to be, well, mature.
    in the real adult mature sense.
    it reads like your dad or your older brother talking you through life’s truths)

  • Our Magnificient Bastard Tongue, John McWhorter
    (must read. this was one of the best and funniest pieces of non fiction I have read in a while.
    if you are curious about why English is the way it is, this book provides a few answers.
    here’s a quote, “German, Dutch, Swedish, and the gang are, by and large, variations on what happened to Proto-Germanic as it morphed along over three thousand years. They are ordinary rolls of the dice. English, however, is kinky. It has a predilection for dressing up like Welsh on lonely nights.”
    McWhorter is funny, and insightful)

  • The Perpetual Beginner, Dave Isaacs
    (Music maestro Dave, has a lot of advice for folk like me;
    the beginners who cannot seem to get over the beginning hump, the ones who do not yearn for mastery, just the ability to be fluent enough to translate what they hear in their head into notes on the guitar.
    worth a read.)

  • The Revelation Space Omnibus, Alastair Reynolds
    (fun read. this kept me good company as I lie in bed sick.
    it’s an awesome world to lose yourself in, taking you as it does across thousands of years of space and time.)

    • Chasm City
    • Redemption Ark
    • Absolution Gap
    • Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days
    • The Prefect
  • Retire Inspired, Chris Hogan
    (good read. another Dave Ramsey title.
    I reread this just to keep myself on track.
    i may not have money now, but i know what to do once I reinvent myself)

  • The Greatest Trade Ever, Gregory Zuckerman
    (the story of how John Paulson, saw the subprime bubble and made a killing.
    If you liked The Big Short, you’ll like this.
    Not Michael Lewis level writing though)

  • The Odessa File, Frederick Forsyth
    (there’ll probably be a whole lot of Forsyth after this one.
    all of them, must reads.
    Forsyth is the master of his genre. fuck that. he practically owns the genre.
    Nazi war criminals have been hounded because of his fiction!
    and like Caro, he is the master of his craft.
    you know how he develops his characters, you kinda know how it all works, but every new novel is still fun.
    and for me, I am on my umpteenth reread of his work.
    and I enjoy myself even now after all these years.)

  • The Deceiver, Frederick Forsyth

  • Avenger, Frederick Forsyth

  • The Day of the Jackal, Frederick Forsyth
    (my first Forsyth novel)

  • The Fox, Frederick Forsyth

  • The Kill List, Frederick Forsyth

  • The Fist of God, Frederick Forsyth

  • The Afghan, Frederick Forsyth

  • The Cobra, Frederick Forsyth

  • Icon, Frederick Forsyth

  • The Dogs of War, Frederick Forsyth

  • The Biafra Story, Frederick Forsyth
    (Forsyth at his journalistic best.
    a beautiful, haunting, empathic recounting of the Nigeria-Biafra civil war from the Biafran point of view.)

  • The Outsider, Frederick Forsyth
    (lots of life stories compiled.
    not quite an autobiography.
    more like a drunk uncle telling awesome stories of his life.
    (all of which happen to be true, however fantastic they sound.))

  • The Proximity Principle, Ken Coleman
    (another book from the Dave Ramsey stable.
    more common sense advice.
    this time for your career.
    worth a read)

  • Forever and Ever, Amen, Randy Travis
    (it’s always sad, when you discover as you grow older, that your heroes are only human and your idols have feet of clay.
    I’ve listened to every Randy Travis album ever since my cousin brother gifted me Storms of Life all those years back.
    And it seems strange that for all I learnt about life from those songs, the baritone who sang them, did not.
    I learnt from those songs and became a man. Randy stayed a man child.
    It’s a raw book. Randy lays his life bare.
    It’s funny, poignant, cautionary and uplifting.
    And there’s the names and people parading through his life.
    I did not know the Terminator gave Randy fitness tips.
    Or that Dirty Dancing Swayze sang backup vocals for him.
    definitely worth a read if you are a country music fan.
    It’s a portrait of a flawed life yes, but also a life filled with lots of love and friendship and music and devotion and faith.)

  • The Body, A Guide for Occupants, Bill Bryson
    (Bill is a guide. The best kind there is.
    He tells it like it is. and tells it pithily and funnily.
    Be it the evolution of English, how our homes came to be, or just a history of everything, Bill has done it all.
    This time he tackles a new frontier. The human body.
    From head to tail, err … toe, Bryson explores every part of the human body.
    And as usual it is exceedingly awesome.
    Sample this, “Although Funk coined the term “vitamines,” and is thus often given credit for their discovery, most of the real work of determining the chemical nature of vitamins was done by others, in particular Sir Frederick Hopkins, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work in 1929—a fact that left Funk permanently in one.”
    You will learn lots and laugh lots.
    Go read.)

  • Morgan’s Run, Colleen McCullough
    (I don’t know why, but this is the one of the few pieces of modern fiction, I re–read a lot.
    Probably because Richard Morgan, the protaganist is a stoic hero.
    And I love the Stoics.
    It’s all about how Australia and Norfolk Island (the focus of the story) got settled, by the riff raff England did not want.
    About how they struggled.
    About how they made the most of the very meagre natural resources at the time.
    I kept hoping against hope that she’d write a sequel, because I so wanted to know more about this part of history.
    It’s a lovely read. A lose yourself in history book)

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Inessential Turns 20!

From the celebratory post,

Old proverb: “The best time to start a blog was 20 years ago. The second-best time is today.” :)

This is what I want for my blogs to become too.
Not popular, but to have a long active life, full of stuff that inspires me and helps others.