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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 Some of it will be long (e.g., unpublished chapters from secret book projects), and some of it will be short (e.g., terrible haiku out of desperation).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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#100DaysOfCode, Day 022 – Corey Schafer Python Video Marathon

Am done with the Corey Python Playlist.
This is what, me and my battered brain feel like.


image, courtesy Quora

Flash, Django, Matplotlib, best practices, all done and dusted.

Getting back to actually writing code, tomorrow onwards.
Corey’s tutorials are extremely helpful.
They helped gain an understanding of Python, that I never thought I could, in a timeframe, I never expected. (even without the crazy binging, this is at most a month of video; and this could probably be the best investement, you could make, if you are a beginner like me.)

And obviously, I have only watched the videos.
I have hopefully understood most of them to some degree.
Mastery obviously will come with practice.

127 of 127, done!


#100DaysOfCode, Days 019 & 020 – Corey Schafer Python Video Marathon

Only a few more videos done on the Corey run.
But those were important ones.

I finally got classes. Like got, got them.
And I learnt about subclasses and dunder methods and decorators and getters and setters and all that jazz.
And I understood it all.
And now when I sit to code or read other people’s code, it won’t be as frustrating.

And the more I watch and practice and read code, the more I seem to understand. Python seems to be slowly getting into my muscle memory.
A dam seems to have broken.
I don’t struggle as much.
(That could also mean, I am not reading complicated code yet :P)

49 of 127, done.


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.