by Habbi 27 Aug 2019

This series is for the person who wants to write more and is curious about the tools and processes. Specifically my tools and processes. Those are covered in part II and III and if you already have ideas, you can skip straight to those.

This post lays out how to collect ideas and the process of recognising if they have potential or a message worth passing on. As for writing motivation, that will not be covered here. I can recommend Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way or any of Austin Kleon's work for that.

What we call “writing” is actually made up of three distinct activities: coming up with ideas, turning those ideas into drafts, and then editing those drafts into publishable pieces.

– Jeff Goins, here

I almost skipped ideas...

It's hard for me to convey in nice words how little I value ideas. Almost any idea can be good when it's executed well. An idea without execution is ephemeral, intangible and leaves little if anything behind.

I'm interested in the execution, in honing the craft of communicating a feeling or a frustration in a way that invites empathy and understanding or even action.

Maybe it's because ideas come easily to me, at least now that I've gotten in the habit of collecting interesting links, quotes, phrases, and writing down observations.

Insight, Vision, Inspiration

learn to listen

What I do love though, is vision.

I love work that has intent, a story that's almost bigger than itself and I recognise that comes from inspiration. I also think any cracks in the work are more easily forgiven when the vision is strong enough.

And getting into the habit of finding inspiration is a skill you can hone. Whenever you read/watch/listen to something, do you ever want to add your own two cents? Do you ever want to jump in with a personal anecdote? Do you ever have an insight that would deepen the story or offer a fresh perspective?

That's inspiration. And the big trick here is to not think "oh, this idea is so good -- I won't be able to forget it". Because you almost certainly will forget it altogether, and quicker than you think.

So the first step is getting into the habit of jotting these things down. You can carry a notebook with you, or you can write them down in your phone. Whatever is closest is probably the best option, because like I said, these ideas or clever play of words you've come up with will likely exit your mind as quickly as they entered it.

To Write, Read

Inspiration can come from anywhere. For me, it comes from reading. I read and read and read and read. And read. This is books and reports sure, but also articles and people's thoughts on social media, and messages from my friends.

I believe reading begets writing. To write, read. That's how you get into the rhythm of text and how it flows. As a better reader, you'll also be able to tell if your writing 'reads well'.

When I know I have writing tasks that day, I'll still start the day by reading. I'm not here to give you a scientific breakdown of how that works, but writing without reading is like driving without fuel. Where are your words coming from? Read to find them.

If you want to write in English, read in English. If you want to write in a different language, read in that language first.

Reading generates ideas. Writing is the response.

What are you writing for?

So ideas, and even drafts (more on that in part II), come easy to me. My problem is producing something that is polished enough to exist outside my own personal notes.

I write to stay in communication with the world, and if it's not out there – what's the point? Well, I'm learning that there are valid reasons to write that aren't publishing. Writing can be personal discourse, or a professional skill, or used almost as meditation (journaling).

For me writing just kinda spills out of me when I'm frustrated or angry or heartbroken or really trying to understand something. I have written 2000 words on my phone at 1 am when I can't sleep because something is bothering me. Many times.

One Miss Swift is not the only one who has a hundred thrown-out speeches penned to an ex, and they are thrown out for a reason. They along with stream-of-consciousness rambles or incomplete work documents have no place in the world.

All of this is to say my skill when it comes to writing is recognising when it should be passed on, privately or published publicly, and what is better left unsaid.